Despite threat of shutdown, Congress cannot afford to give up on Ukraine 

By Tara Sonenshine, Professor of Public Diplomacy at The Fletcher School

When the head of a nation at war comes to town, it’s serious business. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, having just been in New York at the United Nations General Assembly meeting, is taking a detour to Washington, D.C., before returning home to Kyiv to make one more plea for continued U.S. assistance in his continued battle to control his country from the grasp of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

We need to hear him out.  

In New York, Zelensky warned us. He told the world that “mass destruction is gaining momentum,” and that “the aggressor is weaponizing many other things and those things are used not only against our country, but against all of yours as well.” 

He also said the United Nations needs urgent reform and has failed to address serious conflicts, offering his own peace plan and suggesting that Russia lose its veto power on the Security Council.

As a public diplomat, Zelensky has made numerous trips, appeared at countless events and conferences, and hosted multiple officials in his ongoing effort to make the best case to the world to support his country, reminding us of food shortages, energy supply problems and the loss of credibility for the West if Ukraine loses to Russia. 

But Zelensky also knows that winning the war is almost as difficult as winning over a skeptical Congress, with the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and some of his colleagues voicing concern about more spending. 

Having invested billions of dollars in Ukraine, Congress wants proof of concept. They are doing the math: “Between the start of the war in February 2022 and the end of May 2023, the Biden administration has provided a total of $76.8 billion in assistance to Ukraine with military aid alone accounting for $46.6 billion, followed by financial help at $26.4 billion, and humanitarian at $3.9 billion.” 

But the war has not ended and President Biden, facing a tough election ahead, is doubling down — he’s seeking additional funds to the tune of $24 billion inclusive of humanitarian assistance and military aid. 

The problem for Biden is that members of Congress don’t like paying bills, especially as a government shutdown looms as a possibility at the end of this month.  

Congress should realize how dangerous a disruption in U.S. assistance to Ukraine right now would be, in lives and treasure. 

“A shutdown could impact the delivery and execution of aid provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which has funded the production of key equipment like Abrams tanks and training programs like F-16 pilot instruction,” according to the Pentagon. “The US is set to begin delivering 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks and expects to begin providing Ukrainian pilots with F-16-related language training ‘soon.’”  

A government shutdown would not only affect Ukraine — the United States provides weapons to Taiwan and has military commitments all over the world. Said experts during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee: “U.S. combat deterrence is necessary to keep China from attempting to forcefully ‘unify’ with Taiwan, as Beijing has often threatened to do.” 

At issue right now is America’s overall commitment to defense. We have global responsibilities. 

Politics used to stop at the water’s edge—a line made famous by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg in the late 1940s. 

But now domestic events are intervening to make it hard for President Biden to hold sway. Staving off a Russian offensive against the West should not be a hard sell. But America is a divided nation, and polls continue to suggest that patience is wearing out with a seemingly endless war. 

It is too soon to walk away from this fight. Putin is watching us, as is the world. Stay focused, America. 

(This post is republished from The Hill.)

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