Lee Jong-eun

On April 20, the U.S. House of Representatives ended months of legislative gridlock and passed four individual legislative bills. These bills respectively provided foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and required TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform to a non-Chinese company. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Senate passed the omnibus legislation combining the four House-passed bills. On April 24, Biden signed the $95.3 billion foreign aid bills into law, declaring, “It’s a good day for world peace.”

The passage of the foreign aid bills appeared uncertain for months, entangled by domestic U.S. politics. Congressional Republicans demanded, in particular, that the aid for Ukraine’s war be tied to the legislation strengthening regulations of the U.S.-Mexico border and the asylum process. Eventually, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson relied on the support from Congressional Democrats to pass a series of stalled foreign aid bills, overcoming the opposition from some members of his party.

The passage of the foreign aid package is a relief for the governments of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which have lobbied for the aid as critical to their geopolitical security. The political dynamics leading up to the passage of the legislation, however, provide three takeaways that merit prudent considerations for U.S. allies.

First, Johnson justified sending military aid to Ukraine by using the analogy that “sending bullets” to Ukraine is better than “sending American boys” instead. Such calculations signal foreign policy preferences for U.S. indirect involvement in geopolitical conflicts abroad. Sometimes described as an “offshore balancing,” the strategic justification behind the latest U.S. foreign aid appears to arm the regional allies to bear the burden of deterring their regional security threats.

The U.S. has not always successfully maintained an indirect involvement in foreign conflicts. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt advocated for providing aid to Great Britain, promising, "We will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands.” During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson promised not to send U.S. troops “10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” The two presidents eventually deployed U.S. troops to fight in these wars. Subsequently, contemporary U.S. policymakers could face domestic politics wary of the risks that foreign aid could eventually result in U.S. direct intervention in the conflicts of Europe and the Middle East.

For U.S. allies, retaining U.S. support could then require signaling reassurance that the former could sufficiently deter regional security threats even without U.S. direct intervention. Should security situations deteriorate beyond the capacity of the individual allies, the U.S. might intervene directly, but there are risks that contemporary U.S. politics could instead suspend foreign aid for the “lost causes.”

Second, former U.S. President Donald Trump’s support provided political cover for Johnson to risk opposition from his party members in passing the foreign aid bills. Previously, Trump’s opposition to funding the aid for Ukraine without a complementary border control legislation contributed to months of partisan gridlock in Congress. Trump’s reasons for changing his stance are not wholly clear, but there are two indicators. First, Johnson incorporated Trump’s demand to designate some amount of aid to Ukraine as a loan. Trump endorsed the change, declaring that the U.S. should provide foreign assistance with expectations for a “paycheck.” Second, Trump acknowledged on a social media post the importance of Ukraine's survival to U.S. security interests, then chided Europe for not providing sufficient assistance to Ukraine.

Trump’s motives appear to reaffirm what has sometimes been described as his “transactional diplomacy.” As Trump campaigns to regain his presidency in the upcoming presidential election, he appears to be concerned with the negative future consequences the international security crisis could have on the United States. Trump, however, also seems to be motivated to use U.S. assistance as explicit leverage to extract substantive concessions from other countries. For U.S. allies, there might be relief that Trump’s second-term presidency would not be isolationist, and there could be prospects for cooperation based on mutual interests. On the flipside, U.S. allies should remain wary about the terms of cooperation that a future Trump presidency or Republican Congress could impose.

Third, U.S. foreign policy’s recent trend toward restraint and skepticism toward involvement in foreign conflicts does not apply to its growing assertiveness in confronting China. Among the four bills passed by the House, the foreign aid bill for Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region received the most votes in support. In the increasingly divided U.S. politics, assertive foreign policy toward China remains one of the few issues with bipartisan support. With the U.S. Congress also approving a measure forcing TikTok to sever ties with China, the areas of bilateral conflict will likely expand. It might be a relief for U.S. allies in Asia that U.S. commitment to regional security remains higher than toward world regions. On the other hand, having experienced the economic uncertainties from the U.S.-China “trade war,” the allies should be attentive toward the impact of the future bilateral “legal war” over technological regulations.

After the passage of the U.S. foreign aid legislation, several media outlets posted the quote often attributed to Winston Churchill, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Churchill is also attributed to have said in the fall of 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” If U.S. foreign policy continues to trend toward “direct, assertive confrontation” toward China and “indirect, transactional assistance” elsewhere, U.S. allies should prepare for appropriate strategic responses.

Lee Jong-eun is an assistant professor of political science at North Greenville University.

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US Congress finally passes foreign aid: What are takeaways for US allies?

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30.04.2024

Lee Jong-eun

On April 20, the U.S. House of Representatives ended months of legislative gridlock and passed four individual legislative bills. These bills respectively provided foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and required TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform to a non-Chinese company. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Senate passed the omnibus legislation combining the four House-passed bills. On April 24, Biden signed the $95.3 billion foreign aid bills into law, declaring, “It’s a good day for world peace.”

The passage of the foreign aid bills appeared uncertain for months, entangled by domestic U.S. politics. Congressional Republicans demanded, in particular, that the aid for Ukraine’s war be tied to the legislation strengthening regulations of the U.S.-Mexico border and the asylum process. Eventually, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson relied on the support from Congressional Democrats to pass a series of stalled foreign aid bills, overcoming the opposition from some members of his party.

The passage of the foreign aid package is a relief for the governments of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which have lobbied for the aid as critical to their geopolitical security. The political dynamics leading up to the passage of the legislation, however, provide three takeaways that merit prudent considerations for U.S. allies.

First, Johnson justified sending military aid to Ukraine by using the analogy that “sending bullets” to Ukraine is better than “sending American boys” instead. Such calculations signal........

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