Biden calls to maintain ‘American leadership’ with aid package for Ukraine and Israel

President’s Oval Office address warned that America’s adversaries are looking for signs that the US commitments to Israel and Ukraine are faltering

Andrew Feinberg
Thursday 19 October 2023 20:24 EDT
Biden calls to maintain ‘American leadership’ with aid package for Ukraine and Israel

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he was asking Congress to approve an “urgent budget request” including essential defence aid to Ukraine and Israel, casting both countries’ respective wars against Hamas and Russia as part of a struggle against enemies of democracy who will be emboldened if the US withdraws support.

“American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us America safe. American values are what make us a partner other nations want to work with,” he said in remarks delivered as part of just the second prime-time Oval Office address of his presidency.

“To put all that at risk if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel, it's just not worth it,” he said.

The president called the expected $100bn arms package a “smart investment” that would “pay dividends for American security for generations, help keep American troops out of harm’s way,” and help “build a world that is safer, more peaceful and more prosperous for our children and grandchildren”.

Speaking from behind the iconic desk made from timbers hewed from the hulk of HMS Resolute and gifted to then-president Rutherford Hayes by Queen Victoria, Mr Biden explicitly compared the adversaries facing Israel and Ukraine — Russia and Hamas — as two sides of the same genocidal coin.

He noted that the Hamas — which is being financially supported by Iran — has a charter which calls for the complete destruction of the State of Israel, and pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin has long maintained that Ukraine is not and has never been a “real” nation deserving of sovereignty.

He also noted how Iran, in addition to financially supporting Hamas’ campaign of terror against Israel, is aiding Russia’s war effort in Ukraine by providing Moscow with low-cost drones and other weapons for use against Ukrainian defence forces.

Mr Biden then continued to make the case that US aid to both Israel and Ukraine was necessary to prevent Iran and Russia from stoking further chaos across the world, starting with the Middle East. He warned that failing to help each of the American allies win their respective wars would have long-lasting consequences for the United States and the world.

“History has taught us that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos, and death, and more destruction. They keep going, and the cost and the threat to America and the world keep rising,” he said.

The president’s emphatic and heartfelt remarks were delivered less than 24 hours after he returned from a trip to Israel — his second visit to an active war zone this year — where he brokered an agreement between Egypt and Israel for much-needed humanitarian aid to reach the Gaza Strip through the Rafah checkpoint on the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Mr Biden described how in his discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he’d stressed what he described as “the critical need for Israel to operate by the laws of war” by “protecting civilians as best as they can” as the Israeli Defence Forces mount a ground assault on Hamas positions within the heavily urbanised Gaza Strip.

He said the initial aid shipments, provided that they were not diverted or stolen by Hamas, would “provide an opening for sustained delivery of life saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians”.

And while the president has taken criticism from activists on the leftward flank of his Democratic Party who’ve bristled at his steadfast support for Israel, he strongly reiterated the US commitment to end the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the establishment of a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel.

“As hard as is, we cannot give up on peace — we cannot give up on a two state solution,” he said, adding that both Israelis and Palestinians “equally deserve to live in safety, dignity and peace”.

The president’s call for aid to Ukraine and Israel comes just over two weeks after Congress staved off a government shutdown with a stopgap funding bill that omitted the aid to Kyiv which Mr Biden has been pressing for in the face of increasing opposition from Republicans who see cutting off support for Ukraine’s defence as a way to undermine one of the president’s foreign policy accomplishments as he heads into an election season.

While aid to Ukraine once had broad bipartisan support, more and more Republicans have voiced opposition to further assistance at the behest of former president Donald Trump, who once attempted to withhold military aid to Ukraine in order to blackmail Ukraine’s president into announcing sham investigations into Mr Biden and his son.

By linking aid to Ukraine and Israel in a single package, Mr Biden would make it much more difficult for Republicans to oppose the combined funding bill, which would likely receive bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Yet it’s not clear whether the American Congress is capable of enacting any legislation at all, as the House of Representatives still lacks a speaker following the ouster of Representative Kevin McCarthy, after he allowed the government to remain open by letting the stopgap funding bill pass the House last month.

That legislation expires in less than a month, and until the House elects a new speaker, it cannot take up legislation to fund the federal government or to fund defence aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Mr Biden said innocents in both nations have been able to have hope because of US support for their respective countries’ defence.

Those people, he said, are “desperate not to be forgotten by us and are waiting for us”.

But he warned that time was “of the essence” and urged Republicans and Democrats to move past their disagreements to enact his funding package for Israel and Ukraine.

“We can't let petty, partisan, angry politics get in the way of our responsibility as a great nation,” he said.

“We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win — I refuse to let that happen. In moments like these, we have to remember who we are: We are the United States of America ... and there is nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together”.

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