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Defense chief denounces those who advocate isolationism and “an American withdrawal of its responsibilities”

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday denounced those who advocate “an American retreat from responsibility” and said sustained American leadership is needed to help keep the world as safe, free and prosperous as possible. He also urged Congress to end the partisan gridlock that has blocked the federal budget and war spending.

The United States must reject calls to turn away from global interests and become more isolationist, he told an audience of lawmakers, business and defense leaders and government officials participating in a security conference. Those who “attempt to raise the drawbridge,” he said, are undermining the security that has led to decades of prosperity.

In his remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Austin extensively defended U.S. support for Israel in its war against Hamas and for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. He said that “the world will only become more dangerous if tyrants and terrorists believe they can get away with mass aggression and mass murder.”

Austin met privately with top lawmakers from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

His message of rejecting isolationism appears to be aimed at conservative lawmakers who are increasingly opposed to spending on foreign wars and support former President Donald’s “America First” ideology. Trump.

“You will hear some people try to characterize America’s withdrawal from responsibility as bold new leadership,” Austin said. “Make no mistake: this is not bold. This is not new. And that’s not leadership.

Congress failed to approve new funds for the wars in Ukraine and Israel and only managed to pass a short-term budget bill, known as a continuing resolution, which expires early of next year. The Senate has been deadlocked for months following a lawmaker’s decision to block hundreds of military appointments, including those for senior commanders critical to key regions of the world.

“Our competitors are not required to operate under continuing resolutions. And that erodes both our security and our ability to compete,” Austin said. He opened his speech by calling on lawmakers present to pass both the budget and additional funding for the wars.

Administration officials have warned that money for Ukraine is running out and may last only until the end of this year. The Pentagon has about $5 billion worth of equipment it can send from its own stockpile and is chewing through that equipment almost every week. Money to replace weapons and military equipment taken from Pentagon stockpiles and sent to Ukraine is rapidly dwindling and amounts to around $1 billion.

Austin, who was in the Ukrainian capital less than two weeks ago, has repeatedly stressed the importance of helping Ukraine fight the Russian invasion, as part of a broader campaign aimed at to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from threatening other European countries.

Austin also noted that as much as $50 billion of this extra war budget request would flow through U.S. defense companies, helping to create or maintain tens of thousands of jobs in 30 states.

Although he did not mention it in his speech, Austin has often criticized Congress for its failure to confirm more than 400 military officers nominated for promotions or other jobs.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., blocked the nominations and objected when other senators tried to pass some of them. Only twice has the Senate successfully voted to confirm a total of six high-ranking leaders.

Nearly 400 military appointments are in limbo and the number continues to rise. Frustrated Republicans tried in vain for nearly nine months to quietly persuade Tuberville to abandon the holds, and negotiations continued. Senior military officials have repeatedly warned that the situation threatens readiness and national security.

In other comments, Austin highlighted the administration’s repeated insistence that Israel do more to protect civilians as it resumes air attacks against Hamas after a seven-day ceasefire to secure the release of prisoners.

Israeli warplanes began striking targets in the Gaza Strip minutes after the week-long truce expired on Friday, and Israel dropped leaflets on parts of southern Gaza urging people to leave their homes. houses, signaling that he was preparing to expand his offensive.

About 100 hostages were released under the truce, but about 140 remain held by Hamas and others in Gaza.

While any country has a duty to respond to an attack like Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Austin said the lesson is that “you can only win in an urban war by protecting civilians.” Austin said that if civilians are pushed into the arms of the enemy by violence, it becomes a strategic defeat.

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