Zelensky Visits Washington
It must rank as one of the fastest visits by a foreign leader in American history. Ukraine President Zelensky arrived one day to address Congress and left the next day to visit the president of Poland before returning home.
Not by chance was the annual appropriations bill due for a vote in both the Senate and House during the next two days – a bill that gave Ukraine billions in economic and military assistance.
Make no mistake, addresses by foreign leaders before Congress are political. Sir Winston Churchill holds the record for addresses to Congress and obviously, the ones during WWII were appeals for arms, just as Zelensky’s address in front of Congress was an appeal for arms and money.
But Biden needed the right backdrop for Zelensky’s appeal for money
But joint meetings of Congress aren’t set up by the president. They are controlled by the legislative branch, and scheduled by the Speaker of the House, which allows for some political bickering between Republicans and Democrats if the While House and speakership are controlled by different parties as will happen next month.
There is no better example of politics being used in a joint meeting of Congress than General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address to Congress in 1951. MacArthur wanted to pursue an aggressive strategy against the Chinese in North Korea. President Truman wanted a more moderate policy. The disagreement led to Truman firing MacArthur.
Congress, which had several political disagreements with Truman used a joint meeting of Congress to hear MacArthur blast Truman’s failure as a leader.
The speech is one that has partially entered the lexicon, especially the quote, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” His most direct attack on Truman was, “War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war, there is no substitute for victory.”
“But, once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a solution,” he continued. It is advice that every Pentagon and White House should listen to.
Many thought that this was the opening salvo for a run for the presidency. However, it was his former subordinate, General Dwight Eisenhower, who won the White House the next year.
Ukrainian President Zelensky was aware of the historical implications of his speech and the world leaders who had spoken from that same podium. He quoted President Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech:
“The American people in their righteous might will win through absolute victory,” he pledged, followed by the promise that Ukraine will achieve “absolute victory.”
Zelensky clearly wanted to cast the war into one that impacts the welfare of the whole world, including the United States. “Your money is not charity,” but an investment in “Global Security.”
He also pushed for American arms, especially tanks and fighters. He said he has never asked for American soldiers to fight for Ukraine. However, he asserted, “I can assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.” The claim that Ukrainian air force pilots can operate US aircraft may be a bit of hyperbole. It usually takes US pilots years to master sophisticated aircraft like the F-16, much less the F-35.
The speech was met with considerable bipartisan applause. Some Republican congressmen were absent, not to show displeasure with Zelensky, but to catch flights home as a major weather storm was forecast across most of the nation. As members of the minority (until two weeks from now), their vote would have no impact on the omnibus funding bill that was on the verge of being passed.
Zelensky’s speech was to guarantee that the assistance for Ukraine would not be eliminated in last minute negotiations over the budget.
While American sentiment supports Ukraine, there is concern about the burgeoning federal budget and the blank check given to the Ukrainians.
The US is sending a Patriot missile battery as part of a $1.85 billion weapons package. One billion dollars comes from dwindling American weapons stockpiles and $850 million will come directly from American industry as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
The US has held off on sending a Patriot missile battery due to its secret technology. However, the recent infrastructure attacks by Russia across the Ukraine have appeared to change minds in the Pentagon and White House. It will likely be stationed to protect Kiev.
The type of weapons being sent indicate how the Pentagon views the chances for gains during the winter, when the ground is easier to move upon. In addition to munitions, the US is sending 37 Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, and 6 Armored Utility Trucks.
The mix of vehicles indicates that the Pentagon and Ukraine are focused on a mobile war this winter. Vehicles with tires are ideal for winter combat in areas that are normally muddy. Unlike tracked vehicles like tanks, wheeled vehicles will not tear up the ground. These vehicles might be ideal in carrying operations in the “neck” of the Crimean Peninsula, where there are considerable water hazards.
Since the major link between Crimea and Russia is the Kerch Strait Bridge, which links Crimea and Taman Peninsula, can be cut as it was a few months ago, the Ukraine can cut off Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula and “starve” them out. However, if Russian forces are determined to hold the Crimea and the Russian Navy can support them, it may make more sense to carry out attacks against the Russians in the Eastern part of Ukraine. This territory was ideal for mobile warfare during WWII.
Although Ukraine has the tactical advantage now, Russia is larger, and a war of attrition is not a good strategy for Ukraine. Unless Putin is eliminated from the scene, which is not a viable development, lost Ukrainian land must be recaptured through force of arms.
Zelensky’s trip to the US and address to Congress (and the American people) has bought a few months of arms assistance. But even NATO’s arsenal is not bottomless.
This tranche of weapons must show some results in the next few months.