U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House on October 19, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House on October 19, 2023. Jonathan Ernst / Pool/Getty Images

‘Arsenal of democracy’: Biden asks Congress to boost aid to Ukraine, Israel

Mentioning WWII, the president linked the survival of Israel and Ukraine to democracy itself.

In a rare address from the Oval Office, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a request for a $100 billion aid package for Ukraine and Israel to shore up their military capabilities. 

The speech comes at a time of shrinking support for Ukraine aid among Republicans, and as some members of the President’s own party are urging the U.S. to push Israel for a ceasefire to limit civilian casualties in Gaza. In his remarks, Biden linked Ukraine and Israel by a single conceptual thread: two democracies under threat from terrorism and tyranny. The continued flow of U.S. weapons is essential to the safety and survival of each, he said: “Just as in World War II, today, patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy.” 

About 60 percent of the requested aid will go to Ukraine, according to NBC News. The rest would go to Israel, Taiwan, and U.S. border protection. Republicans late last month cut roughly $6 billion in Ukraine aid in a deal to continue to fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. (The U.S. Congress has appropriated $113 billion in aid to Ukraine including $43 billion in military support.) 

But while support for Ukraine aid is faltering, Israel as a cause continues to poll well among Republicans. Biden, fresh off a visit to Israel, sought to connect the two countries. Both Israel and Ukraine were beset by forces seeking to “completely annihilate their neighboring democracy,” he said. “Making sure Israel and Ukraine succeed is vital for America's national security.”

Biden called the package an “unprecedented commitment” to Israel's security, one that will “sharpen Israel's qualitative ... military edge. We're going to make sure Iron Dome continues to guard the skies over Israel. We're going to make sure other hostile actors in the region know that Israel is stronger than ever and prevent this conflict from spreading.”

The United States has already seen increasing attacks in that region. Just prior to Biden’s address, a U.S. destroyer shot down a cruise missile Houthi rebels in Yemen had fired in Yemen toward Israel. 

But the main thrust of Biden’s speech was Ukraine. The president suggested that a Russian victory would likely precede a larger attack against NATO allies, possibly embroiling the United States in a much larger conflict with a nuclear power. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden said, has “already threatened to, quote, remind Poland that their western land was a gift from Russia. One of his top advisors, the former president of Russia, has called Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia's Baltic provinces.”

Biden also suggested that increased military aid to democratic allies provides economic returns for the United States. 

“When we use the money allocated by Congress, we use it to replenish our own stores, our own stockpile with new equipment, equipment that defends America and is made in America. Patriot missiles for air defense batteries, made in Arizona, artillery shells manufactured in 12 states across the country, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and so much more.” 

Absent from the speech was any mention of China, which many Pentagon officials and the National Defense Strategy call the United States’s “pacing challenge.” 

But the implication was clear: Just as democracies must stick together, the adversaries of democracy also share common cause.