Monday, April 18, 2022

Joe Biden's Rhetorical Incontinence

Many people assume, as a matter of course, that Joe Biden does not know what he is doing. He certainly does not seem to know what he is saying half the time. Or perhaps more than half the time. 

So, when Biden calls Vladimir Putin a war criminal or accuses the Russians of committing genocide, the world takes notice. It is easy to dismiss it all as the rantings of a demented old fool. And yet, when the demented old fool is the president of the United States, people are obliged to take him seriously.

As we have occasionally noted, when Joe Biden wanted to contact Saudi Arabian leaders to ask them to increase energy production, then did not even take his call. The reason, the Biden administration had declared the Crown Prince, MBS, of being an assassin.

When you are a leader, your talk is not cheap.

For the record, at the risk of sounding fair and balanced, the Trump administration rhetoric about China was similarly off the mark. Declaring that one is going to make China pay, that one is not going to let them get away with anything-- these are fighting words. You should not expect that they will foster cooperation with the Middle Kingdom.

And, by the way, when we declare that China is committing genocide against its Muslim minority, we should not expect that China is going to cooperate with us in any way at all.

Recall that Richard Nixon went to China to meet with Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution, when things were a lot worse in China. If Nixon knew enough to temper his language, then perhaps we should take a lesson from it.

Writing in the Financial Times, Felicia Schwartz reports on the contortions American officials have been taking to cover for senile Joe Biden. And especially to dial back the problems he has been creating by his tough talk.

We assume that the tough talk against Russia and its president is designed to make Biden look tough. In fact, he is going to fight to the last Ukrainian. Proxy wars do not bespeak surpassing courage.

So, Schwartz writes about Biden’s rhetorical escalation:

At an ethanol plant in Iowa on Tuesday, Joe Biden veered off topic from remarks on US inflation and consumer costs and declared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine genocide, a sharp rhetorical escalation with potential legal consequences.

Afterwards, the US president said “we’ll let the lawyers decide” whether it qualifies as such.

It was the latest example of Biden’s penchant for making strong and emotional proclamations, often going further than his own government and western allies.

One understands that in our current cultural moment, people find something especially endearing when leaders express emotion. They are grievously wrong. Every time Biden offers up one of these deranged statements, the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the war becomes that much more difficult, if not impossible. 

Biden was among the first to call Putin a “war criminal”, though other leaders later joined the US in describing Russia’s actions in Ukraine as war crimes. In Warsaw last month, he said Putin “cannot remain in power”, later clarifying that he was expressing “moral outrage” but not a policy change.

Worse yet, the president’s words count as policy. Of course, administration officials are doing their best to walk them back, but, that is easier said than done. After all, the more emotional Biden gets, the more damage Russia inflicts on Ukraine. And the more intransigent the president of Ukraine becomes:

Aides said Biden had been deeply moved by the atrocities in Ukraine and his forceful words reflected that.

But his emotional responses have often forced aides to clarify that it was for the administration’s lawyers to make formal determinations, or that his words do not amount to a change in US policy. They have also raised questions about whether he is helping or hindering efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

It shows you the problems that arise when you have bought the new cultural rule, the one that tells you to express your feelings:

“The president was speaking to what we all see, what he feels is clear as day in terms of the atrocities happening on the ground,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said this week, seeking to explain his genocide comments. She added that Biden promised to speak plainly while campaigning for president and his comments describing Putin as a dictator “who commits genocide half a world away” reflected that.

Leaders in Europe have been more circumspect and more cautious with their rhetoric. They are, dare we say, more compos mentis than our president. And they are certainly more intelligent than the people who are running this country:

Many European leaders have avoided using the term “genocide”, fearing that dialling up the rhetoric could interfere with diplomatic efforts.

Emmanuel Macron, French president, asked about Biden’s comments, said: “I am very careful with some terms these days . . . I am not sure the escalation of words is helping the cause.”

And then, some analysts have suggested that the more Biden ratchets up his unhinged rhetoric, the more likely it will be that he will be forced to ratchet up American military action-- leading perhaps to a war with Russia.

While some have praised Biden for his plain-speaking, analysts warned that his pronouncements could increase pressure on Washington to do more as the war grinds on. The US and other partners have ruled out sending troops or creating a no-fly zone, wary of being drawn into direct conflict with Russia.

