Biden declares support for Israel and Ukraine is ‘vital’ for U.S. security


First lady Jill Biden, right, watches as President Joe Biden speaks from the Oval Office of the White House, on October 19, 2023, in Washington, about the war in Israel and Ukraine.

First lady Jill Biden, right, watches as President Joe Biden speaks from the Oval Office of the White House, on October 19, 2023, in Washington, about the war in Israel and Ukraine.
| Photo Credit: AP

President Joe Biden declared it is “vital for America's national security” for Israel and Ukraine to succeed in their wars, making the case Thursday night for deepening U.S. involvement in a rare Oval Office address as he prepared to ask for billions of dollars in military assistance for both countries.

If international aggression is allowed to continue, Mr. Biden said, “conflict and chaos could spread in other parts of the world”.

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“Hamas and Putin represent different threats,” Mr. Biden said. “But they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy.”

He said he would send an urgent funding request to Congress, which is expected to be roughly $100 billion over the next year. The proposal, which will be unveiled on Friday, includes money for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, humanitarian aid and border management.

“It's a smart investment that's going to pay dividends for American security for generations,” Mr. Biden said.

He hoped that combining all of these issues into one piece of legislation will create the necessary political coalition for congressional approval. His speech comes the day after his high-stakes trip to Israel, where he showed solidarity with the country in its battle against Hamas and pushed for more humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Ahead of his address, Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to stress that the U.S. remained committed to backing Kyiv, the White House said. And a senior White House official said Mr. Biden continued to develop his remarks on Thursday after working with close aides throughout the week, including on his flight home from Israel. The official declined to be identified ahead of the president's speech.

Mr. Biden faces an array of steep challenges as he tries to secure the money. The House remains in chaos because the Republican majority has been unable to select a speaker to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted more than two weeks ago.

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In addition, conservative Republicans oppose sending more weapons to Ukraine as its battle against the Russian invasion approaches the two-year mark. Mr. Biden's previous request for funding, which included $24 billion to help with the next few months of fighting, was stripped out of budget legislation last month despite a personal plea from Mr. Zelenskyy.

The White House has warned that time is running out to prevent Ukraine, which recently struggled to make progress in a gruelling counteroffensive, from losing ground to Russia because of dwindling supplies of weapons.

There will be resistance on the other side of the political spectrum when it comes to military assistance for Israel, which has been bombarding the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas attack on October 7.

Critics have accused Israel of indiscriminately killing civilians and committing war crimes by cutting off essential supplies like food, water and fuel.

Bipartisan support for Israel has already eroded in recent years as progressive Democrats have become more outspoken in their opposition to the country's decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory, which is widely viewed as illegal by the international community.

There are rumbles of disagreement within Mr. Biden's administration as well. Josh Paul, a State Department official who oversaw the congressional liaison office dealing with foreign arms sales, resigned over US policy on weapons transfers to Israel.

“I cannot work in support of a set of major policy decisions, including rushing more arms to one side of the conflict, that I believe to be short-sighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse,” he wrote in a statement posted to his LinkedIn account.

Mr. Paul is believed to be the first official to have resigned in opposition to the administration's decision to step up military assistance to Israel after the October 7 attack.

While visiting Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Mr. Biden told Israel that “we will not let you ever be alone.” However, he cautioned Israelis against being “consumed” by rage as he said the United States was after the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Mr. Biden's decision to include funding for Taiwan in his proposal is a nod toward the potential for another international conflict. China wants to reunify the self-governing island with the mainland, a goal that could be carried out through force.

Although wars in Europe and the Middle East have been the most immediate concerns for U.S. foreign policy, Mr. Biden views Asia as the key arena in the struggle for global influence.

The administration's national security strategy, released last year, describes China as “America's most consequential geopolitical challenge.”

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