$95 billion weapons bills will prolong deadly wars in Ukraine and Gaza
Bombs for Ukraine: Ukrainian soldiers unload a shipment of U.S. weapons at an airport outside Kiev. | Efrem Lukatsky / AP

WASHINGTON—Splitting President Joe Biden’s bonus war budget bill into several pieces proved to be the winning formula to getting (most of) it passed in the House after months of trying to clear the package as a whole repeatedly hit a wall.

In a series of five separate votes over the weekend, the House approved a total of $95 billion in fresh military funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, along with new sanctions on Iran and steps toward banning social media app TikTok, a GOP pet cause.

The extra weapons money comes on top of the nearly $900-billion-dollar 2024 Pentagon budget, bringing total U.S. military spending for the year to nearly a trillion dollars.

The White House celebrated the new armaments spending extravaganza, with Biden saying the legislation “put our national security first.” But by pumping more cash into the combat zones of Ukraine and Gaza, the bills actually weaken security around the world, guarantee the prolongation of two deadly conflicts, and pad the profit margins of the country’s biggest weapons makers.

Biden’s bonus war budget

While all four parts of the bill passed by wide margins, the Ukraine and Israel components each met with notable opposition—by Republicans when it came to Ukraine and progressive Democrats on Israel.

Proud warriors: Israeli soldiers pose for a selfie amidst a backdrop of total destruction in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 19, 2024. | Tsafrir Abayov / AP

Shoehorning Israel’s war against the Palestinian people and the Ukraine-Russia war together in his October speech requesting the funds, Biden deployed a narrative that equated “terrorists like Hamas” with “tyrants like Putin.”

Biden hoped linking the two fights would make it easier to secure the money. Any background context to the two wars—75 years of Palestinian dispossession in the first case and a U.S.-backed coup in Kiev in 2014 or an eastward-encroaching NATO military alliance in the second—was absent from his speech.

His focus was solely on protecting the State of Israel and shielding Ukraine from Russian aggression. No mention was made of the need to seek a ceasefire and negotiations for a lasting peace in either conflict.

Though the Senate eventually passed a package containing most of what Biden requested, the House balked, with Speaker Mike Johnson equivocating for months. After seeing his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy booted from his seat by the right-wing Freedom Caucus for working to pass a budget measure together with the Democrats, Johnson was reluctant to be seen as cooperating with the opposition.

Iran’s military strikes against Israel last week in retaliation for Netanyahu’s bombing of its embassy in Syria, however, appeared to have moved Johnson to action. Determined to rush more arms to Israel, he advanced the package as a chopped-up collection of bills, allowing him to pass all the pieces without risking his far-right allies sinking the whole thing.

Prolonging the war in the east

Democrats unanimously approved the $61 billion Ukraine bill, waving blue and yellow flags as they cast their votes. President Volodymyr Zelensky will now get a backlog of equipment he’s been demanding, including artillery shells, air defense missile systems, and deep-strike rockets capable of hitting far inside Russian territory.

A large chunk of the money—at least $23 billion—goes almost immediately to U.S. weapons corporations like Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. That portion of the funds will be spent “restocking” U.S. arsenals that have already been emptied out and sent to Ukraine.

This subsidy to arms companies was billed as a “smart investment” by Biden when he made the pitch in October. He argued that prolonged war was a job creator and good for the American economy.

“We send Ukraine equipment sitting in our stockpiles. And when we use the money allocated by Congress, we use it to replenish our own stores…with new equipment…made in America,” Biden said at the time.

Reflecting the long bipartisan pro-NATO consensus in Washington, most so-called “mainstream” Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the Ukraine weapons bill.

Dissenting were 40 members of the MAGA faction, the House Freedom Caucus. Much of the liberal corporate media rushed to characterize their “no” votes as proof of the affinity for Vladimir Putin that they supposedly share with Donald Trump.

In truth, however, with a close election coming, the Freedom Caucus is more likely attempting to opportunistically take advantage of widespread anti-war sentiment in the country and the reluctance many American voters feel when it comes to spending billions on overseas wars.

Some 55% of Americans in one recent poll—including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans—oppose allocating money for more weapons in the Ukraine war. Nearly 80% fear the war will drag on for years if there are no serious moves toward a ceasefire and peace negotiations.

“The days are over of the old Republican Party that wants to fund foreign wars and murder people in foreign lands while they stab the American people in their face and refuse to protect Americans and fix our problems,” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene declared Saturday.

