While support for Ukraine’s ongoing struggles against Russia remains relatively strong, public sentiment for the ever-increasing expense courtesy of the US taxpayer could be reaching breaking point. Today, Tuesday September 19, President Volodymyr Zelensky will once again be in Washington, DC, to court the Biden administration. If the past is any indication of the future, he will almost certainly find a receptive audience.
Money and Thanks, but Mostly Money
As well as delivering his appreciation for the billions of dollars his country has so far received, Zelensky will also be requesting further aid. So far, the US has committed more than $65 billion to Ukraine, and this visit between the two presidents and congressional members will terminate with yet another announcement of commitment – and cold hard cash.
“The White House is requesting an additional $24 billion in aid that is not connected to the country’s annual spending bill — a request that has put both chambers at odds as they attempt to avert a government shutdown later this month,” the Washington Examiner notes. With a continuing resolution (CR) on the table, no provisions have yet been made for more funds.
Members of the GOP will no doubt balk at further spending, but with a Democrat majority in the Senate and more than a handful of Republicans willing to invest in the European theater, the proposed figure will very likely pass muster.
On top of funds, the Ukrainian president will likely reiterate his request for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS – pronounced “attack ’ems”). The 190-mile missile range would allow Ukraine to attack well beyond the front lines and into Russia itself. There has been significant Pentagon pushback to handing over this system as it has the potential to escalate the war, however, in recent weeks, President Biden has begun softening his stance on the provisions.
A Divided Country?
Recent CBS polling suggests that support for sending weapons to Ukraine is slipping, with just 54% willing to continue. While 67% believe more cash should be forthcoming, this number is quite the distance from the initial flood of support back in February 2022. Perhaps more worryingly for President Biden – especially with an election on the horizon – is that an overwhelming plurality (two to one) of Americans feel the commander-in-chief is making the US position in the world weaker (50% against 24% who say he is making the position “stronger”).
CBS also ran a one-to-one interview with President Zelensky on Sunday evening [Sept. 17]. Speaking to correspondent Scott Pelley, he made his case for continued funding, saying of the roughly $70 billion already committed to his country:
“This is a lot of money. We have a lot of gratitude. What else must Ukraine do for everyone to measure our huge gratitude? We are dying in this war. … The whole world [has to] decide whether we want to stop Putin or whether we want to start the beginning of a world war.”
He said, “We’re defending the values of the whole world… If Ukraine falls, what will happen in 10 years? Just think about it… What’s next? A third world war?”
On the Subject of War…
Neither President Zelensky nor President Biden have a definite endgame in place. While the former’s position is understandable in light of ongoing war, the latter’s is pushing the bounds of what the America public is willing to accept. In December 2022, Biden stated that America will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” sparking serious concerns among strategists that this is no kind of plan.
Opinion always moves in trends. “As long as it takes” could mean another 20-year engagement such as the war in Afghanistan that ended in a humiliating and chaotic withdrawal. It could also mean that Ukraine becomes a permanent recipient of American taxpayer largesse. Ultimately, it could also mean that US forces are dragged into the Eastern European theater – a position just 24% of Americans support.
Just how long will the public back a president without a plan? And will the president’s waning approval figures survive his own commitment to an increasingly unpopular strategy?
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