At the Reagan National Defense Forum, American security officials and members of Congress gathered to hear Lloyd Austin: It could be a tactical victory - and a strategic loss
The American Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, arrived at a meeting of senior U.S. security officials and members of Congress in Simi Valley, California. He arrived with a message: the country is at a decision point, and the legislators should gather to transfer funds to the U.S. military and legislate billions in aid to Ukraine and Israel, according to a report by BreakingDefense.
"We are living through challenging times. That includes the major conflicts facing our fellow democracies, Israel and Ukraine; bullying and coercion from an increasingly assertive China; and a worldwide battle between democracy and autocracy," said Austin.
"From Putin to China, from Hamas to Iran, our rivals and foes want to divide and weaken the United States — and to split us off from our allies and partners. So at this hinge in history, America must not waver."
Where's the money?
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the 21st Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Quinton “CQ” Brown, separately addressed audiences full of defense and industry officials and lawmakers attending the Reagan National Defense Forum this past weekend, December 1-2, 2023.
The event comes ahead of Congress passing the 2024 fiscal defense spending bill, which includes a $105 billion supplemental budget request for, among other things, Ukraine and Israel.
"And I also urge you to pass our urgent supplemental budget request to help fund our national security needs, to stand by our partners in danger, and to invest in our defense industrial base," Austin said.
The Biden administration's budget supplement provides $60 billion for Ukraine-related spending, more than $14 billion for Israel, and hundreds of millions for other initiatives. It also, Brown said, provides an “opportunity” for Kyiv, Jerusalem, and the U.S. The money “goes back into our defense industrial base to build up capability not only for allies and partners but also for us."
Since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the U.S. has been removing weapons from its stockpile to send to Jerusalem and expediting its arms shipments. Pentagon leaders have claimed that there are no limits on how Israel uses these weapons and that U.S. support for its ally in the Middle East is unconditional.
However, after reports that around 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since early October, Austin spent some of his time on center stage comparing Israel's war against Hamas to the fight against ISIS.
The number of dead in Gaza
If "you drive civilians into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned. "I have repeatedly made clear to Israel's leaders that protecting Palestinian citizens in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.” Israel also must “prevent violence by settlers in the West Bank."
As the administration works behind the scenes to minimize Palestinian civilian deaths, some lawmakers have begun calling for more transparency and possible limits on Israel's use of American weapons.
Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat on the Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees, told reporters Nov. 18 at the Halifax International Security Forum that one option might be to ensure the federal government complies with laws aimed at monitoring arms sales.
"My guess is that you will see more reporting and more expectation of clarity about exactly how humanitarian aid is delivered, and there are conversations about balancing that with reporting on military aid," Coons said, adding that he does not expect Congress to pass additional laws creating restrictions (on Israel).
U.S. Central Command funding
Considering the rising tensions in the Middle East, another topic at the conference was funding the U.S. Central Command. In October, the White House diverted forces to the Israeli region without a supporting budget framework. Now, the U.S. Army lacks money for regular training.
Its Defense Budget Overview publication states that the ongoing budget directs money toward financing the American Central Command activity, currently operating an aircraft carrier (to deter Iran).
"For fiscal year 2023, Central Command received $25.8 billion for operations and activities with plans for 54,697 military personnel in the region. The administration outlined a plan to cut $4.9 billion from the CENTCOM coffers in the FY24 budget request, asking for just $20.9 billion.
"This plan, which was revealed last March, also included a cut in the military presence in the area and orders to keep 48,461 people there."