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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Rubin: U.S. should help Ukraine

Biden must get critical aid to Kyiv to prevent a MAGA sellout

By Trudy Rubin
Published: March 11, 2024, 6:01am

Donald Trump is helping Vladimir Putin defeat Ukraine.

To stop that from happening, President Joe Biden must do an end run around Congress — where Trump and his MAGA clique have cowed House Speaker Mike Johnson into blocking a vote on vital military aid for Ukraine.

Biden still has the power to get some critical aid to Kyiv and prevent a MAGA sellout to Putin that will have ugly, long-term security consequences for America. But the White House can only counter the appeasers if Biden finally summons the political will to help Ukraine win.

Today, Trump and Putin hold the advantage.

With U.S. military funding cut off, Ukraine recently lost the town of Avdiivka to Russia because frontline soldiers ran out of artillery shells and bullets.

Our European allies — who already give twice as much aid to Ukraine as the U.S. does — are trying to rev up their military production capacity to compensate. They need to do much better, but they can’t do this fast enough or big enough to make up for the U.S. abdication. Meantime, Russia is boosting its military production with substantial help from Iran and North Korea.

Trump has long made his admiration of Putin clear, and his disdain for Ukraine clearer. That makes urgent White House action even more imperative before the November elections. If Trump should win, he insists he will settle the Ukraine war in 24 hours in Moscow, which means pressing Kyiv to surrender to Putin’s demands.

Each day that passes without further U.S. aid encourages Putin to expand his ambitions. Here are four steps Biden must take:

  • Use presidential authority to provide weapons. Much of U.S. military aid to Ukraine relies on presidential drawdown authority, known as PDA, meaning Biden can immediately send Kyiv weapons from existing stocks. Military aid appropriations then go to replace these weapons, often with newer models.

Biden still has PDA access to around $4.2 billion worth of weapons but stopped sending them in late December. The given reason: The halt to Ukraine aid means there is no money for the Pentagon to replace the diminished stocks.

  • Send needed ATACMS. These are long-range missiles with a powerful single warhead that can travel 300 kilometers.

“ATACMS are not a silver bullet, but would make a tremendous difference,” says retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the United States Army Europe. “They would allow Ukraine to destroy every Russian logistics base and headquarters inside occupied Ukrainian territory, with precision.”

Ukraine has already had great success with French and British long-range missiles in destroying Russian ships in the Black Sea, but their numbers are limited, and the U.S. missiles are more powerful.

None of the current White House excuses for withholding ATACMS holds water. The Pentagon has hundreds of them in stock and is already replacing them with next-generation Precision Strike Missiles. What is the White House waiting for?

  • Rev up production. Increase U.S. industrial production of ammunition and weaponry in 2024, as Europe is doing, to help Ukraine and better prepare for future Russian (or Chinese) aggression. In the meantime, scour current U.S. stocks for more immediate ammo aid, including supplies of cluster munitions the Pentagon no longer uses.
  • Clarify why helping Ukraine helps America. Explain directly to the American people why more military aid for Ukraine is crucial for U.S. security.

First off, MAGA calls for Ukraine to negotiate now with Putin are a pipe dream. “Anybody who thinks you can negotiate in good faith with Russia has never read a history book,” Hodges told me. Moreover, if the Kremlin crushes Ukraine, Putin has made clear his desire to undermine or bite off chunks of NATO member states — potentially provoking a wider war.

Meantime, the world is watching whether the United States of Trumpism is ready to let an aggressive dictator break all post-World War II rules in Europe by brutally annexing a neighboring nation. If so, violent challenges to the United States on land, sea, and space will multiply exponentially.

This does not have to happen if Biden pushes back forcefully.

“Hopefully we will rediscover our strategic backbone,” Hodges said. Hopefully in time to prevent MAGA appeasers from handing Putin a victory in 2024.