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Opinion – Mitch McConnell: National security bill is a major investment in American strength and credibility

This year marks four decades since President Reagan’s landslide reelection victory in 1984, and my first election to the U.S. Senate. Just four years into Reagan’s presidency, his administration had already turned the corner on the malaise of the Carter era, reinvested in American hard power, and worked to set the conditions to win the Cold War. Reagan’s doctrine of peace through strength and his firm conviction in freedom’s power to unleash peace and prosperity captivated the American people. And his relentless optimism revitalized a nation and restored faith in American leadership.

Today, much like in the Washington President Reagan faced, it has become popular in some circles to bet against American resolve and bemoan the global responsibilities that come with global power. Loud voices peddle the short-sighted and ahistorical notion that America’s interests do not extend beyond the water’s edge, and that abandoning our friends is the price of restoring order at home.

For months now, my colleagues and I have considered these weighty responsibilities. And in measuring the costs of America neglecting its leading role, the Senate chose to address the growing threats facing our nation and our closest allies around the globe. The national security bill passed in the Senate will help rebuild and modernize our military, restore our credibility on the world stage, and give the current Commander-in-Chief, as well as the next, more tools to face growing coordination among our adversaries.

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are engaged in an active campaign to undermine the US-led order that has underpinned Western peace and prosperity for almost a century. From Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to Iran’s persistent proxy violence against American servicemembers and our installations to growing Chinese aggression against Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific partners, these threats are serious, and they are linked.

President Xi has said that Russia and China are engaged in a “friendship without limits,” and Tehran has joined in this unsavory union, supplying Vladimir Putin’s invasion with Iranian missiles and suicide drones. The Russian autocrat understands, as some in Washington fail to, that victory in Ukraine would hasten the rise of this authoritarian alignment.

That’s precisely why our friends and allies are making historic investments in the Ukrainian people’s fight. That’s why Taiwan’s leaders recognize that “Ukraine’s survival is Taiwan’s survival” and Japan’s say that “security in Europe and security in the Indo-Pacific are inseparable.” The Senate understands that what happens in Ukraine sends a strong signal to aggressive regimes who are calculating their own authoritarian ambitions.

Unfortunately, President Biden’s inaction and hesitation in the face of these mounting threats has only compounded the challenges to American interests. From a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan to a halting response in the earliest days of Putin’s escalation in Ukraine to second-guessing our ally, Israel, hesitating in the face of at least 170 provocations from Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, the President’s failures have put America’s credibility in question and the lives of our servicemembers at stake. Many Kentuckians felt the consequences of this inaction close to home when Iran-backed proxies attacked Tower 22 in Jordan, killing three U.S. servicemembers and wounding several Kentuckians stationed at the American outpost.

The Senate’s national security bill does much to give this Commander-in-Chief and his successor new tools and options to defend America’s interests. It will help rebuild our degraded defense industrial base, and to replenish the U.S. arsenal with modern and advanced weaponry.

It provides desperately needed resources and equipment to our troops stationed in harm’s way, including thousands of Kentucky’s servicemembers from Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, and the Kentucky National Guard.

It provides critical assistance to Israel’s necessary military operation to root out Hamas terrorists and restore peace to the region. And it helps Taiwan and our other Asian partners deter an increasingly aggressive and increasingly advanced China, our top strategic adversary in the Indo-Pacific.

It directs lethal assistance to support Ukraine’s defense while shrinking economic aid, prioritizing hard power over direct budget support. And it expands unprecedented oversight into how and where assistance for Ukraine is used. The Senate’s bill also importantly requires the President provide Congress with a detailed strategy for Ukrainian victory.

This legislation makes overdue investments in American hard power and helps rectify shortcomings in President Biden’s initial request for U.S. defense needs. Today, our defense spending as a percentage of GDP still sits at roughly half of what it was during the Reagan-era buildup.

Even accounting for direct assistance to our allies, which constitutes a fraction of our defense spending today, more than 75 percent of this legislation will make a direct investment here in America. Of just the funds this supplemental designates to support Ukraine’s defense, $19.85 billion will be spent here in America on replenishing our own arsenal. Another $3.5 billion will be spent to expand our industrial base’s capacity to produce artillery, air defense, and long-range weapons. And $15.4 billion will be spent here at home on American-made weapons for Ukraine to continue its battle against Russian aggression.

For many hardworking Kentuckians, this legislation could mean investments in substantial, new artillery and equipment production right here in the Commonwealth. Already, Kentucky has proven itself vital to our defense industrial base, producing the munitions that supply our troops and our allies overseas.

What has been lost in all of the debate over the Senate’s legislation is this simple truth: By standing with our friend Ukraine and supporting their fight for freedom, we can degrade Russia’s military capabilities, the third largest military force in the world, without risking the life of a single American soldier. And in the process, we can deter our adversaries, like Iran and North Korea, invest urgent resources into America’s defense, and sustain long-term competition with China, our greatest strategic threat. So this is not charity, but an investment in cold, hard U.S. interests.

Backing down from our duty to preserve American strength, security, and peace will only embolden our enemies and greenlight future acts of force against America and our allies. This is a decision not just for my colleagues in the Senate but for you, the people of Kentucky, as well. We have a duty to protect these enduring values and interests that we, as Americans, all share.

Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.

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