President Joe Biden wants Russian President Vladimir Putin gone. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Those are his words.
You know by now what happens next. The White House walks it back only minutes later.
Make no mistake, Biden meant what he said Saturday in Warsaw, Poland, in a speech the White House was hoping would be a rallying cry for Western democracies to unite in pushing back not just Russia but other authoritarian states like China.
But we should know this president’s fatal flaw by now. Biden has lost his mind, his handlers think he has no mind or he has lost control of his own administration.
I am not sure which is worse.
Whatever dumpster fire is actually true, those nine words are a symbol of everything that is wrong with this presidency. They won’t easily wash away.
The heart of the matter is you can’t trust anything Biden says anymore. Or, to be a little more mean-spirited but honest, you don’t know if he actually understands what he is saying anymore.
In all fairness, Biden was only echoing what billions of freedom-loving people around the world believe in their hearts, including me.
The world collectively hopes Vladimir Putin gets attacked by a bear in another one of his shirtless hunting trips — and democracy blooms in Moscow.
You have to wonder, though: Was Biden perhaps floating a trial balloon, a new policy direction his handlers were scared to include in the speech, so he went off-script and said it anyway?
Or maybe that is the policy? In some respects, US strategy to get Putin to back down in Ukraine is of a type of economic and proxy warfare not seen in geopolitics to date.
The sanctions America slapped on Russia surely are historic and could someday take down the Putin regime. One Wall Street executive told me on background that the total amount of economic damage done to Russia equals $2.5 trillion. That’s twice the size of the total economic output Moscow puts out in one year.
Militarily, the United States and its allies seem to be arming Ukraine past what is needed for repelling a Russian invasion, as the Ukrainians now claim to have launched counter-offensives with Russia not being able to meet any of its military objectives. Over the long term, there are growing calls in Washington to give Ukraine surplus M1 Abrams tanks, A-10 Warthogs and F-15s, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and much more — clearly not defensive weapons.
And at some point, the Russian people may just very well have enough of this. At least, that’s what Biden seems to be thinking.
Many Americans and US allies would agree with what sounds like a regime change-lite approach, of course, provided we were told the honest truth that’s what it is. Joe Biden, it would seem, just let the cat out of the bag.
Americans deserve to know what our actual Russia policy is. First, we were told sanctions were meant to deter; then they were not. Then we were told the administration was OK with sending MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine; then they were not.
All of this gaffe-prone foreign policy robs the American people of a real debate on a question that could eventually lead to World War III.
Surely we have the right to debate the merits of Biden’s drop-the-mic moment — trying to remove a nuclear-armed state’s leader could mean Armageddon — but we were given no time for that.
We got another quick correction in a trip filled with corrections — as when Biden implied US troops were headed into Ukraine, telling some Friday that they’ll witness Ukrainian bravery “when you’re there.”
Nothing can be more dangerous than when the world doubts America’s resolve — or questions her policies on matters of war and peace. That can only mean chaos is ahead.
Harry J. Kazianis is the senior director at the Center for the National Interest.