As President Biden requests another $37 billion, no one seems remotely interested in ensuring these funds are spent wisely, but the dirty little secret of our forever war strategy has always been that the war itself is just a pretext to turn on the government spigot with no accountability or oversight.
Earlier this week, the Biden Administration requested another $37 billion to support Ukraine’s military and humanitarian efforts against the illegal Russian invasion, even as a large portion of the money already allotted hasn’t been spent. Unfortunately, actual numbers are hard to find, as is what we are actually spending this money on beyond vague categories such as military equipment, humanitarian supplies, and loans to the Ukrainian government. The numbers range from $20.3 billion as tracked by the Congressional Research Service for “security assistance” and $20.3 billion for other purposes. The Kiel Institute, a German think tank, puts the total number significantly higher at $54.43 billion across all aid. Incredibly, there is no US media or think tank tracking this information in any coherent fashion, meaning no one in the establishment really seems to care what we are spending or why, as long as we are spending whatever it takes for as long as it takes. To put this in perspective, the new spending request would bring our total commitment to Ukraine to $91.4 billion in barely 9 months when the entire Russian military budget is estimated annually at $77.7 billion. If we were to annualize the Ukraine spending, we’re looking at over 40% more on assistance than Russia spends on their entire war machine each year. As contrarian journalist Glenn Greenwald noted, this is about double what the US spent each year to support the war in Afghanistan. It’s about an eighth of what we spend on our entire military, by far the largest budget in the world. By any rational standard, this is a tremendous amount of money which, on the surface at least, seems far higher than it should be especially as we are not the only country funding the effort. Putting this another way, how could we be spending more than Russia does on their entire military and still have no identified endgame in sight?
Otherwise, one has to wonder why no one seems remotely interested in either what our support of Ukraine should actually cost, or tracking our expenditures to ensure these funds are spent wisely. Instead, the mantra from the establishment is simply “whatever it takes.” Democrat Senator and former Vice Presidential Candidate, Tim Kaine, said almost precisely that earlier this year, when President Joe Biden requested an additional $33 billion in aid in April. At the time, Senator Kaine didn’t seem to care what the money was spent on, so long as it was spent. ABC News 13 described his stance, “Sen. Tim Kaine said Thursday that although he hadn’t seen the breakdown of the funds request, he was ready to assist Ukraine in any way possible.” “I knew a sizable ask was coming. I am inclined favorably to it. I am going to dig into the details, obviously, but we and our allies need to make sure that Ukraine is successful,” the U.S. Senator said before voting for the appropriation without so much as another question. For his part, President Biden had this to say in remarks from the White House announcing the request, “The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen. We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.” This time around, the President left the statement to Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. She wrote a letter to outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “Together, with strong, bipartisan support in the Congress, we have provided significant assistance that has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield — and we cannot let that support run dry.” Otherwise, the mainstream media is putting forward a steady drumbeat of fears that the newly minted Republican House of Representatives might dare to ask questions. CNBC put it this way, “Prior to the midterm elections, congressional Republicans suggested aid to Ukraine could be cut were they to win the majority. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to become speaker if Republicans retake the House of Representatives as projected, said last month that Ukraine funding could be pared down if he’s in the majority.”
At this point, it would behoove everyone to ask an honest question: Support for what, precisely? Of course, no one wants to see Russia succeed in its illegal, unprovoked war in Ukraine. That we can all agree on, but that’s a general statement with little practical meaning. There are myriad ways to end the conflict, ranging from regime change in Russia to Russian annexation of disputed territories in Ukraine in exchange for withdrawal from others. If Russian President Vladimir Putin were to announce a complete withdrawal from everywhere except Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson (technically, it appears the Russians were recently repelled from this region) right now, would we take it? Nobody knows. Elon Musk proposed something similar last month and was roundly mocked as a pro-Russian stooge. Republican Senator and fan of fighting every war, everywhere Lindsey Graham put it this way, “With all due respect to Elon Musk – and I do respect him – I would suggest he needs to understand the facts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Suggesting we end the Russian invasion by simply giving Russia parts of Ukraine – after all the suffering – is dumb. It is also an affront to the bravery of the Ukrainians fighting to defend their homeland.” He wrote this on Twitter even as there were reports earlier this year that was exactly the resolution we were seeking when Turkey attempted to negotiate a peace deal.
