Biden’s commitment to Ukraine – the war depends on two US decisions

Washington There is hardly any place where the war in Ukraine feels as far away as in McLean, the third richest community in the USA. A few days ago, President Joe Biden visited the lawyer and multimillionaire David Frederick in his villa.

Biden will appear at the UN general debate in New York this Tuesday. Heads of state and government from all over the world will be there, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the President of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelensky.

Biden will invoke the principles of a multilateral world order: democracies instead of autocracies, diplomacy instead of war, alliances against alliances of dictators. And when he receives Zelenskiy in Washington on Thursday, he will once again pledge “unwavering support” for the war-torn country.

But Donald Trump or another isolationist Republican moving into the White House in next year’s presidential election is a real possibility that worries Berlin and Brussels, as well as some US Republicans: “A re-election of Donald Trump would be a disaster,” said John Negroponte, former UN ambassador and intelligence director under George W. Bush, Handelsblatt.

Some right-wing foreign politicians among the Republicans are already using the Ukraine aid to make domestic political demands. At the end of September, the US Congress is expected to release an additional $24 billion as part of budget talks.

It is the first vote on Ukraine aid since the Republicans took over the majority in the House of Representatives. Some of them want to see tax cuts or cuts in social spending in return for their approval. Biden rejects both.

Is there a blockage in Congress?

So far, all Ukraine packages have passed Congress with a large majority. But the cost to America’s taxpayers is enormous and could be difficult to convey at a time of rising poverty and rising inflation – especially if a recession actually occurs, as some analysts predict.

101,198,000,000 US dollars have so far flowed into weapons, ammunition, equipment, soldier training, humanitarian support and economic transfers. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the figure last week after massive criticism from Congress, which is pushing for more transparency.

In the summer, the Pentagon admitted a “calculation error” in the Ukraine aid and six billion US dollars could no longer be allocated. That was “quite a setback” for the persuasion effort, a government official said.

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy

According to US media, McCarthy now wants to force a separate vote on aid to Ukraine.

(Photo: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire)

Given the narrow majorities, the critical MPs, who are called “Taliban 19” in Washington, can block any financial injection. Or Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has to cooperate with the Democrats. That in turn could cost him his job if the hardliners rebel against him.

There are also skeptics among Democrats. “The war in Ukraine has developed into a grueling conflict. We can and must help break this stalemate,” says the bipartisan letter from Congress to Biden.

Support among the population is declining; according to a CNN poll, a majority of Americans, 55 percent, reject new aid for Ukraine; among Republican supporters the figure is 71 percent.

Decision on short-range missiles is imminent

Officially, the US government does not want to put any pressure on Kiev and will support Zelensky “as long as it takes”. But recent signals can also be interpreted to mean that patience is gradually running out and the US government is therefore considering options that it had long ruled out.

After Patriot air defense systems, tanks, cluster bombs and uranium munitions, the US may next send short-range missiles to Ukraine. It’s about ATACMS, pronounced “Attack-Ems”. The “Army Tactical Missile System” could significantly improve air defense because, at 350 kilometers, it can reach almost four times as far as the missiles that are already in use.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a presidential decision on ground-based missiles is imminent. This decision could also have a decisive influence on the further course of the war.

The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) in action

The US government could potentially send ATACMS to Ukraine next.

(Photo: via REUTERS)

Short-range missiles would be the Americans’ biggest strategic shift so far in the course of the war. In addition to fighter jet deliveries, their delivery would be the second red line that Biden never wanted to cross.

Last year he ruled out this option, considering the escalation potential of longer-range weapons that could penetrate deep into Russia to be far too high. Biden warned that the US and its allies could be drawn into direct conflict with Putin. “That would destroy NATO,” said Biden, standing next to Zelenskiy.

Most observers believe that there will be enough political support for Biden’s Ukraine course, including in Congress, at least until the presidential election – but only if the president does not cross the ultimate red line. “As long as no American troops are involved, the war will not benefit Biden politically, but it will not harm him either,” explains Anja Manuel, head of the Aspen Strategy Group.

Former UN Ambassador Negroponte emphasizes that Biden is “very good at keeping America out of direct combat.” It makes “a big difference whether American troops die or not. Especially if the war drags on even longer.”

>> Read here: All developments in the Ukraine war in our news blog

And yet the war makes Biden vulnerable; Republicans have long been talking about the “second Afghanistan,” especially Donald Trump, Biden’s most likely challenger at the moment.

On Friday, Trump appeared before Concerned Women for America, one of the largest conservative advocacy groups in the United States. Culture wars over abortions, textbooks and transgender people are among their main concerns, but even for this clientele, Trump is making the Ukraine war the focus.

Donald Trump

Trump promises to end the Ukraine war in 24 hours after the election.

(Photo: AP)

“Don’t do it, Vladimir, don’t do it!” he said to Putin when he was in the White House, threatening him with “consequences” – which, he suggests, include US military strikes. After the election he will “end the war in 24 hours,” he shouts to applause. “I will be your peacemaker, I will prevent World War III.”

The Ukraine war is becoming a vehicle in the USA for fears of a fragmented world order in which America is always paying more – at least that is the narrative of Trump and other Republican candidates. The poll numbers of Vivek Ramaswamy, who wants to freeze aid to Ukraine, are climbing, while multilateralists like Mike Pence and Nikki Haley are booed at the grassroots as soon as they mention Ukraine.

For Biden, the fight to save Ukraine is not only politically but also personally important. After the Maidan protests, he flew to Kiev as Barack Obama’s vice president and was already involved in the country’s politics when Zelensky was still filming television series. Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken has Ukrainian-Jewish roots.

According to Biden biographer Chris Whipple, it was primarily the Ukraine War that convinced the president to run for re-election despite his advanced age.

Biden, the transatlanticist, saw himself “as uniquely qualified to defend Ukraine, defy Putin and rally NATO partners,” said Whipple. The second chance Biden wants to get in the White House may be necessary to complete his goal.

More: Ukraine’s slow offensive worries the West

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