Her isolationist populism is crafted to appeal to voters weary of war, but it is never paired with a critique of U.S. imperialism generally or any analysis of the profiteers who benefit from war. Instead, she tries to manipulate anti-war Americans into supporting the far-right’s fascist agenda.

Going nuclear in Poland

Meanwhile, as the Freedom Caucus uses Ukraine as a political prop, behind the scenes, Trump is already laying the groundwork to also extend the Ukraine-Russia war if he recaptures the White House.

Trump did not oppose the Ukraine weapons bill; instead, he asked why Europe wasn’t spending more on the effort. He met with Poland’s far-right President Andrzej Duda in New York last week. Seeking to wring more money out of the U.S. and Europe, Duda has been constantly amping up the conflict between the West and Russia.

He has claimed, without proof, that there is a “high probability” of Russia attacking other countries in Europe and has pushed NATO alliance members to increase their war preparations. His government already spends more than 4% of its GDP on the military, most of that going toward the purchase of weapons from U.S. arms companies.

Duda announced Monday morning that he now wants Poland to host U.S. nuclear weapons aimed at Russia. He revealed that talks have been underway with Washington since 2022 to move U.S. nukes onto Polish territory and compared it to the stationing of Russian weapons in Belarus.

Russia warned that the risk of a “direct military clash” between it and Western nuclear powers is rising rapidly.

Subsidizing genocide

Right after voting to extend the Ukraine-Russia war, the U.S. House approved another tranche of weaponry for Israel, even as the IDF was raining down bombs on the al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in Gaza. A total of $26.38 billion of U.S. funds will pay for replenishing Israel’s bomb and missile stockpiles and buying new advanced weapons systems.

A skull is seen at a Palestinian cemetery in Khan Younis, Gaza, Jan. 27, 2024. The Israeli military dug out the graveyard and left remains exposed after claiming they discovered a tunnel underneath it. | Sam McNeil / AP

Republicans were almost unanimous in backing the Israel aid portion, while a strong contingent of 37 Democrats voted no. Ceasefire advocates like Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman were the leading opponents, but they were joined by senior Dems like Jamie Raskin and Maxine Waters, as well.

Following the vote, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and 19 other lawmakers issued a statement accusing the Biden administration of violating U.S. law by arming Israel.

“U.S. law demands that we withhold weapons to anyone who frustrates the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid, and President Biden’s own recent National Security Memorandum requires countries that use U.S.-provided weapons to adhere to U.S. and international law regarding the protection of civilians,” the statement said. “To date, Netanyahu has failed to comply. It’s time for President Biden to use our leverage to demand change.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said taxpayers should “not be funding unconditional military weapons to a conflict that has created a catastrophic humanitarian disaster.” The death toll from Israel’s war in Gaza has now passed 34,000, with countless more Palestinians believed to be buried under the rubble.

Profit blowout

When added to the $8.12 billion allocated for new missiles targeting China that will be placed in Taiwan, the set of war spending bills passed this weekend adds up to a profit blowout for the major U.S. weapons corporations.

While many media outlets characterized the package as “aid” for foreign governments, in reality, the bills are a subsidy for the bottom line of the arms makers. They will benefit in the form of either direct U.S. government purchases to refill bomb supplies given to the allies of U.S. imperialism or via weapons purchase vouchers given to other governments and paid for with U.S. taxpayer cash.

On the stock market for the last two years, shares of the biggest defense companies have easily beat the benchmark numbers for other major capitalist firms on indexes like the S&P 500. But with wars and the potential for future wars heating up, 2024 is turning out to be an even bigger bonanza than expected.

Demand for U.S. government purchases was already expected to be strong for the year thanks to what Eric Fanning, chief executive of the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association, called “Chinese aggression” and “Russian aggression.” But “support for allies in the Middle East”—i.e. Israel—now figures much larger in the profit forecasts than it did before Oct. 7.

The quickest and easiest moneymaking comes from ramping up production of already-existing weapons systems, like the 2000-lb. bombs Israel has used to slaughter Palestinians and the rockets Ukraine uses in its fight against Russia.

Industry analysts interviewed by Reuters confirmed it: Stronger demand for these systems “will quickly flow to the corporate bottom line.”

The final steps required to get the money flowing into the arms companies’ bank accounts are approval of the new bills by the U.S. Senate and the signature of Biden. He promised to put pen to paper as soon as the laws arrive on his desk.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.