On “60 Minutes” in October, President Biden was asked if the United States was going to struggle to support two wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. Biden responded by saying: “No. We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history — not in the world, in the history of the world. The history of the world. We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.”
Just a few days later, reality intervened when a shipment of American artillery shells destined for Ukraine was rerouted to Israel. This followed a decision by the Biden administration in early 2023 to ship 300,000 artillery shells from a U.S. stockpile in Israel that traditionally had been used to resupply the Jewish state in times of crisis. More recently, a Ukrainian official told ABC News that since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas War, deliveries of NATO-standard artillery ammunition and other munitions have plummeted by more than 30 percent. On top of all this, a multibillion-dollar backlog of arms orders to Taiwan persists as China continues to take actions that indicate it is preparing to forcibly seize control of the island nation.
Even the most powerful nation in the history of the world cannot run the world without facing tradeoffs. But with the Biden administration dug in and unresponsive to criticism in a manner that evokes the Bush administration and Iraq in 2004, change will need to be forced on it.
The Biden administration’s latest demand from Congress is for another $61 billion for Ukraine, which would bring the total amount since 2022 to nearly $200 billion. With the war at a stalemate, the U.S. fiscal outlook increasingly bleak, and leaders in both Washington and Kyiv seemingly impervious to these facts, a different course is clearly necessary. Congress should use the most powerful tool at its disposal — the purse — to force the administration onto a different path in Ukraine.
Congress should reject the latest funding request for two main reasons: First, the Biden administration does not have a plan for producing a Ukrainian victory — nor can they even articulate what a Ukrainian victory looks like. Second, the current U.S. fiscal position does not lend itself to continued blank checks for Ukraine or other foreign policy misadventures.
There is little hope of a meaningful Ukrainian breakthrough against the Russians in the near term. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Ukraine may not even be able to launch another counteroffensive at all until 2025. At the same time, the Zelensky government has maintained its maximal war aims, its rejection of diplomacy, and its way of fighting the war that consumes munitions faster than Western nations can produce them.
Add in rapid rates of expenditure of American-made ammunition in Israel’s war in Gaza, and the latter problem becomes even more pronounced. Even before the Middle East erupted, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe was warning that NATO weapons stockpiles were “dangerously low.” The reason Washington decided to give cluster munitions to Ukraine was because of what National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan referred to as Ukraine’s “dramatically high expenditure rates of artillery” in the conflict. The administration’s elusive theory of victory contrasts with the very real escalation risks that remain in Ukraine — whether due to an unintentional confrontation between Russian and NATO troops on Ukraine’s borders or reckless behavior by the Ukrainian government. Another $61 billion would be, at best, throwing good money after bad.
The second reason Congress should decline the request is that the U.S. fiscal position appears truly dire. Though overpredicted historically, the country may finally be approaching the precipice of fiscal ruin. Shortly after President Biden’s “60 Minutes” interview, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen declared that the United States can “certainly” afford to support two wars in Ukraine and Israel. But since Yellen’s interview, the U.S. Treasury has had several weak bond sales, forcing the United States to pay higher interest on its debt and demonstrating a diminishing confidence in the U.S. fiscal outlook among investors. Interest on the debt is now roughly $1 trillion per year, the national debt itself is at almost $34 trillion, and the budget deficit each year is some $1.5 trillion and expected to jump to almost $3 trillion by 2033.
In light of the above, Congress would be foolish to rack up another $61 billion in debt to support a failing war in Ukraine. The Biden administration continues to publicly advance the delusion that Ukraine can achieve a total and decisive victory against Russia. Congress is under no obligation to join them in that delusion. The Constitution gives Congress the power to take the administration’s checkbook away. If Congress declines to use that power and once again co-signs the Biden administration’s Ukraine policy, they will likely share its place in history as coauthors of diplomatic and fiscal ruin.