Though Congress seems incapable of coming to a decision on how to address concerns about authorization for the fight against ISIS, some members of both parties are anxious to see the U.S. deepen its involvement in a different conflict. They want to supply Ukraine with advanced defensive weaponry to help the country stem the ongoing slaughter by Russian troops.
On Thursday, Politico reported on the deepening divide between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over the president’s authority to use U.S. military assets to battle ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The White House, which claims the current limited operations against the terrorist group are permissible under an Authorization for the Use of Military Force dating to 2001, has nonetheless requested a replacement that would limit the scope and duration of the operation.
One the Hill, many Democrats object to the measure because they believe the president’s request, which is vaguely worded, does not restrict the White House enough. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are concerned that the proposal is too limiting. The result has been a stalemate that shows no sign of being resolved.
By contrast, there is more unity on the proposal to arm Ukraine.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday released a letter signed by eleven members of the House, eight Republicans and three Democrats, urging the president to act on the authority lawmakers gave him last year to supply lethal aid to Ukraine. The government in Kiev has been battling separatists backed by Russian troops and equipment since last year.
Russian troops invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula a year ago, and claimed that the region had been “annexed.” The continued presence of Russian troops and matériel in Ukraine, the lawmakers wrote, “[I]s a grotesque violation of international law, a challenge to the west, and an assault on the international order established at such great cost in the wake of World War II.”
Citing a bill sent to the President in December, they wrote, “To date, the administration has not utilized the authorities provided in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act to provide defensive military systems to the Ukrainian government.”
They expressed concern that a shaky ceasefire agreement has only allowed Russian backed rebels to be reinforced by more troops and equipment from Moscow.
“In the wake of a cease-fire agreement that appears only to have consolidated Russian and separatist gains since the first Minsk agreement, and in anticipation of the near certainty that Russia and its separatist proxies continue their efforts to destabilize Ukraine and seize additional territory, we urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal, defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian military.”
Up to this point, Obama has tended toward the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is against arming Ukraine, in the belief that more weapons in the region will only worsen the conflict. House leaders said they recognize the need to “prioritize unity of effort” with Europe.
However, they wrote, “We urge you to lead Europe in challenging this assault on international order, lest our foreign policy be held hostage by the lowest common denominator of European consensus. In the face of Russian aggression, the lack of clarity on our overall strategy thus far has done little to reassure our friends and allies in the region who, understandably, feel vulnerable. This needs to change.”
Russian officials have indicated that the U.S. arming Ukraine would be treated as an “act of war” – despite the fact that even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Kremlin still denies that it has sent troops and equipment to Ukraine.
In addition to Boehner, the signatories to the letter sent to Obama include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce (R-CA), Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), Armed Services Committee Chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA),
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