Does Joe Biden's Defense Department Care What Joe Biden Wants?

AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Yesterday was sort of a surreal day, even by the standards of a Joe Biden presidency.

Joe Biden took some questions from the press at the G7 meeting in Italy. One of those was a joint presser with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. One question that came up was whether Ukraine should receive more Western air defense systems. The video is cued to the transcript.

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(As interpreted.)  Yes, please Inter.  Irina Ivanova, Inter TV channel.

Q    (Inaudible) both leaders.  So, today, during the G7 meeting, the discussion focused on developing Ukraine’s air defense system based on the most advanced Western complexes and also on enhancing long-range capabilities.  So, my question is: Can you provide any details on the initiative and about the readiness of our allies to take part in it?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT BIDEN:  I’d be happy to respond to that.  We have acquired commitment from five countries so far for Patriot batteries and other air defense systems as well as we let it be known to those countries that are expecting from us air defense systems in the future that they’re going to have to wait.  Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met.  And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.

This answer tracks with reporting by the New York Times and the Associated Press.

New York Times: U.S. to Send Another Patriot Missile Battery to Ukraine.

President Biden has approved the deployment of another Patriot missile system to Ukraine, senior administration and military officials said, as the country struggles to fend off Russian attacks on its cities, infrastructure and electrical grid.

Mr. Biden’s decision came last week, the officials said, after a series of high-level meetings and an internal debate over how to meet Ukraine’s pressing needs for bolstered air defenses without jeopardizing U.S. combat readiness.

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Associated Press: Russia-Ukraine war: US will send Ukraine another Patriot missile system.

The United States will send Ukraine another Patriot missile system, two U.S. officials said Tuesday, answering Kyiv’s desperate calls for more air defenses as it battles an intense Russian assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region.

The officials said President Joe Biden has approved the move. It would be the second Patriot system that the U.S. has given to Ukraine, although the Pentagon has routinely provided an undisclosed number of missiles for the system. Other allies, including Germany, also have provided air defense systems as well as munitions for them.

The two U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been publicly announced. The decision was first reported by The New York Times.

Meanwhile, a few time zones away, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed the same question. The questions are at 12:27 and 23:11.

 

Q: Thank you. Thanks, sir, for doing this.

Secretary Austin, President Zelenskyy has specifically asked for more air defenses. Germany has announced an additional Patriot. Italy has announced a SAMP/T. Will the U.S. answer that call and deliver an additional Patriot to Ukraine? And if you can't answer that, or if the answer is no today, what is the holdup?

And then for Gen. Brown, Ukraine has said it has 30 pilots ready to go through pilot training for F-16s, but there are not enough spots at -- in the U.S. to take them. Is that true, from your perspective? And if so, are you looking at expanding that training pipeline? Or are you confident that Ukraine will have enough pa- -- pilots and maintainers trained on the planes by the time they arrive this summer? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Lara. Regarding Patriots, you know, air defense has been at the top of my agenda for a long time, and for month after month you've heard me emphasize the importance of providing Ukraine additional air defenses. You know that we've provided a Patriot to them already. But not only that; me and President Biden and Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken spend a great deal of our time encouraging others to -- to provide additional capabilities.

And it's not just Patriots, it's -- it's NASAMS, it's -- it's SAMP/Ts, it's -- it's, you know, a -- a number of capabilities that -- that Ukraine needs, and they need the interceptors to -- to compliment the -- the platforms.

I don't have any announcements on -- on Patriot batteries today, but what I can tell you is that I continue to work this and -- and I'm in constant contact with my Ukrainian counterpart, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that they have the capability that they need and that we get it there as quickly as we can.

...

STAFF: OK. Next question, we'll go to ANSA, Mateo.

Q: Yes, hi. National Italian News Agency, ANSA. I -- it's just a follow-up question to my colleague because we have been reading in the press about this new extra Patriot system. There is no announcement today, but what I would like to ask you is that we know that the U.S. is the biggest holder of these Patriot systems. So what -- what is the -- the reason why you are holding back (inaudible)? Is it operational system -- reasons, or did you -- you can't move kits from one theater to the others? It's just for us to understand.

And secondly, for you, General, what is your assessment on -- on the ongoing military campaign in -- in Kharkiv? Do Ukrainian’s forces have enough now to resist and possibly regain the initiatives? And -- and do you see other critical risks along the -- the front right now? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Again, air defense remains a top priority, and we are working this on a daily basis. And, you know, I -- I've seen some of their press reporting. What I will tell you is that there will be no change in our Patriot coverage in -- in Poland. I know that that was a component of a previous story there, but there is no change in our Patriot coverage there.

We're going to do everything we can to -- to get Ukraine what it needs. We're going to encourage others. We're going to work with others to -- to get Ukraine what it needs as quickly as we can. And this is not something that the Ukrainians are guessing at. I -- I'm talking to them on a daily basis, so.

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There are a couple of background points here. First, the world is rediscovering the value of air defense systems in the Ukraine War. The use of missiles, drones, and glide bombs in this war gives a glimpse of what war versus a conventional enemy might look like. This has caused everyone to focus on acquiring air defense systems, and Patriot has proven on the battlefield that it can handle anything shot or flying in its direction. Second, this is not simply a case of Ukraine demanding more stuff. Russia is carrying out an aggressive campaign against Ukraine's energy infrastructure and population centers. Patriot can put those targets out of reach of Russian missiles and aircraft.

The DOD plan had been to transfer one of the Patriot batteries now manned by US troops in Poland to Ukraine. Poland neither owns nor operates the system and is in no danger of attack.

The long and the short of it is that Defense lost the internal debate, was told to provide Ukraine with a new Patriot battery immediately, and decided to ignore the White House and just do what it wanted to do. So we have the spectacle of Biden proclaiming that Ukraine is the top US priority for air defense systems and Austin saying, "Yeah... no."

This signifies that the federal bureaucracy under Joey SoftServe has been allowed to run free for four years. It further demonstrates that the federal bureaucracy is driven less by politics than by demanding respect for its "equities" in decisions. It means that if Trump is re-elected, he will find a much stronger and more determined "swamp" than he did the first time around.

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