Biden Wanted $33B More for Ukraine. Congress Quickly Raised It to $40B. Who Benefits?

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From the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Biden White House has repeatedly announced large and seemingly random amounts of money that it intends to send to fuel the war in Ukraine. The latest such dispatch, pursuant to an initial $3.5 billion fund authorized by Congress early on, was announced on Friday; “Biden says US will send $1.3 billion in additional military and economic support to Ukraine,” read the CNBC headline. This was preceded by a series of new lavish spending packages for the war, unveiled every two to three weeks, starting on the third day of the war:

  • Feb. 26: “Biden approves $350 million in military aid for Ukraine”: Reuters;
  • Mar. 16: “Biden announces $800 million in military aid for Ukraine”: The New York Times;
  • Mar. 30: “Ukraine to receive additional $500 million in aid from US, Biden announces”: NBC News;
  • Apr. 12: “US to announce $750 million more in weapons for Ukraine, officials say”: Reuters;
  • May 6: “Biden announces new $150 million weapons package for Ukraine”: Reuters.

Those amounts by themselves are in excess of $3 billion; by the end of April, the total US expenditure on the war in Ukraine was close to $14 billion, drawn from the additional $13.5 billion Congress authorized in mid-March. While some of that is earmarked for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, most of it will go into the coffers of the weapons industry — including Raytheon, on whose Board of Directors the current Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, sat immediately before being chosen by Biden to run the Pentagon. As CNN put it: “about $6.5 billion, roughly half of the aid package, will go to the US Department of Defense so it can deploy troops to the region and send defense equipment to Ukraine.”

As enormous as those sums already are, they were dwarfed by the Biden administration’s announcement on April 28 that it “is asking Congress for $33 billion in funding to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than double the $14 billion in support authorized so far.” The White House itself acknowledges that the vast majority of that new spending package will go to the purchase of weaponry and other military assets: “$20.4 billion in additional security and military assistance for Ukraine and for US efforts to strengthen European security in cooperation with our NATO allies and other partners in the region.”

It is difficult to put into context how enormous these expenditures are — particularly since the war is only ten weeks old, and US officials predict/hope that this war will last not months but years. That ensures that the ultimate amounts will be significantly higher still.

The amounts allocated thus far — the new Biden request of $33 billion combined with the $14 billion already spent — already exceed the average annual amount the US spent for its own war in Afghanistan ($46 billion). In the twenty-year US war in Afghanistan which ended just eight months ago, there was at least some pretense of a self-defense rationale given the claim that the Taliban had harbored Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attack. Now the US will spend more than that annual average after just ten weeks of a war in Ukraine that nobody claims has any remote connection to American self-defense.

Even more amazingly, the total amount spent by the US on the Russia/Ukraine war in less than three months is close to Russia’s total military budget for the entire year ($65.9 billion). While Washington depicts Russia as some sort of grave and existential menace to the US, the reality is that the US spends more than ten times on its military what Russia spends on its military each year; indeed, the US spends three times more than the second-highest military spender, China, and more than the next twelve countries combined.

But as gargantuan as Biden’s already-spent and newly requested sums are — for a ten-week war in which the US claims not to be a belligerent — it was apparently woefully inadequate in the eyes of the bipartisan establishment in Congress, who is ostensibly elected to serve the needs and interests of American citizens, not Ukrainians. Leaders of both parties instantly decreed that Biden’s $33 billion request was not enough. They thus raised it to $40 billion — a more than 20% increase over the White House’s request — and are now working together to create an accelerated procedure to ensure immediate passage and disbursement of these weapons and funds to the war zone in Ukraine. “Time is of the essence – and we cannot afford to wait,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to House members, adding: “This package, which builds on the robust support already secured by Congress, will be pivotal in helping Ukraine defend not only its nation but democracy for the world.” (See update below).

We have long ago left the realm of debating why it is in the interest of American citizens to pour our country’s resources into this war, to say nothing of risking a direct war and possibly catastrophic nuclear escalation with Russia, the country with the largest nuclear stockpile, with the US close behind. Indeed, one could argue that the US government entered this war and rapidly escalated its involvement without this critical question — which should be fundamental to any policy decision of the US government — being asked at all.

This omission — a failure to address how the interests of ordinary Americans are served by the US government’s escalating role in this conflict — is particularly glaring given the steadfast and oft-stated view of former President Barack Obama that Ukraine is and always will be of vital interest to Russia, but is not of vital interest to the US For that reason, Obama repeatedly resisted bipartisan demands that he send lethal arms to Ukraine, a step he was deeply reluctant to take due to his belief that the US should not provoke Moscow over an interest as remote as Ukraine (ironically, Trump — who was accused by the US media for years of being a Kremlin asset, controlled by Putin through blackmail — did send lethal arms to Ukraine despite how provocative doing so was to Russia).

While it is extremely difficult to isolate any benefit to ordinary American citizens from all of this, it requires no effort to see that there is a tiny group of Americans who do benefit greatly from this massive expenditure of funds. That is the industry of weapons manufacturers. So fortunate are they that the White House has met with them on several occasions to urge them to expand their capacity to produce sophisticated weapons so that the US government can buy them in massive quantities:

Top US defense officials will meet with the chief executives of the eight largest US defense contractors to discuss industry’s capacity to meet Ukraine’s weapons needs if the war with Russia continues for years.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters Tuesday she plans to participate in a classified roundtable with defense CEOs on Wednesday to discuss “what can we do to help them, what do they need to generate supply”….

“We will discuss industry proposals to accelerate production of existing systems and develop new, modernized capabilities critical to the Department’s ongoing security assistance to Ukraine and long-term readiness of US and ally/partner forces,” the official added.

On May 3, Biden visited a Lockheed Martin facility (see lead photo) and “praised the… plant that manufactures Javelin anti-tank missiles, saying their work was critical to the Ukrainian war effort and to the defense of democracy itself.”

Indeed, by transferring so much military equipment to Ukraine, the US has depleted its own stockpiles, necessitating their replenishment with mass government purchases. One need not be a conspiracy theorist to marvel at the great fortune of this industry, having lost their primary weapons market just eight months ago when the US war in Afghanistan finally ended, only to now be gifted with an even greater and more lucrative opportunity to sell their weapons by virtue of the protracted and always-escalating US role in Ukraine. Raytheon, the primary manufacturer of Javelins along with Lockheed, has been particularly fortunate that its large stockpile, no longer needed for Afghanistan, is now being ordered in larger-than-ever quantities by its former Board member, now running the Pentagon, for shipment to Ukraine. Their stock prices have bulged nicely since the start of the war:

But how does any of this benefit the vast majority of Americans? Does that even matter? As of 2020, almost 30 million Americans are without any health insurance. Over the weekend, USA Today warned of “the ongoing infant formula shortage,” in which “nearly 40% of popular baby formula brands were sold out at retailers across the US during the week starting April 24.” So many Americans are unable to afford college for their children that close to a majority are delaying plans or eliminating them all together. Meanwhile, “monthly poverty remained elevated in February 2022, with a 14.4 percent poverty rate for the total US population….Overall, 6 million more individuals were in poverty in February relative to December.” The latest data from the US Census Bureau found that “approximately 42.5 million Americans [are] living below the poverty line.” Americans with diabetes often struggle to buy life-saving insulin. And on and on and on.

Reporting from Ron Paul Institute.