By: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee
I just returned to the United States from leading an official Congressional fact-finding trip to two important, yet disparate, nations. Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense visited Egypt to talk with President Fattah el-Sisi and his minister of defense. In Ukraine, we were pleased to be received by President Petro Poroshenko, his prime minister and his minister of defense.
These countries have little obvious in common. With 90 million people, one is the most populous nation in the Arab world. The other, with 45 million residents, is the largest country found solely in Europe. However, make no mistake, from different corners of the globe, they both cry out for U.S. leadership and support.
For decades, Egypt and the United States have shared a strategic relationship based on mutual interest in Middle East peace and stability. Indeed, promoting regional security has been the foundation of our relationship since the 1979 Camp David accords. One of its pillars has been our security assistance to Egypt. Unfortunately, several important existing military aid programs are now at risk due to policy decisions, or indecision, of the Obama Administration.
Of course, I share a desire to see Egypt move towards democracy and to encourage constructive behavior. In this context, the Administration’s failure to signal support for these foundational security assistance programs for two and a half years is viewed as a very discouraging sign by those Egyptian leaders who want to continue a close military and economic relationship with the United States. Make no mistake, positive interactions with a strong Egypt are fundamental to a stable and peaceful Middle East, a region flooded with Islamic terrorists, and to the security of our ally, Israel.
The situation in Ukraine is far more dire. Vladimir Putin has made clear his desire to reclaim Ukraine as part of Russia. He is using Ukraine as a ‘test bed’ for a new type of warfare by using state-sponsored insurgents, Russian army regulars and special forces to carry out his campaign. In addition, after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region a year ago, he is transforming the peninsula into a heavily-armed camp.
The United States has already provided significant “non-lethal” assistance – blankets, night-vision goggles, meals-ready-to-eat, vehicles, etc. – to the Ukraine government as they battle Russian aggression. Ukraine’s courageous President, Petro Poroshenko, has appealed to us to provide ‘lethal’ weaponry – anti-tank weapons, small arms, anti-aircraft systems – to help them defend their own territory from the Russian onslaught. He knows he cannot win a war against Russia but he believes that lethal support might at least raise the price of their aggression.
Both President Poroshenko and President el-Sisi made personal compelling cases for increased U.S. assistance to the members of our bipartisan delegation, all of whom are well-versed in security and intelligence matters. Most saw clear evidence that a lack of American leadership in providing assistance to these two important countries will make the difference between survival and Russian domination, in one case, and Middle East stability and dangerous terrorism on the other.
We have been respectful of our Commander-in-Chief, who historically leads on matters of foreign policy. But this is not the time for Americans to be silent because our adversaries are taking advantage of the leadership vacuum created by White House inaction.
We believe the situation in Ukraine and Egypt are matters of significant importance to the national security of the United States. The world is watching with intense interest and apprehension how our President responds.