The House of Representatives, on May 10, approved President Biden's $33 billion package for the war in Ukraine, and then, on its own initiative, added $7 billion on top of it. That brought the new war spending authorization to $40 billion, on top of the $14 billion already spent just 10 weeks into this war, which U.S. officials predict will last years, not months. The House vote in favor was 388-57. All 57 NO votes were from GOP House members. All House Democrats, including the Squad, voted YES.
A similar scene occurred when the Senate, “moving quickly and with little debate,” overwhelmingly approved the same war package. All eleven NO votes were from Senate Republicans. All Senate Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), voted in favor, seemingly in direct contradiction to Sanders’ February 8 op-ed in The Guardian warning of the severe dangers of bipartisan escalation of the war. Efforts by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to delay passage of the bill so that some safeguards and accountability measures could be included regarding where the money was going and for what purposes it would be used were met with scorn, particularly from Paul's fellow Kentucky GOP Senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who condemned Paul as an “isolationist.” Following the Senate vote, a jet was used to fly the bill across the world to President Biden in South Korea, where he signed it into law.
But the lack of any safeguards over the destination of the money and weapons prompted close to two dozen House Republicans, led by Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM), to send a letter to the Biden White House on Monday demanding greater specificity and assurances about legal requirements on how weapons are used. The letter urges a public reckoning on the dangers of the U.S.'s bankrolling of the war in Ukraine: “We write today to express grave concern about the lack of oversight and accountability for the money and weapons recently approved by Congress for Ukraine,” it began.
"The aid package approved by Congress provides unprecedented funding for a foreign conflict in which the United States is not fighting, while there have been no significant hearings or substantive briefings on the use of the money and weapons being provided at taxpayer expense." The lawmakers raised the prospect of sophisticated weaponry falling into the hands of terrorist organizations, citing a documented history of illicit arms-trafficking within Ukraine, a market which is one of the largest in Europe:
"According to a 2017 Small Arms Survey briefing on arms trafficking, over 300,000 small arms disappeared from Ukraine between 2013 and 2015 and only 13 percent were recovered. Criminal networks, corrupt officials, and underpaid military personnel can make a profitable business from the sale of arms from Ukrainian military stockpiles. For example, in 2019, the Ukrainian Security Service uncovered a plot by Ukrainian soldiers to sell 40 RGD-5 grenades, 15 grenade launchers, 30 grenade detonators, and 2,454 rounds of ammunition for 75,000 Ukrainian hryvnia or around $2,900."
Indeed, the relentlessly war-supporting CNN last month acknowledged that “the US has few ways to track the substantial supply of anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other weaponry it has sent across the border into Ukraine.” Biden officials admitted the “risk that some of the shipments may ultimately end up in unexpected places.” About the heavy weaponry the Biden White House had originally said it wouldn't send, only to change its mind, a senior official briefing reporters said: “I couldn't tell you where they are in Ukraine and whether the Ukrainians are using them at this point.”
Following that trail, this new letter accuses the Biden administration of indifference toward Ukraine's dismal corruption record and the resulting possibility that large amounts of U.S. weaponry could soon circulate around the black market, placing the security of both Europe and the U.S at risk. The only member of “the Squad” to explain her YES vote in support of the $40 billion, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), referenced similar dangers in a written statement explaining her vote:
Additionally, at $40 billion, this is an extraordinary amount of military assistance, a large percentage of which will go directly to private defense contractors. In the last year alone, the United States will have provided Ukraine with more military aid than any country in the last two decades, and twice as much military assistance as the yearly cost of war in Afghanistan, even when American troops were on the ground. The sheer size of the package given an already inflated Pentagon budget should not go without critique. I remain concerned about the increased risks of direct war and the potential for direct military confrontation.
The letter from these twenty-two GOP dissenters questions the administration's compliance with the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which governs and limits the use of weapons exported to other countries by the U.S. Government. The law was particularly designed to control the end-use of U.S.-supplied weapons, and it regulates arms transfers which might result in an escalation of conflict. With those legislative limits in mind, the lawmakers demand a response from the Biden administration to the following key questions:
What steps has Ukraine taken to ensure weapons supplied to them are not falling into the hands of criminal networks or being sold for profit?
How exactly is the U.S. government complying with the Arms Export Control Act and ensuring that end-use monitoring of defense articles and defense services" adhere to all foreign military sales standards?
Has the U.S. discovered whether any weapons previously provided to Ukraine were diverted from their intended recipients or stolen? Have any of the weapons fallen in the hands of criminals or terrorists?
Are you and your administration confident that you have effective end-use monitoring capabilities in place and enough resources to ensure no weapons will be used against U.S. citizens or those of allied nations, like weapons from the Balkans which were used in recent European terror attacks?
Will the administration commit to the creation of a special monitor to ensure that funds sent under this and other aid packages to Ukraine are not subject to waste, fraud, and abuse and comply with all Arms Export Control Act requirements? This monitor should be modeled after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
As escalating gas prices and the soaring costs of consumer goods place greater and greater strain on the American worker, the Republican lawmakers signing onto this letter highlighted the strange logic behind the bipartisan position that enormous sums of money must be spent on a war in a country in which the U.S., as former president Barack Obama long maintained, has no vital interest, all while Americas are asked to endure shortages and economic downturn at home. "The American people did not elect us to pour their hard-earned money into a conflict halfway around the world with little ability to track the end use of weapons or their effectiveness,” they argued.
So few questions were asked about the Biden administration's war strategy as the extraordinary $40 billion package sprinted through Congress that even the The New York Times appeared shocked. The paper, reporting on the House's approval, repeatedly noted how members of both parties appeared too frightened to express concerns or even scrutinize what the Pentagon and CIA are doing. The paper sounded a similar tone after the Senate quickly approved the bill on Thursday, noting that “the speed with which it moved through Congress, where the leaders of both parties raised few questions about how much money was being spent or what it would be used for, was striking, given the gridlock that has prevented domestic initiatives large and small from winning approval in recent years.”
Continuing a pattern of performing the function long-served by the now muted, or rather nonexistent, “antiwar Left,” these Republican lawmakers stressed at the letter's outset that "no path forward on ending the conflict in Ukraine has been outlined" by the Biden administration (the key argument Sanders made in his February op-ed before snapping into line last week to vote YES). While the Biden administration has been quite eager to flood advanced weaponry into this active war zone, and Congress even more so, it remains utterly uninterested in, if not opposed to, the prospect of a negotiated settlement. Speaking at the annual World Economic Forum on Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) explicitly rejected the desirability of a diplomatic solution, saying the only acceptable outcome is full military victory over Russia by Ukraine and the U.S.
Whatever one's views on this war, it should be deeply concerning how little debate or scrutiny is being permitted as the Biden administration aggressively escalates the U.S. role in what is clearly its most dangerous war in decades. If Congress has no role in asking where these weapons are going or who is receiving these staggering sums of money, then it has no role at all. Even if one supports the spending of $40 billion more and untold amounts into the future as this war drags on, there is no denying that the few dozen members of Congress demanding answers from the White House about their strategy, their management of these expenditures, and their ability to control the destination of these weapons are doing their jobs.