Opinion | An Aid Package That Invests in American Security Goals

The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve a $105 billion military aid package, mostly to Israel and Ukraine, and lawmakers appear to be at an impasse over the border security measures included in it. It is essential that Congress overcome this opposition and approve it promptly, as an investment in America’s security goals.

Here’s what this aid package is: a commitment against authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as a commitment to regional stability in the Middle East. The bill includes $61.4 billion in military and economic assistance for Ukraine and about $14.3 billion in arms assistance to Israel, along with more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to both countries and to Gaza. To help win Republican support, the White House added $7.4 billion in security assistance to Taiwan and other Pacific allies — as well as almost $14 billion to bolster security on the U.S. border with Mexico.

Here’s what this aid package is not: a decision to neglect security at home in favor of fighting conflict abroad. A strong and free Ukraine, one that is capable of standing up to Russian aggression, is essential to peace and stability in Europe. If Vladimir Putin’s strategy of waiting for American resolve to falter is successful, he would then be in position to attack NATO allies and potentially draw American troops into a war, as President Biden said on Wednesday.

Nor is it a turn away from a humane and sensible approach to border security. The compromise that the Biden administration has put forward, and has urged Congress to pass, includes significant funds for additional border patrol agents, immigration judges and other border security measures.

One Democratic aide told NBC News that the party’s negotiators have offered proposals to streamline asylum processing and change the “credible fear” standard for approving an asylum claim, a measure that immigration advocates oppose. But Republicans have rejected those reasonable compromises and reportedly are pushing for extreme measures that could effectively end asylum altogether, and could mean giving the executive branch broad new power to shut down the border.

There are important and still unresolved questions about what kind of immigration this country requires, and how much. This board has supported the need for more effective border security, a more rational system of screening and admitting asylum seekers and legislation that would allow a level of immigration that better reflects the needs and values of the American public. This aid package can’t address all those issues, but it could help add structure and safety to who is entering the country, when and how.

This package also should not be seen as a blanket approval of Israel’s approach to war in Gaza. There are real concerns about the number of civilian casualties in this conflict so far, and the Biden administration has been appropriately vocal about these concerns. In February, the State Department put strict rules in place to try to reduce the risk of harm to civilians from the use of American weapons. So far, there is no indication that the United States considers either Israel or Ukraine to be in violation of American policy.

Publicly, both Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have urged Israel to reduce the number of civilian casualties, and administration officials have become more forceful, in public statements and in private conversations with Israeli leaders. The recent humanitarian pause that the United States helped negotiate has saved many lives — by halting the bombardments, allowing aid to enter Gaza and allowing the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas.

The fighting in Gaza has resumed, and according to Mr. Blinken, Israel has put in place new steps to protect civilians, including keeping combat operations limited to designated areas of Gaza. Still, a “gap” remains “between the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” Mr. Blinken said. As the fighting continues, the Biden administration should do everything it can to make sure that if Israel continues to use American weapons, it adheres to U.S. policy.

With so much at stake, the rancor on display this week by Senate leaders was difficult to watch. It is evidence of the performative nature of lawmaking in the United States right now, one that doesn’t seem to benefit anyone except those trying to score political points. Passing this aid package would be a step toward protecting America’s interests, but also toward getting back to governing.

Source photographs by shutter2photos and Kuzmik_A, via Getty Images.

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