By Idrees Ali
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Air Force General Charles Q. Brown, on his first trip as the top U.S. general, needs to convince European allies that Washington is committed to supporting Ukraine, despite political chaos in Congress and the Middle East crisis, officials and experts said.
Brown, who took over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month, arrived in Brussels on Tuesday for a monthly meeting of global support for Ukraine, known as the Ukraine Contact Group. He will be joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin later this evening.
The general faces the daunting task of assuring allies that the United States remains committed to supporting Ukraine, even though the House of Representatives, which holds the key to future aid, is without a leader.
The situation has been further complicated by the weekend’s escalation of violence in the Middle East, with Hamas’ attacks on Israel and its retaliation in Gaza.
President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly stressed its support for Ukraine and will announce a new weapons package for Kyiv while military leaders are in Brussels.
“Over the next few days I’ll be having meetings to reassure our partners,” Brown said, while travelling to Brussels.
“I recognize that what is going on in the U.S., on the Hill. (Allies) will have questions and concerns,” he said.
But Brown, and others at the Pentagon, have no control over the U.S. House of Representatives, which last week voted to oust speaker Kevin McCarthy three days after he led the passage of a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown that included no new money for Ukraine.
The next speaker of the House could quash more Ukraine aid before a proposal reaches the House floor if that person opposes the idea.
Some European officials have openly expressed concern about funds for Ukraine being held up by infighting within the U.S. Congress. But many have also said they are confident the Biden administration will find ways to keep the aid flowing.
The U.S. Army on Monday said it would need Congress to approve additional funding to ensure the Pentagon’s munitions production and acquisition plans can simultaneously meet the needs of both Israel and Ukraine.
Successive presidents have tried to reduce the United States’ focus on the Middle East, but are drawn in by crises that can take away from military resources in other parts of the world.
On Sunday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an aircraft carrier strike group close to Israel and adding fighter jets to the region.
FALLING DOMESTIC SUPPORT
Brown must also convince allies that the American public is open to spending billions of dollars more in aid to help Ukraine counter Russia’s invasion.
Washington has provided $44 billion to supply Kyiv with dozens of tanks, thousands of rockets and millions of rounds of ammunition since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Support is falling among Americans of both major political parties for supplying Ukraine with weapons, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll published last week.
Kori Schake, with the American Enterprise Institute, said allies will be looking for Brown to give them a sense that the administration could make agreements with lawmakers to keep aid flowing.
“I think it is an unfair burden to put on General Brown’s shoulders, that a week after becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he’s supposed to reassure them about a branch of government that controls him,” she said.
Schake said it should be Austin to take the lead on explaining how aid to Ukraine has been caught up in politics.
“Hide behind the suits. That’s what the suits are there for,” Schake added.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Sharon Singleton)