Biden reverses himself, allowing F-16s to be sent to Ukraine
The United States has unilaterally decided to escalate the war between Russia and Ukraine, apparently in the belief that the war will drag on for a considerable time, since training Ukrainian pilots will not be a quick or easy process.
A U.S. F-16 carrying one AIM-9L Sidewinder, one AIM 9J Sidewinder, one 2,000-pound Mark 84 bomb, and an auxiliary fuel tank on each wing.
Despite his previously announced opposition to supplying the fourth-generation fighters to Ukraine — a move that Zelenksy has been lobbying for — Biden unilaterally told his G-7 counterparts that he has flip-flopped. As the BBC reported:
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden "informed his G7 counterparts" of the decision at the bloc's summit in Japan on Friday.
US troops will also train Kyiv's pilots to use the jets, Mr Sullivan said.
"Informed," not "consulted" means that this is a diktat from the U.S. to its allies, far from a collective decision among equals, equally committed to the cause. The responsibility for the consequences lies squarely on the United States — and you can be sure that Vladimir Putin sees it this way.
The decision apparently came at the meeting itself, perhaps influenced by the U.K.'s prime minister, not as the outcome of policy debates at home, as Natasha Bertrand, formerly of the WaPo and now of CNN, reports:
The decision marks a stark turnaround for Biden, who said earlier this year that he did not believe that Ukraine needed the F-16s. The decision to support the training initiative came together very quickly, officials said, and was made by Biden following meetings with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, where the topic of F-16s to Ukraine was a key point of discussion. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushing particularly hard in recent days for countries that have the jets in their stockpile to send them to Ukraine so that the country can better defend itself against Russia's daily aerial attacks.
There is no consensus on the wisdom of the move:
Some Nato member countries have expressed worries that handing jets to Ukraine would be viewed as escalating the war, risking a direct confrontation with Russia.
But allies may be tasked with giving up some of their own fleets to Ukraine:
CNN reported on Thursday that the Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said, as the White House comes under increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help Ukraine procure the planes amid intensifying Russian aerial attacks.
A handful of European countries have a supply of US-made F-16s, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the US would have to approve that third-party transfer because of the jets' sensitive US technology.
As of one hour ago at the time of this writing, there is no actual commitment by the allies to supply the planes to Zelensky, as the BBC notes:
Although it seems increasingly likely that Ukraine will eventually receive the advanced jets it so desperately wants, no government has so far confirmed it will send them to Kyiv.
Training the Ukrainian pilots will take months, if not longer. The U.S. has committed to train them (which diverts our resources away from training our own pilots to keep the pool of capable operators full) but says that the training will take place in Europe.
So the United States under Biden is escalating a war with the commander of the world's largest nuclear arsenal, a war that he cannot afford to lose, and apparently planning an even longer war. Is there an endgame that doesn't risk thermonuclear annihilation?
Photo credit: National Archives via Picryl, public domain.