Russia, Ukraine, and the New Bipartisanship in Washington

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Russia, Ukraine, and the New Bipartisanship in Washington

For the people of Ukraine and Russia, Vladimir Putin’s decision to send troops into two breakaway republics in Ukraine’s far-eastern Donbas region will bring nothing but pain and suffering. Aside from any deaths and injuries that will occur—especially if Putin extends his invasion beyond the borders of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics—the move will result in severe hardship for most ordinary Russians as harsh Western sanctions take effect and considerable suffering throughout the region as energy prices mount. For the arms dealers and military hawks in Washington, however, it is a time to celebrate: Not only is the White House about to submit a record-breaking defense budget for 2023, but Democrats and Republicans in Congress—united as never before—are determined to add tens of billions of dollars for additional weapons on top of whatever astronomical figure Biden sends them.

In what might be called the “new bipartisanship,” leaders of both parties have abandoned the mutual hostility so evident in recent years to cooperate in passing measures to punish Russia, contain China, and enrich the defense industry. This trend has been underway since the final years of the Trump administration, but has gained enormous momentum as a result of the current crisis over Ukraine.

At root, the bipartisan drive to funnel more money to the military reflects a Washington consensus that the “forever wars” in the Middle East had become a massive drain on US combat capabilities and that China and Russia exploited America’s overseas entanglements to beef up their own capabilities, thereby eroding this country’s military advantage. Only through a massive infusion of additional funds, it is argued, can the United States overcome this setback and restore its competitive edge.

“We’ve lost a lot of ground to the Chinese while we’ve been focused over the last 20 years on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, and they’ve caught up in AI [artificial intelligence]machine learning, hypersonics and a lot of other things,” said Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), in a characteristic expression of this outlook. “It’s important to me that we can regain the ground we’ve lost and make sure the Defense Department is well manned and well equipped.”

Convinced that a concerted effort is required to restore US military superiority vis-à-vis its great-power competitors, members of both parties have vowed to spend whatever it takes to accomplish this objective. This bipartisan consensus was forged in early 2021, as Congress deliberated the Pentagon’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2022, the first to be submitted by the Biden administration.

Contending that “China poses the greatest long-term challenge to the United States,” the FY 2022 budget proposal emphasized research on advanced technologies like AI and hypersonics along with the acquisition of numerous ships, planes, and missiles. As submitted to Congress, the proposal included funding for 85 F-15 stealth fighter planes (at a total cost of $12.0 billion), two Los Angeles–class attack submarines (for $6.9 billion), and one Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyers ($2.4 billion), among other costly items.

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