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Sunday, May 19, 2024

For Biden, Aid Package Provides a Welcome Boost on the World Stage

USFor Biden, Aid Package Provides a Welcome Boost on the World Stage


Finally, President Biden had good news to share with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. When Mr. Biden picked up the telephone at his home in Wilmington, Del., to call Mr. Zelensky on Monday, the two rejoiced over the congressional breakthrough that will result in the first significant new U.S. military aid for Ukraine in 16 months.

Mr. Biden used the 30-minute call to “underscore the United States’ lasting commitment to supporting Ukraine” against Russian invaders and promise that arms will start flowing again “quickly,” according to a White House statement. For a grateful Mr. Zelensky, the timing was propitious. A Russian missile attack, he told Mr. Biden, had just destroyed the television tower in Kharkiv.

The House passage of a landmark $95 billion foreign aid package gives Mr. Biden much-needed momentum at a time when his credibility and American leadership have been questioned on the world stage. For months, the president has vowed unstinting support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan without being able to deliver on Capitol Hill. Now, at last, he has planeloads of artillery rounds, air defense missiles and other munitions to back up his words.

“This was a historic win for President Biden and for America’s global leadership,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said in an interview. “This was a moment when both our allies and our adversaries were watching to see if we would deliver for the people of Ukraine in their moment of need.”

Michael Allen, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush, said the aid would counter international worries about the United States for now but added that Mr. Biden should use it to press American allies to take more of a leadership role.

“It’s a win for the U.S. after months of talk about America’s lost its way, beset by populism and isolationism,” he said. “Biden now has new political capital, if he’ll use it, to browbeat more Europeans into more assistance for Ukraine and NATO.”

The sense of relief among officials at the White House has been palpable since the House voted on Saturday by lopsided bipartisan majorities for the package, which includes $61 billion for Ukraine; $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid in conflict zones like Gaza; and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific region. Not only had they finally broken through the aid logjam, but they also held out hopes that they had averted a wider war in the Middle East, at least for now.

The Israeli-American defense of Israel that, with help from European and Arab allies, knocked down nearly all of an Iranian bombardment demonstrated a powerful regional alignment against Tehran. Israel’s decision to defer to Mr. Biden’s pleas for restraint by making only a token reprisal allowed both sides to back off what could have escalated into a full-fledged regional conflagration.

Biden administration officials spotted at events around Washington over the weekend were in demonstrably better moods than they have been in months. Instead of being virtually locked in the Situation Room around the clock, as they have been so much in recent days, some stressed and exhausted national security officials even managed to take a few hours off to participate in a lighthearted tennis tournament called the Kangaroo Cup at the residence of Kevin Rudd, the Australian ambassador.

But as important as the passage of security aid was, some officials and analysts still fear that it will only be a temporary respite as former President Donald J. Trump waits in the wings. If he wins in November, Mr. Trump, who has long expressed admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, has made clear that he would not back Ukraine.

In fact, he has said that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO members that do not spend enough on their own militaries, a comment that raised alarms in European capitals about the future of the 75-year-old alliance. Nor did it go unnoticed that while every House Democrat voted for the Ukraine aid, more Republicans voted against it than for it.

“While I do think the aid bill has restored some confidence again in the United States and our ability to actually get some things done even in a deeply divided Congress, there is still some fear, understandably, as to whether this is the last tranche of support they will ever get,” said Kathryn Stoner, a Russia scholar at Stanford University. And in conversations with Ukrainian political and civic leaders, she said she found “a renewed awareness of the fact that things could get much worse for Ukraine if Trump is elected in November.”

The degree of concern among American allies has been striking. In conversations and interviews in recent months, government officials in a dozen European countries, including cabinet members and prime ministers from across the political spectrum, without exception expressed worry and in some cases near panic over the prospect that Mr. Trump would return to the White House. Some are already discussing how Europe may have to fend for itself without being able to rely on the United States.

Mr. Trump has made clear even in recent days that he is more intent on pressuring America’s friends than he is Mr. Putin. While he did not step in to stop Speaker Mike Johnson from shepherding the Ukraine aid through the House, Mr. Trump did signal that he thinks the United States is bearing too much of the burden.

“Why can’t Europe equalize or match the money put in by the United States of America in order to help a Country in desperate need,” he wrote on social media last week.

In fact, until the new aid package now making its way to Mr. Biden’s desk, Europe had committed more to Ukraine than the United States had. As of January, European Union institutions had dedicated $93.2 billion, compared with $74.3 billion by the United States in total military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, according to figures compiled by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just in terms of military aid, Germany, Britain and a dozen other European nations have cumulatively contributed $60.4 billion to $46.3 billion by the United States. Judging total aid as a share of each country’s own economy, the United States was the 20th highest contributor behind 17 European countries, the European Union and Canada.

Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official who is considered a possible national security appointee in a new Trump administration, said the former president wants Europe to stand up for itself. “President Trump’s argument was actually that Europe’s interests in Ukraine are greater than ours, which is clearly true,” he wrote on social media. “They should naturally take the lead given that America’s stated priority is China, which we’re unprepared for.”

The last major Ukraine aid package passed Congress in December 2022, when Democrats were in their final weeks of control. Mr. Biden has been seeking additional Ukraine aid since August and included money for Indo-Pacific priorities to counter China as well. He added aid for Israel to his request in October after the Hamas-led terrorist attack that Israeli authorities say killed about 1,200 people. The package that passed on Saturday also includes money for humanitarian relief in places like Gaza, where local health authorities say more than 33,000 have been killed during Israel’s military operation against Hamas.

The Senate plans to pass it this week and send it to Mr. Biden for his signature. In addition to Mr. Zelensky, the president on Monday called Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, to stress “how sustained international support is vital to Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” according to a White House statement.

The celebratory spirit in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and much of Congress reflected what a heavy lift it was for the president and his allies. While Mr. Biden’s advisers were long supremely confident that they would eventually get the money to fight Russia, there were many moments when it looked like it would not happen.

The danger for the president’s credibility was considerable. Mr. Biden, who since Russia’s all-out invasion in 2022 had vowed to stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” had begun shifting his wording to promise support for “as long as we can.” Now he can for a little while longer.





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