President Joe Biden last night made an impassioned call to his nation to show global leadership by backing Israel and Ukraine, saying in a speech from the Oval Office Thursday that defeating Hamas and Russia was a vital US interest.
The choice of setting was hugely significant and an indicator of just how important the issues raised are to Biden – Presidents traditionally reserve speeches from the solemn setting of the Oval Office for moments of key national significance.
Biden's only previous address from there was in June when he hailed a deal with Congress to avert what would have been a catastrophic US debt default, AFP reports.
But the stakes right now are clearly huge – as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine, the threat of a wider Middle Eastern conflict looms in the background and the US has already moved two aircraft carriers into the eastern Mediterranean to deter Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah, both allies of Hamas, from getting involved.
- Washington’s role
At a time of extreme global uncertainty, Biden was keen to stress the importance of the US’s role in world affairs, describing his country as “a beacon to the world.”
He added: “American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe.”
- Terrorists and Tyrants
With wars raging in both Ukraine and the Middle East, Biden made clear who he thinks the bad guys are, saying Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin “represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”
"We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win. I refuse to let that happen."
He also warned: “If we don't stop Putin's appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won't limit himself just to Ukraine.”
- Military Funding
In order to help facilitate the defeat of Hamas and President Putin, Biden said he would make an “urgent” request to Congress on Friday for funding to help Ukraine and Israel, arguing that this was an investment for the United States' future on the world stage for decades to come.
The White House is said to be teeing up a huge request to Congress for a package of more than $100 billion.
The package includes $60 billion for weapons for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel, the New York Times reported.
It also includes $7 billion in security assistance for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region to counter threats from China, $14 billion for security on the southern US border with Mexico and $10 billion in humanitarian aid for conflict zones, it said.
Biden said the money was a “smart investment that's going to pay dividends for American security for generations.”
- The Domestic Issue
While Biden’s stance on international affairs was unequivocal, domestically there are some stumbling blocks in the way of his plan.
His 15-minute speech was a call to Americans to overcome deep political divisions and unite behind support for two conflicts that he said posed a critical threat to the US despite being an ocean away.
"We can't let petty partisan angry politics get in the way of our responsibility as a great nation," said Biden said, with the Stars and Stripes and a flag of the US presidential seal behind him.
“America is a beacon to the world. Still. Still," he said.
But Congress has now been paralyzed for more than two weeks as divided Republicans, who hold the majority in the House, fail repeatedly to agree on electing a House speaker.
Hard-right Republicans, and a growing number of voters, are also strongly opposed to adding to the $43.9 billion in security assistance that the US has committed to Ukraine since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Biden also called for an end to a surge in both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the US, especially after the killing of a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy in an alleged hate crime linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“To all of you hurting, I want you to know, I see you,” he said. “You're all American.”
Just before the speech, Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he visited on a top secret trip to Kyiv in February.
Zelensky welcomed the recent delivery of ATACMS long-range missiles from the United States, adding: "Ukraine is grateful for the vital and enduring US support."
Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said that, as a result of talks between Zelensky and Biden on Thursday, he believes the US soon will give Ukraine ATACMS missiles that reach almost twice as far as the version included in the last shipment.
In an interview with the “Breakfast with 1+1” television program, Kuleba said, “If you read between the lines of President Zelensky’s speech after his talks with Biden, you can understand that a very important decision was made.”
When pressed on whether that “important decision” included longer-range missiles in the future, Kuleba responded, “That’s what it means.”
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