All of the reporting on Ukraine-gate deliberately discusses the held up military aid in terms of dollars, specifically $391 million – and reports the story in terms of holding up “funds” for Ukraine (or in one misleading example that I read: Ukraine was left “checking to see if the money had hit their bank account”). Umm, no.
No meaningful “dollars” or “funds” were actually going to Ukraine. The public reporting on this is sparse to nonexistent, but it seems pretty clear that this issue concerns purely “military aid“ – i.e., military weapons, equipment, radios, night-vision goggles, etc., and lots of training for such advanced equipment hardware. In other words, the value of the military aid package was estimated to be $391 million, but the Ukraine was not actually receiving $391 million in money.
This distinction is hugely important for at least three reasons:
- The entire predicate for the Trump defense about concerns with “corruption“ is based on the false notion that we are talking about actual dollars – you know, money that could be stolen, misused or corruptly spread about. But this aid was about providing physical weapons, equipment, ammunition and training. There is no credible argument that the Ukraine – involved in a hot war with Russia – was going to somehow resell this military equipment, or arms-trade, in the global market, or somehow (and this can’t happen) market the earmarked military training to other countries. Once you dispense with the fiction that we were providing them with dollars, there is no plausible “corruption“ concern directly tied to the held up military aid.
- The actual funding involved would be monetary payments to US-based military contractors – payments to Raytheon or Halliburton etc. for the Humvees, armored personnel carriers, communications equipment and training services. Thus, most or all of the $391 million was money that we were paying to ourselves. And now you can probably better understand why the hold up here generated congressional inquiries. This was US congressmen complaining about when their US constituent/donors were going to get paid. Indeed, properly understood, its not surprising at all that this became the first generally accepted grounds for presidential impeachment against Trump.
- The fact that this was not about aid provided in dollars is also important for two related reasons. One, Trump needs to falsely express this scandal in terms of “taxpayer dollars” in order to make it seem like he was acting like a responsible steward. You know, this was about the holy grail of “waste, fraud or abuse,” and Trump’s conduct here was admirable. That is distracting cat-nip for his voters. Two, for the government or press to explain this accurately would be to admit that much of our “foreign aid” – regularly scorned (and inflated) in public polls — is really about arranged arms sales and subsidies paid to our military-industrial complex. We could more honestly categorize much of our “foreign aid” under the defense department budget.
The above is not picayune or about parsing words. No, the sad reality is that, even in this high level political fight, the country generally, including our press, can’t help but hew to a self-aggrandizing fiction that we only act “charitably” and “selflessly” to help “corrupt” and “untrustworthy” foreigners, who must be monitored for their obvious and inherent perfidy.
But when you drop that obvious fiction, it has the added benefit of illuminating that Trump’s core defense is similarly baseless. Trump had no reason to hold up this military aid except to potentially advance his personal, political interests.