The Military Aid Dilemma

June 1, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Global Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: UkraineIsraelU.S. Foreign PolicyAlliancesHamas

The Military Aid Dilemma

As U.S. partners and allies increasingly make their own decisions contrary to American interests, the Biden administration should make sure that further aid comes with more strings attached.

The United States, after months of delay, sent $95 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Much of the holdup, apparently, was to virtue signal about U.S. border issues. Any Republicans who truly wished to scrutinize the aid package should have better examined the recent behavior of the recipients and then questioned whether it might be contrary to U.S. security interests.

At first, congressional Republicans held up the aid to seek more border security funding. When the Biden administration agreed to much of what they wanted, Republicans continued delaying because Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump preferred to keep border security as an election issue. Eventually, House Speaker Mike Johnson allowed a vote on the bill without border concessions.

Meanwhile, contrary to U.S. wishes, Ukraine is now using drones to attack oil facilities deep in Russia. Although they’ve so far avoided triggering a major increase in world oil prices by striking refineries (so that Russia has to export more crude oil), this nevertheless should have led to more caution about providing other long-range weapons. It did not, as the United States recently sent a longer-range version of the Army’s ATACMS missile. Now, it was reported that Biden permitted Ukraine to strike targets inside of Russian territory with U.S. weapons.

Who knows what’s next? Can we rule out a Ukrainian escalation leading to conflict with a nuclear-armed power? Russia already looks ready to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus and has threatened to use nuclear weapons before in the conflict. Ukraine wasted much of its weaponry, ammunition, and lives on a failed offensive. As a result of shortages of such critical items, it finds itself in a precarious defense against a resurgent Russia.

When it comes to Israel, after initially going all-in on the nation’s over-the-top military response to Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack, U.S. President Biden has halted shipments of a range of weaponry and munitions because he’s opposed to the invasion of civilian-filled Rafah. Biden has also admitted that American bombs have killed Gazan civilians. Israel seems to be using U.S. weapons in contravention of international law and against the tightening Biden administration policy on cutting off U.S. armaments to countries “more likely than not” to violate international law or human rights.

Israel was attacked heinously by Hamas but had, almost unbelievably, approved Qatar’s continued funding of the terrorist group just three months beforehand. The Israeli government has indirectly supported Hamas in years past to divide the Palestinian movement and prevent a united Palestinian front for a two-state solution—an outcome both Hamas and Israeli hawks oppose. Yet blowback from Israel’s dangerous flirtation with one adversarial faction proved to be disastrous.

Despite the Biden administration’s caution not to make the same mistakes America did after the 9/11 attacks—overreacting and getting enmeshed in a quagmire—the Israelis have chosen to punish the Palestinian people, killing almost 35,000 instead of launching a limited counterterrorism operation with special forces to kill Hamas leaders and fighters and minimizing civilian casualties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overwhelming interest is to stay in power to avoid conviction for domestic crimes, so he must signal continued toughness to his hawkish coalition by bombing Gaza back into the stone age.

One sure result will be generations of hatred in Gaza, the West Bank, and in an Arab world that was slowly coming around to peaceful coexistence with Israel—exactly what Hamas wanted to achieve. This, by extension, sets America back in the region.

Israel is now experiencing something similar to when the United States found international support evaporating during its Middle East adventures. Hamas’ reemergence in northern Gaza points to a long counterinsurgency war, which likely will become unpopular even in Israel. Thus, the Biden administration is providing arms in a long war that will nix its (and the world’s) preferred two-state solution.

Over time, Taiwan’s billions in military aid provided by the United States have not always gone to buying the optimal weapons needed to deter or fight against a Chinese attack or invasion. Taiwan needs to buy more sea mines, anti-ship missiles, and diesel submarines rather than more glitzy supersonic fighter aircraft and tanks.

These examples show how making allies happy does not always coincide with U.S. security. If the United States insists on slathering its allies with billions in military aid, the Biden administration needs to make sure it comes with more strings attached.

Ivan R. Eland is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. He is the author of War and the Rogue Presidency. He tweets at @Ivan_Eland.

Image: Paparazzza /