With no end to the war in sight, reconstruction costs on the horizon once the war ends, and a U.S. Treasury facing trillion-dollar deficits every year for the foreseeable future, our role in Ukraine raises important questions about the duration and extent of our commitment and how we finance it.
What is our role? What is our goal?
When economic sanctions failed to prevent Russia’s invasion, the Biden Administration proceeded cautiously, eager to avoid direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed nation, especially since Ukraine was expected to fall within days or weeks. Initial aid packages were modest—$350 million on February 25, $800 million on March 16, $1 billion on March 24—and focused on non-provocative, defense-oriented materiel and humanitarian aid. President Biden’s words matched his deeds saying, “[T]he American people will be steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin’s immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations. We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught, and we’re going to continue to have their back as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival. And we’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead.” (March 16, 2022). President Biden was clear: This was Ukraine’s fight.
But in the nine weeks since the war began, the role of the United States has morphed into something bigger and more aggressive, in parallel with Ukraine’s success in battle. The current aid package for Ukraine is enormous—it exceeds the annual federal budget for at least seven different cabinet-level agencies—and provides a significant upgrade in weaponry: armored personnel carriers, long-range howitzers, lethal attack drones, and helicopters.