“The challenge here is just as with these atrocities themselves, the use of the term creates more political pressure to do more,” said Samuel Charap, a political scientist at the Rand Corporation think-tank in Washington.

“With each one of these emotional and visceral appeals that implicitly suggest we should be doing something about this, eventually that translates into pressure to intervene militarily.”

One suspects that Biden is really pretending to be tough. He is doing his best tough guy, macho routine. One is surprised to see that segments of the American body politic, the ones who are most opposed to machismo, have so little to say about this.

One suspects that it is more for domestic consumption, and that it is designed to rescue Biden’s abysmal poll numbers.

Daniel Fried, a former top state department official on Europe, said Biden’s consistent efforts to “push at Putin” appear to be deliberate efforts to signal a tougher US line. “The White House first treated it like he was off script, which is stupid — he is the president. He is not off script, you are off script,” he said. “He is pushing things forward in a way I think is helpful.”

True enough, Biden does have a history with Ukraine. So does his son Hunter. The FT article ignores these conflicts of interest:

Aides said Biden’s passionate responses reflected his long history with Ukraine dating back to his time on the Senate foreign relations committee. He travelled there six times as Barack Obama’s vice-president.

Of course, administration officials have been spinning this as fast as they can. They never seem to recognize the most obvious and flagrant point, namely that the Ukraine war is occurring on Biden’s watch, not during Trump’s presidency. Russia has taken the measure of Joe Biden and has taken the measure of weak European leaders. And it has drawn a conclusion, one that differs markedly from that of administration flacks:

Administration officials said Biden had been a leader on drawing attention to Russia’s behaviour since before the offensive started, including by sharing information about Moscow’s intentions and battle plans. One senior official claimed that transparency lent him credibility on the world stage.

The notion that Biden’s unhinged rhetoric lends him credibility on the world stage is risible. We recall, from a few paragraphs ago, that French president Macron immediately distanced himself from Biden’s statements about genocide.

One understands that in a culture based on therapy, one is supposed to speak from the heart. But, one does well to keep such thoughts within more private, intimate contexts. When you speak from the heart on the world stage, your enemies will quick assess you as weak. 

“He speaks from the heart. He is going to call it exactly how he sees it,” a senior administration official said. “It has actually been quite helpful to our diplomacy . . . because we have been very transparent about what we’re seeing.”

As the conflict goes on, as the conflict becomes worse, as more and more of Ukraine is reduced to rubble, the flacks who will defend Biden no matter what cheer him on. It’s a pathetic spectacle:

Ivana Stradner, an adviser to the Foundation of Defense of Democracies, said that while Biden’s remarks appeared to be off-the-cuff, they were unlikely to escalate the conflict.

“He is saying things that many people think but cannot say out loud,” she said. “Putin . . . does not respect weakness . . . any sugar-coated language is not going to make Putin a kinder or softer leader.”

‘Biden speaks from the heart. He is going to call it exactly how he sees it’

How many lives have been destroyed while the world takes the full measure of Biden’s weakness. As you might have noticed, each time Biden speaks from the heart, more bombs fall on Ukraine, more people are killed, more of the country is reduced to rubble.

What would we give for a little sanity and a little circumspection?


JPL17 said...

Completing Ivana Stradner's sentence for her:

“[Biden] is saying things that many people think, but cannot say out loud because they have far more sense than he does.”

Anonymous said...

Remember, folks, that the Democrats put Biden in "charge". All I can say is, Democrats DELENDA EST!!

IamDevo said...

"Existential conflict" has always been a good way to rally people; it works for the troops in combat, it works for the people in the home front. The tricky part is when to throw down that card. At this point in our deeply divided society, the card is thrown almost immediately, so it has by now lost much of its effect. When everything is an "existential conflict," nothing is. If the Biden cabal actually had any interest in helping the Ukrainians, they would be working behind the scenes to reach a rational and mutually acceptable resolution, thereby saving both Ukrainian and Russian lives, but the "Russia bad" card has been played for so long with such success that they can't seem to quit. However, at this time, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict is largely being ignored, replaced by the less lethal but no less "existential" battle between Elon and the Twittterites.

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