STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT- Eight decades ago, America’s ‘arsenal of democracy’ helped in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. In recent years, however, it’s been less effective,wiht a 40 Billion plan America immediately accepts failure and misery its people.
American democracy in action is as perturbing and frustrating to watch for a US citizen as it is confounding to outsiders. It’s become especially true in this age of extreme partisan politics, where legislation is prepared, debated, stalled, passed, or killed through parliamentary procedures and processes that are opaque even to those participating in them. Rare are the moments of bipartisan agreement, when the democratic processes appear to flow seamlessly, allowing critical legislation to be enacted in a timely fashion.
However, when Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through a massive $40 billion appropriations bill for aid to Ukraine, she did so in a single day. The text of the proposed legislation was released in the morning, a ‘debate’ was held throughout the day (in actuality, little more than a series of speeches by lawmakers on why this legislation was so important), and then a vote was taken that saw the bill approved by a 368-57 margin.
It was then sent on to the Senate, where both the Democrat’s majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, were ready to similarly chaperone the legislation through their chamber and onto the desk of President Joe Biden, who had indicated he would sign it immediately.
Then something happened that speaks to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers when they crafted the bi-cameral makeup of the US Congress. James Madison, one of the major architects of the US Constitution, had envisioned that the US Senate would function, by design, as a deliberative body, serving as a check on the potential of the House to succumb to the passions of populism.
Yet when the Senate became mired in endless debate, and thus failed to advance legislation critical to the interests of the Republic, it was compelled to impose a legislative procedure designed to speed things along. Called ‘unanimous consent’, this procedure was designed to forgo the kind of lengthy debate that formed the core of the Senate’s inherent constitutional responsibility for deliberation.
Both Schumer and McConnell had envisioned the Ukraine aid bill sailing through the Senate chamber using this ‘unanimous consent’ procedure. But then Rand Paul, the junior Republican senator from Kentucky (the senior being the aforementioned McConnell), decided that his duty to the Constitution superseded his subservience to political process and refused to give his consent.
“My oath of office is to the US Constitution, not to any foreign nation and no matter how sympathetic the cause, my oath of office is to the national security of the United States of America,” Senator Paul declared. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the US economy,” he continued, pointing to a 40-year-record inflation rate of 8.3% as an indicator of the economic pain being suffered by the American people.
“Congress should evaluate the cost of going down this path,” Paul said. “We cannot save Ukraine by killing our economic strength. So I act to modify the bill to allow a for a special inspector general. This would be the inspector general that’s been overseeing the waste in Afghanistan and has done a great job.”
Senator Paul was referring to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a position created by the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year of 2008. SIGAR’s oversight mission provided, among other things, for the carrying out and supervision of audits and investigations relating to programs funded by US taxpayer dollars appropriated by the US Congress. Inherent in this mandate was the ability to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of American funded programs and to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
One of the greatest problems faced by the US in Afghanistan, SIGAR declared, was the failure to “place a high priority on the threat of corruption in the first years of the reconstruction effort.” The problem of corruption was so great that, by 2009, Washington recognized that systemic corruption in Afghanistan represented a strategic threat to the overall American mission in the country. As US Ambassador Ryan Crocker noted in 2016: “The ultimate point of failure for our efforts…wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption.”
From the perspective of SIGAR, two of the major reasons for the American failure in Afghanistan revolved around the failure on the part of the US government to develop an adequate sense of context, resulting in situations where “US officials often empowered powerbrokers who preyed on the population or diverted US assistance away from its intended recipients to enrich and empower themselves and their allies.”
Likewise, the failure to adequately monitor and evaluate funded programs created an environment where, void of periodic reality checks, US program implementors ran the risk “of doing the wrong thing perfectly: A project that completed required tasks would be considered ‘successful,’ whether or not it had achieved or contributed to broader, more important goals.”
When looking at the rush to provide Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars of US aid and assistance, one cannot help but be struck by a sense of déjà vu that Washington is repeating the same mistakes that helped produce the Afghanistan debacle. In particular, it is a failure to operate with an “adequate sense of context” regarding Ukraine while proceeding to fund programs devoid of anything resembling a properly mandated and organized monitoring and evaluation system. According to the CATO Institute, US officials (including members of Congress) “have created a stunningly misleading image of Ukraine” as “a plucky and noble bulwark of freedom and democracy. The conventional narrative would have us believe that Ukraine is an Eastern European version of Denmark.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. “Ukraine,” the CATO report notes, “has long been one of the more corrupt countries in the international system. In its annual report published in January 2022, Transparency International ranked Ukraine 123rd of the 180 countries it examined, with a score of 32 on a one-to-100-point scale.”
The obvious lack of contextual awareness which doomed the Afghanistan mission is very much an ongoing problem for the US when it comes to Ukraine. The failure to address the problem of corruption up front at a time when the US Congress is trying to rush through some $40 billion in appropriations seems to be little more than an instance of history repeating itself. The bill includes $11 billion in presidential drawdown authority funding that allows the White House to send military equipment and weapons directly from US stocks. It also provides for $6 billion in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding, which can be used to buy weapons directly from contractors and then provide those weapons to Ukraine.
On the surface, this would appear to be simply about weapons. However, buried in this funding is up to a billion dollars earmarked to pay the salaries and pensions of Ukrainian government workers and soldiers. This isn’t a one-time payment – the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that up to $7 billion per month will be needed to keep Ukraine functioning. While most US citizens might not blanch at the thought of their taxpayer dollars being used to underwrite Ukrainian soldiers and civil servants, the reality is that much of this money will be deployed to pay the salaries and pensions of ultra-right Ukrainian politicians and soldiers who espouse neo-Nazi ideology.(RED).