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“Obscene”: Biden Pushes House to Approve Bill with $14B in Military Aid to Israel, Cuts UNRWA Funding

StoryFebruary 15, 2024
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The U.S. Senate has approved a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes $14 billion in military funding to Israel, despite the finding by the International Court of Justice that it is plausible Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza. The Senate bill passed on a 70-29 vote, though its fate remains uncertain in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Mike Johnson is demanding the inclusion of new anti-immigrant and border enforcement measures before scheduling a vote. William Hartung, a national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, says the massive spending package’s main effect would be “to ship weapons overseas into war zones,” noting that lawmakers rarely show the same urgency when it comes to issues like poverty or the climate crisis. “We’re putting the bulk of our resources into implements of war.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Here in the United States, President Biden is urging the House to vote to approve a $95 billion foreign aid bill passed by the Senate Tuesday that includes $14 billion for Israel’s war on Gaza, along with $60 billion for Ukraine and $8 billion for Indo-Pacific allies like Taiwan. It also strips U.S. funding for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders opposed the measure, joined by two Democratic senators who broke ranks with their party, Jeff Merkley and Peter Welch. This is Welch.

SEN. PETER WELCH: I voted against the supplemental for one key reason: I cannot in good conscience support sending billions of additional taxpayer dollars for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military campaign in Gaza. It’s a campaign that has killed and wounded a shocking number of civilians. It’s created a massive humanitarian crisis with no end in sight. It’s inflamed tensions in the Middle East, eroding support among Arab states that had been aligned with Israel. And, of course, it has severely compromised any remaining hope, almost all remaining hope, for the two-state solution that we all know is ultimately essential for peace in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Vermont Senator Peter Welch. The foreign aid package now faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Mike Johnson is refusing to schedule a vote without first adding new anti-immigrant and border enforcement measures, and may propose an alternative package today.

For more, we are here in New York with William Hartung, national security, foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new piece for Forbes is headlined “Senate Aid Package Underscores Washington’s Skewed Priorities.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Bill. Talk about what this bill represents, which is largely supported by Democrats.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the first thing that stuck out to me is $95 billion, most of it to ship weapons overseas into war zones. You know, this Senate would never do an emergency bill to stop record homelessness, stop hunger, you know, deal with the climate crisis. The United States has the worst record of life expectancy of any industrialized country, and yet we’re putting the bulk of our resources into implements of war.

And, of course, to give Israel more money to continue the slaughter in Gaza that we’ve seen laid out in this program is obscene. And I think the members who voted for it should be ashamed of themselves. But I think the real point is to stop the killing. There’s got to be a ceasefire. And President Biden, through cutting off conditioning U.S. military aid, has the strongest hand to try to do that. So, there’s got to be more pressure. I know there’s been a lot at the grassroots level, some within the government, but it’s got to continue, because I think the goal here has to be to stop the slaughter.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And the Senate vote came just hours after the EU’s foreign policy chief urged the United States and other countries to stop providing arms to Israel. So, if you could respond to that? How common is it, first of all, for the EU foreign policy chief to make such a pronouncement? And whether this kind of pressure will affect the Biden administration’s policy?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, it’s very unusual to see that kind of statement from an ally. But this is a very unprecedented and devastating situation. So, you know, I don’t know what exactly is going to move the president. It’s clear it’s going to hurt him electorally. It’s clear that it’s running the risk of a wider Middle East war. You know, there’s really no — from a realistic point of view, there’s no reason to be doing this. It’s basically kind of an ideological kind of issue that seems to be embedded in the president’s consciousness, that has to be dislodged.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, you’ve talked about how the Pentagon and military contractors are exploiting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to get special favors to push arms out the door without proper vetting, building more factories without oversight. Can you explain?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes. Well, the industry has had this long-standing list of things they wanted: as you pointed out, push arms quickly, less human rights vetting, more subsidies to build factories. And, of course, this reduced scrutiny will also make it easier for them to engage in price gouging. So they’ve sort of wrapped themselves in the flag with respect to Ukraine. You know, the president has called them the “arsenal of democracy,” I think which would be a surprise to the people of Yemen and other places where the U.S. is arming dictatorships.

So, they’re trying to run with this and really change the whole argument about whether we should be spending more on the military, at a time when the budget is soaring towards a trillion dollars a year. U.S. accounts for 40% of the world military spending, more than the next 15 countries combined. So, there’s got to be strong pushback against this, because, essentially, it’s kind of a new Cold War atmosphere in its attempt to kind of whitewash the negative consequences of what these companies do. And, of course, contractors get about half of that close to a trillion dollars a year that we spend on the military.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, if President Biden says he’s warning Israel, for example, against a ground invasion of Rafah, but then increasing funding to Israel and military funding, what message is that sending?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, I think anything this administration says about human rights, the rule of law, the rules-based international order, rings hollow in the face of what’s happening with respect to supporting Israel in this war. And I think it will reverberate well beyond this conflict. I think, you know, the U.S. will not be taken as seriously when they raise these kinds of issues in the future. So, not only is it horrific for the people of Gaza, but I think it undermines the role of the United States in the world in any cases where they actually would want to play a constructive role. So it’s hard to imagine a more damaging foreign policy decision.

AMY GOODMAN: William Hartung, we want to thank you so much for being with us, national security and foreign policy expert at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. We’ll link to your piece in Forbes, “Senate Aid Package Underscores Washington’s Skewed Priorities.”

That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, here in New York.

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