Biden Addresses U.S. and Lays Out Stakes in Israel and Ukraine Wars
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President Biden called on Americans on Thursday to stand behind Israel and Ukraine, making the case in a prime-time address that providing military and economic aid to the countries is in the interest of global stability and national security.
The 15-minute speech, only his second delivered from the Oval Office, shifted between two very different global conflicts as the president sought to connect the dots for Americans who are watching wars unfold half a world away. Ukraine and Israel, he said, both face threats of annihilation by tyrants and terrorists.
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” Mr. Biden said from behind the Resolute Desk. “They keep going. And the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”
The president delivered the speech as his administration braces for opposition to his request for $74 billion in assistance for the two countries. The money would pay for weapons and other military equipment as Israel responds to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and Ukraine fights on in its 600-day war to expel Russian invaders.
The president’s efforts to build support for a major projection of American influence abroad come against the backdrop of a deeply fractured population at home, political dysfunction in Congress, economic uncertainty and the possibility of an election-year rematch against a former president facing multiple criminal indictments.
In the days ahead, Mr. Biden is sure to face questions about whether the United States can afford to be financing two foreign wars. Although the U.S. economy has proved remarkably resilient this year, new data is expected to show on Friday that the deficit approached $2 trillion this fiscal year, and inflation remains uncomfortably high.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden described his request for aid as “a smart investment that’s going to pay dividends for American security for generations.” But he faces skepticism among members of both parties: progressive Democrats who fiercely oppose sending arms to Israel and conservative Republicans who have questioned the need to add to the more than $100 billion already approved in military and economic aid already sent to Ukraine.
And the president’s request arrives on Capitol Hill at a time of turmoil among House Republicans, who have failed for 16 days to pick a speaker. The political paralysis has left lawmakers unable to act on legislation, including new aid for either Ukraine or Israel.
In his speech, Mr. Biden urged lawmakers to resolve their differences and come together swiftly to embrace America’s role as what he called the “essential” country.
“American leadership is what holds the world together,” he said. “American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with.”
“To put all that at risk,” he added, “if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel, it’s just not worth it.”
The Israel conflict may have given Biden a path to approving Ukraine aid that otherwise might have remain stalled by combining the requests into one package, along with funding for Taiwan and investments along the border with Mexico.
For Mr. Biden, the challenge is to convince Americans that the United States must engage with the world beyond its borders even as many of them remain focused on concerns closer to home: inflation, health care, jobs, immigration and crime. The president’s approval numbers remain stubbornly low as he ramps up his bid for a second term.
A majority of people in recent surveys said the United States should help Israel in its fight with Hamas, but about a third of those in the president’s own party do not want to send weapons and military equipment. Support for continuing to arm Ukraine has dropped significantly since the war began nearly 20 months ago.
In his speech, Mr. Biden sought to confront those doubts by embracing what may become a legacy-defining moment in his presidency: the challenge of uniting the country to help people far beyond America’s borders.
Mr. Biden took his case for the new spending directly to the public less than two weeks after Hamas terrorists slaughtered more than 1,400 Israelis and just two days after an explosion at a hospital in the Gaza Strip killed as many as several hundred Palestinians. Mr. Biden visited Israel in a whirlwind trip on Wednesday, and in his speech, he said flatly that the hospital explosion was “not done by the Israelis.”
Mr. Biden used the address to remind people of the brutality of the Hamas attacks and the tragedy of civilian deaths in Gaza. But he also used the moment to remind people of the divisions that remain in the United States.
“We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism,” he said. “We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia. And to all you hurting, those of you who are hurting, I want you to know I see you. You belong. And I want to say this to you: You’re all American.”
After the speech, Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, called the father and the uncle of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American first-grader who was killed in anti-Muslim violence near Chicago. In a statement, the White House said the Bidens pledged to “keep speaking out against anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate and violence.”
Mr. Biden’s argument for engagement on the world stage comes after the president’s earlier push to withdraw the American military from its two-decade war in Afghanistan.
In the summer of 2021, Mr. Biden announced the official end of the war in Afghanistan, saying that the United States “no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission” there and adding that he “refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”
In the case of Ukraine, Mr. Biden has made clear he will not send American troops to fight. But the president has vowed to help Ukraine resist Russia in what he has called a “horrific war” for as long as it takes. In a speech in Lithuania this year, Mr. Biden described the goal in the broadest possible terms.
“We must never forget how much this matters and never, never give up on a better tomorrow,” he said. “The defense of freedom is not the work of a day or a year. It’s the calling of our lifetime, of all time.”
Before the speech, Mr. Biden called President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to reassure him of what the White House said was America’s “continued commitment to supporting Ukraine amidst Russia’s brutal war.”
In his speech on Thursday, Mr. Biden warned that “if we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself just to Ukraine.”
And he argued that the cost of supplying weapons to Ukraine and Israel is a good investment for the United States because much of the money will be paid to American companies to replenish the stocks of arms that get sent overseas. He compared the effort to one undertaken in World War II.
“Today,” he said, “patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy and serving the cause of freedom.”
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Biden Addresses U.S. and Lays Out Stakes in Israel and Ukraine Wars