On Defense Cuts in Ukraine Legislation, It’s Hawk vs. Hawk

When it comes to diverting Pentagon funds for other national security tactics, there's a subtle fight waging among GOP hawks. (Photo: Flickr)

When it comes to diverting Pentagon funds for other national security tactics, there’s a subtle fight waging among GOP hawks. (Photo: Flickr)

Congressional GOP hawks agree on one thing: To them, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade the southern-most part of Ukraine is US President Barack Obama’s fault. They also agree the US should send Putin a message. But a Senate measure intended to do just that is pitting hawk vs. hawk.

The House last week overwhelmingly passed a measure to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to help Ukraine’s economy by providing some needed stability. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed a wider-reaching Ukraine bill that includes sanctions and International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms desired by Obama.

But the Senate measure, crafted by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, R-N.J., would pay for the IMF reforms — which involve shifting monies to enhance US influence on the international organization — propose twin $157 million cuts to Pentagon and State Department accounts.

For the military, it would cut from Army, Air Force, and missile defense accounts.

Journalists and analysts often throw a large blanket with a monographed “GOP defense hawks” over various groups.

Under the camouflage blanket typically are the Senate’s “Three Amigos” — Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — and other pro-military members like Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and others.

House members also get placed under the blanket, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon of California, Mike Turner of Ohio, Randy Forbes of Virginia, Mac Thornberry of Texas — and the list in the lower chamber goes on (and on and on).

But your correspondent has noticed an issue that increasingly divides those under the GOP defense hawk blanket: American intervention in conflicts that are at least one step removed from imminent US national security issues. One side wants to stop any further Defense Department budget cuts no matter what the diverted funds would pay for; the other is willing to entertain some cuts if they believe it would enhance the US toolkit against strongmen like Putin, and show America’s still got it on the global stage.

That includes Putin’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

It’s a behind-the-scenes hawk fight, folks.

McKeon on Wednesday blasted the Senate bill, calling it “looney.”

“You don’t need an advanced degree in international relations to understand that the trillion dollars this president has cut from our military has emboldened international bullies like Vladimir Putin,” McKeon said in a statement. “Now, as we are once again reminded why we need a strong military, Senate Democrats want to further raid the very accounts that make our military ready to meet a crisis.

“Sen. Menendez’ bill to fund reforms at the IMF on the backs of our troops is just looney and I will strongly oppose it if it comes to the House,” McKeon said. “If the Senate is serious about protecting Ukraine, they should work with the House to pass something that can be adopted quickly by both chambers.”

One Senate hawk, according to my colleague Jeremy Herb from The Hill newspaper, begs to differ because America simply has to stand up to Putin.

Here’s what Graham told Herb and other reporters on Wednesday:

“I’m very sympathetic [to raising objections] to that being an offset. I want to help the Army as much as anybody, but this is a national security crisis. We’ve got to move on with it.”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett