Above photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images.
As Ukraine faces “staggering” losses and US public mood shifts, the Biden administration seeks billions more to prolong the war.
The Biden administration is asking Congress for an additional $24 billion for the Ukraine proxy war, more than half of it in military aid. The request comes one week after a CNN poll showed, for the first time, that a majority of Americans oppose additional funding to Kiev.
For a White House committed to ensuring a Russian “quagmire” in Ukraine, public opinion is of secondary importance. Two months into a widely hyped yet now faltering Ukrainian counteroffensive, a fresh influx of NATO weaponry appears necessary to prolong the war. In one of several gloomy assessments to appear in US establishment media, a senior western diplomat tells CNN that the prospect that Ukrainian forces can “make progress that would change the balance of this conflict” is “extremely, highly unlikely.” Ukraine’s “primary challenge” is breaking through Russia’s heavily fortified defensive lines, where “Ukrainian forces have incurred staggering losses.” According to Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, US military assessments of the war are “sobering,” with Ukraine now facing “the most difficult time of the war.”
This picture, CNN’s Jim Sciutto observes, represents “a marked change from the optimism at the start of the counteroffensive,” with Western officials now acknowledging that “those expectations were ‘unrealistic.’” The battlefield reality is so dire that it is even “now contributing to pressure on Ukraine from some in the West to begin peace negotiations, including considering the possibility of territorial concessions.”
But as Biden’s new spending request suggests, there is no sign that the US is among those Western states applying pressure for peace. After all, the stated US aim, as top officials have made clear, is not to defend Ukraine and its long-term future but to instead “weaken” Russia (Lloyd Austin) and ensure “a strategic failure for Putin,” so that Russian can “pay a longer-term price in terms of the elements of its national power.” (Jake Sullivan)
Whereas CNN’s Western sources now allow themselves to admit that their publicly voiced “optimism at the start of the counteroffensive,” was “unrealistic”, it was in fact, dishonest. As Pentagon leaks and subsequent disclosures have confirmed, US officials were well aware that Ukraine was not prepared to take on Russia’s heavily fortified defenses, but kept that assessment under wraps. Accordingly, while Ukraine’s battlefield losses are indeed “staggering”, what is perhaps most “sobering” is the fact that the Biden administration both anticipated and encouraged them.
But just like souring US public opinion, Ukrainian casualties are also a secondary concern, as the Biden administration’s more candid neoconservative proxy war partners continue to make clear.
To push through the new spending package , the White House is “counting on help from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader,” the New York Times reports. At a public event, McConnell detailed his rationale: The US, he explained, hasn’t “lost a single American in this war,” – not accurate if one counts mercenaries and private citizens, but correct in its implicit recognition that Ukraine has lost tens of thousands of lives on its American sponsors’ behalf. According to McConnell, there are additional benefits of the war that do not extend to ordinary Ukrainians: “Most of the money that we spend related to Ukraine is actually spent in the US, replenishing weapons, more modern weapons. So it’s actually employing people here and improving our own military for what may lie ahead.”
Therefore, according to prevailing Biden-McConnell policy, the US must continue to fund a war that will sacrifice many more Ukrainian lives, all so that domestic war profiteers can reap taxpayer largesse for “replenishing weapons”, and so that the US – not having its soldiers die in Ukraine – can use the opportunity for “improving our own military” for a war that it might actually fight.
Although US officials have reportedly “expressed frustration” at Ukraine’s efforts to minimize military casualties, the Zelensky government does appear to be a willing partner in McConnell’s sacrifice ritual. Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov is said to have told US officials that flooding Ukraine with weapons allows NATO allies to “actually see if their weapons work, how efficiently they work and if they need to be upgraded. For the military industry of the world, you can’t invent a better testing ground.”
For the benefit of weakening Russia, enriching US military contractors and serving as a NATO “testing ground,” Ukrainian lives are not the only staggering sacrifice. According to the Wall Street Journal, “20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians who have lost one or more limbs since the start of the war,” a scale unseen for a Western military since the First World War, and a potential undercount “because it takes time to register patients after they undergo” surgery.
According to veteran State Department bureaucrat Aaron David Miller, the Biden administration has no other choice but to continue sacrificing Ukrainians. The US, he explained, is “is in an investment trap in Ukraine with no clear way out. Chances of a military breakthrough or a diplomatic solution are slim to none; and slim may have already left town. We’re in deep and lack the ability to do much more than react to events.” The key term here is “investment trap”: having invested in a proxy war aimed at bleeding Russia, the US is therefore obligated to continue it.
But if the US were driven by other concerns – such as Ukrainian well-being – it could consider supporting the diplomatic opportunities that it has blocked to date. Prior to Russia’s invasion, the Biden administration encouraged the Ukrainian government to crack down on political opponents; further integrate its military into NATO; avoid implementing the Minsk accords for ending its post-2014 civil war; and assault the Russian-allied Donbas. When Russia submitted detailed proposals in December 2021 to address its concerns, the White House effectively balked. And after Russia’s invasion, the US blocked a tentative peace deal that would have seen Russia withdrew to its pre-February 2022 lines. More recently, the US has pushed Ukraine into a counteroffensive that it knew had no chance, and rejected a Ukrainian NATO bid that it had long encouraged for the apparent purpose of baiting Moscow.
In short, the Biden administration has provoked this war and is now seeking a new influx of taxpayer money to prolong it. Even the latter goal is now openly admitted. At last month’s NATO summit in Lithuania, the New York Times reported, “several American and European officials acknowledged” that their “commitments” to Ukraine “make it all the more difficult to begin any real cease-fire or armistice negotiations.” Additionally, US-led “promises of Ukraine’s eventual accession to NATO — after the war is over —create a strong incentive for Moscow to hang onto any Ukrainian territory it can and to keep the conflict alive.”
So long as keeping the conflict alive comes predominantly at the cost of Ukrainian lives, then Washington’s bipartisan proxy warriors clearly have no qualms about forcing a war-weary public to foot the bill.