Since then, however, we’ve spent billions more while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has variously proposed a fast track application to NATO which would launch World War III, refused to meet with Vladimir Putin while calling for regime change in Russia, and found the time to pose for Vogue Magazine. I assure you, none of this is normal. The establishment trying to pretend it is while asking for more cash, forever, makes the cynic in me believe some of this money is getting funneled back to power players in the defense industry. After all, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, is only a former member of the Raytheon Technologies board, a major military contractor, who earned $2.7 million in less than four years and currently holds stock worth about $500,000. The dirty little secret of our forever war strategy has always been that the war itself, whether justified or unjustified at the time, is only the pretext to turn on the government spigot with no accountability or oversight. The goal is not to win: It’s to siphon off as much money as possible while no one cares about the actual end result. Hence, we could leave behind billions upon billions of dollars of state of the art weaponry in Afghanistan, and it’s not a cause for concern because someone was paid at some point. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might note that this massive influx of military spending occurred shortly after we stopped spending such sums in the Middle East. The war in Ukraine to them represents a unique opportunity. A flow of cash larger than Afghanistan for as long as it takes with no actual boots on the ground and no pesky headlines about Americans dying overseas for no reason. What could go wrong?
Sadly, quite a bit. We got a preview of it earlier this week when the Associated Press claimed that a Russian missile had struck Poland, killing two farmers. The report was, perhaps needless to say, based on unnamed intelligence sources in the United States government who were quickly proven wrong. The missile was actually fired by the Ukrainians, but the carelessness in the unsubstantiated report was stunning: A Russian attack on Poland would invoke NATO’s Article 5 Charter that an attack on one is an attack on all, and immediately bring 30 additional countries into the war including the United States. Broadcasting that such an attack occurred based on a single, unnamed source with no corroboration is both dangerous and shameful. When I first read the initial report on Tuesday afternoon, my reaction was dread followed by outrage: What do our leaders think is going to happen if missiles keep flying across a country in the middle of Europe that shares borders with allies we are obligated to defend? This is especially true when the establishment insists the Russian president is a mad man in mental decline. If that’s the case, does anyone think he’s just going to give up and go home without doing something recklessly drastic? Regardless, even if they’re wrong and President Putin is a rational actor, it’s only a matter of time before the war spills over. This isn’t a video game with a reset button. If history is any indication, the longer this goes on, the higher the likelihood that some event pushes us past the point of no return. This week could have been that event. Fortunately it wasn’t, but we remain one miscalculation away from the sort of Archduke Ferdinand moment that plunged us into World War I, and yet no one seems to care. Just keep spending. Just keep supporting. Just trust us.
It wasn’t long before my sense of outrage dissolved into sadness and frustration. It is impossible for me to believe that we cannot find some way to end this war when the Russian economy is smaller than Texas and supposedly the entire Western world is united against them. It defies belief that we are nine months into a sanctions strategy that was supposed to cripple the Russian economy, but clearly hasn’t and yet our plan is only more of the same without regard for the risk. Then again, it was impossible for me to believe we couldn’t prevent it in the first place. One has to wonder why we didn’t send any of these arms and supplies before the invasion even started because the reality of the situation in Ukraine has always been bleak. We can talk all we want about doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes, but if Russia ultimately calls our bluff, what are we really going to do? Go to war? Diplomatic words and niceties need to be backed with action to be effective. It seems to me that Vladimir Putin has rightly concluded that we’re not going to do much about it except send lawyers, guns, and money to borrow a phrase from the late, great Warren Zeavon. If that is the case, and it almost certainly is unless we want to get involved in a land war in Europe with a nuclear armed power, we should be looking for the quickest and easiest off ramp imaginable. Instead, we’re talking a big game while carrying no stick. Once again, the cynic in me can’t help but think the establishment would prefer the continued cash to ending the conflict.
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