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If the recent push-and-pull between Germany and the U.S. over sending tanks to Ukraine demonstrates anything, it’s that the world is still asking the United States to lead — something U.S. President Biden has been failing to do. After months of feet-dragging, the Biden administration finally made the decision in late January to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in support of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The decision came after Germany’s refusal to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. sent tanks first. While some may call this a victory for Germany as United States capitulates to their wishes, it shows how other countries are not only desirous of United States leadership, but that they need it.

Germany has made it abundantly clear that they need the United States on the world stage. This is now the second time in the past year Germany has needed handholding by the United States to cover its strategic missteps. First, the Germans thought it necessary to call the U.S. for reinforcements to kill the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream II pipeline — a pipeline the United States had formerly warned Germany against, even imposing sanctions during its construction. Then, the Germans refused to send their Leopard 2 tanks without the U.S. After the deal was complete, German Chancellor Olaf Schultz said, “We are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others, especially the United States.”

The German’s “you jump first” mentality isn’t news to Biden’s Administration. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) said as much in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” during the tank negotiations. McCaul noted that just one tank was necessary for Germany to act, and that they were "waiting for us to take the lead.” 

Biden should feel confident knowing our allies need American leadership, yet for months, the Biden administration waffled over the decision to be the first to send tanks. 

And unfortunately, it seems likely the President’s inability to fill the leadership vacuum quickly will repeat itself. The Ukrainians have started requesting F-16 fighters. Ukrainian officials state that they have begun training Ukrainian pilots on how to use Western jets, since reaching a decision to send the jets could take “six months or longer” — a less than subtle nod to how long the process took with the tank release. 

The Biden administration does not need to wait for support from his own party to justify providing Ukrainians with necessary military equipment. A bipartisan group of Senators has already returned from a trip to Ukraine calling for the Administration to send military equipment. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), joined by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a joint statement calling on the White House to do send more “long range artillery, such as ATACMS, and fighter aircraft such as F-16s and MiG-29s” in addition to the tanks. 

Yet, when asked by a reporter on Jan. 31 if the United States would be providing possible F-16 transfers, the President simply responded “no” with little clarification about if he meant not now or not ever. The process of leadership abdication has once begun once again. 

One would hope the Biden Administration would readily accept that it’s time for the U.S. to lead, as demonstrated by the repeated calls from Germany to do so. The United States must not continue to shirk its role as a leader on the world stage. The abdication of such responsibility is a risk to global safety.


Anne Lord works in Government Affairs for the Vandenberg Coalition. A former staffer for U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, she holds a Master’s in Strategic Studies from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland. The views expressed are the author's own.