A few days ago, Barack Obama, the former US president and the most renowned member of the Democratic Party, sent some signals that anxiously raise the question of the limits of US support for Ukraine. A day earlier, the same meaning found its way into the words of some Republican candidates during a mass meeting in preparation for the Congress midterm elections.
Discussions over the budget of the US aid to the war in Ukraine took more than an hour, with statements stressing the necessity to set a time limit for this matter, as well as the importance of reviewing what was spent and its worth in achieving and enforcing direct American interests.
It is noteworthy that voices from both the Democrats and the Republicans have come together only days before the elections, to reveal what has been going on beneath the surface for months.
The US magazine Politico published a report [on 20 October 2022] on European concerns that the US could retract its support for Ukraine. The report stated that some Republicans, if they win the midterm elections, may push to reduce US support for the war, at a time when Washington is increasing pressure on Europe to raise its defense expenses. The gap between US and European support has been re-highlighted among NATO members. Convincing European NATO members to devote 2 percent of their economic income to defense was difficult before. Now, they are under greater pressure from the US to spend more. This comes amid European discussions on how to refill Ukraine’s shrinking military arsenal and help rebuild it. Washington thinks that there are governments that take this promise seriously, however the Biden administration requires more from its European allies all the time.
Hence, earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged his military counterparts to consider going beyond the 2 percent, according to his vision of expanding military industrial bases so that the alliance can be assured of the stability of compensation flowing for what they have given to Ukraine. What the Biden administration is pushing for apparently aims at adjusting the pace of the availability of military aid to serve the demands of the battlefront efforts. Nevertheless, and in a more important aspect, it seems directed at soothing the anxious voices of the American interior that have recently escalated in the opposite direction. While the Biden administration continues to ask Congress to provide the necessary support to Ukraine, what prevails among members is skepticism about the smooth completion of those requests over the coming months.
At least, many paused before the speech of Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, when he explicitly stated, “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine”. The Biden administration officials, according to Politico, have not denied “growing concerns about the stability of the Western alliance when it comes to supporting Ukraine and enforcing sanctions on Russia. Far-right leaders across Europe have signaled an uneasiness with maintaining the war effort.”
The domestic economic pain that Rep. McCarthy and others have exacerbated was an important impetus for Biden’s haste to announce, during the same week, a plan to sell 15 million barrels of US Strategic Reserve oil inventories. Such a step is part of the response to recent production cuts decided by OPEC Plus, to be followed by another plan to refill emergency reserves in the coming years with prices standing at a level between $67 and $72 a barrel, the price standard for US oil. This is not Biden’s first move. In March, it was decided to withdraw 180 million barrels of strategic petroleum reserves to face a potential supply crisis that market estimates said was likely to result from sanctions imposed on Russia at the time. But even those measures were not spared harsh criticism given the election season. Republican Party leaders quickly accused the Democratic administration that the latter plan was designed to take advantage of the reserve for political reasons, unrelated to the state of emergency stated in the 1975 law establishing the Strategic Reserve.
The management of the oil file within the United States represents a thorny and critical issue as it has a federal dimension. In addition to the abovementioned accusations of the current administration, there is a fear that the large drawdown over the past months has led to the US strategic reserve reaching its lowest level since 1984. US oil producers demand that the Biden administration open more federal land for drilling and approve pipelines while offering tax incentives to companies. The administration responds that this is not a practical solution, given that new permits take years to produce oil, thus it is unrealistic that there will be any impact on current prices.
On the other hand, the administration faces a scruple from environmental groups who helped Biden win, demanding that in the midst of that crisis he fulfills his campaign pledges to prevent new drilling on federal land. This complexity, which Biden has faced over the past months, explains the state of extreme personal distress with which he received the recent OPEC Plus decision, and then came out with that tense tone against Saudi Arabia in statements, which many found inclined to exaggerate.
Would the concerns that seemed to be forming against the backdrop of those electoral votes, partially because of serious economic pressure, soon push Washington to an expected review of the volume of spending and aid directed to Ukraine? This could take the results of the war to a mysterious crossroads amid the corresponding Russian mobilization.
Published in Arabic in Al-Ahram newspaper on 22 October 2022.