Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Biden Administration's Ukraine Rhetoric

How do you measure incompetence? You might measure it by the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine under the Biden, not the Trump administration.

The Biden team, on the best woke grounds, decided to project weakness on the world stage, in many ways. Aside from the fact that the Defense Secretary went to work ridding the ranks of counterrevolutionaries, not to mention funding gender mutilating surgery, even having new flight suits designed for pregnant pilots, the Biden administration seemed more and more to be a carnival of fools. No one around the world could feel any confidence in the leadership abilities of senile, demented Joe Biden. And no one could feel confident in the absurdities that had been leaking from the mouth of his vice president.

When you project weakness and ineptitude, the world notices. And some of the nations of the world believe that that offers an opportunity to take what they want.

But, there is more to Biden administration ineptitude. And it is worth remarking since it exposes a point that I and few others have made. It concerns the rhetoric, the drivel that is falling from the lips of administration officials, beginning with the president but including the Secretary of Defense.

One does not, as a rule, grant enough importance to the words that government officials use, but, as I have remarked on occasion, saying the wrong thing can easily elicit a response that you do not want. Call Vladimir Putin a war criminal, threaten him with a Nuremberg Trial, accuse him of genocide-- and what do you get? You get more violence and more destruction. You also get an enemy that is more intractably opposed to negotiations.

The same rule applies to administration rhetoric toward Saudi Arabia, which resulted in the refusal of the Crown Prince to take calls from Joe Biden. At a time when the world needed more petroleum resources, denouncing Mohammed bin Salman for murder was not the smartest thing the Biden team could have done.

Anyway, Tom Friedman, of all people, takes on this aspect of administration failure in his New York Times column this morning. Since it does not often happen that I find myself on the same page with Friedman, or should it be, that he finds himself on the same page as yours truly, I am happy to share some of what he offered.

He begins by taking our hapless Defense Secretary to task for making stupid remarks, remarks that could only provoke more violence:

Last week, in Poland, standing near the border with Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin got my attention — and certainly Vladimir Putin’s — when he declared that America’s war aim in Ukraine is no longer just helping Ukraine restore its sovereignty, but is also to produce a “weakened” Russia.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” he said. “So, it has already lost a lot of military capability. And a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”

Again, tough talk from someone who represents an administration that is willing to fight Russia, to the last Ukrainian. Surely, the remark, a direct threat to Russia, was an egregious error. Had it been planned? Or was it an off-the-cuff remark, offered by someone who is clearly not ready for prime time.

Friedman asks the question, and it is the right question.

Please tell me that this statement was a result of a National Security Council meeting led by the president. And that they decided, after carefully weighing all the second- and third-order consequences, that it is in our interest and within our power to so badly degrade Russia’s military that it will not be able to project power again — soon? ever? not clear — and that we can do that without risking a nuclear response from a humiliated Putin.

Sometimes, he adds, you need to keep your wishes to yourself.

 I hope that this war ends with Russia’s military sharply degraded and Putin out of power. I’d just never say so publicly if I were in leadership, because it buys you nothing and can potentially cost you a lot.

As our naval officers used to say, and used to know: loose lips sink ships. Now, of course, in our coed military, that phrase might need to be redefined, but still, Friedman is right to remark that a competent administration, from the president on down, would have done much better to shut the fuck up:

Loose lips sink ships — and they also lay the groundwork for overreach in warfare, mission creep, a disconnect between ends and means and huge unintended consequences.

There has been way too much of this from the Biden team, and the messes have required too much mopping up. For instance, a short time after Austin’s statement, a National Security Council spokesperson said, according to CNN, that the secretary’s comments reflected U.S. goals, namely “to make this invasion a strategic failure for Russia.”

What else is wrong with the Austin statement:

Forcing Russia to withdraw from Ukraine is not the same as declaring that we want to see it weakened so badly that it can never do this again anywhere — that’s an ill-defined war aim. How do you know when that is achieved? And is it an ongoing process — do we keep degrading Russia?

Apparently, loose lips are endemic to an administration that is being led by a senile demented fool.

In March in a speech in Poland, Biden said that Putin, “a dictator, bent on rebuilding an empire, will never erase a people’s love for liberty,” and then the president added, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

In the wake of that statement, the White House contended that Biden “was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” but rather was making the point that Putin “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”

It all means that Joe Biden was going off script, and expressing himself, which he should never do. Friedman is correct to note:

Another cleanup word salad that just convinces me that the National Security Council didn’t have a meeting that set limits on where U.S. involvement to assist Ukraine stops and starts. Instead, people are freelancing. That’s not good.

And then there is the fact that our rhetoric, largely supported by press propaganda, has been egging the Ukrainians on-- to what, is not very clear. One might suggest that they keep fighting because they have been extolled beyond reason and thus believe that they have now become world historical figures:

And let’s be careful not to raise Ukrainian expectations too high. Small countries that suddenly get the backing of big powers can get intoxicated. Many things have changed about Ukraine since the end of the Cold War — except one: its geography. It is still, and it will always be, a relatively small nation on Russia’s border. It is going to have to make some hard compromises before this conflict is over. Let’s not make it even harder for it by adding unrealistic goals.

And Friedman also cautions against the wave of love and sympathy that the West has been throwing at Ukraine:

At the same time, be careful about falling in love with a country you could not find on a map with 10 tries a year ago. Ukraine has a history of political corruption and thuggish oligarchs, but it was making progress toward democratic reforms before the Russian invasion. It has not become Denmark in the last three months, although, God bless them, a lot of young people there are really trying, and I want to support them.

So do we all. But, if we do, we should not be cheering them on as they go down a path of destruction.

Friedman recommends that we tone down the rhetoric and shift our expectations. About that I have previously opined, so the point is certainly valid:

In foreign affairs, success breeds authority and credibility, and credibility and authority breed more success. Just restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty, and frustrating Putin’s military there, would be a huge achievement with lasting dividends. 


Anonymous said...

I have never thought well of Mr. Friedman, but maybe...hmmmmm

Baffled in Buffalo said...

Have you ever expressed anger/disdain against Putin for his brutality to any degree? It is _always_ Biden you have contempt for.

Anonymous said...

Putin is Beastmaster!

IamDevo said...

It is well to remember that Biden, not Putin currently occupies the position of POTUS. Thus it is Biden who most directly affects the lives of Americans. As a consequence, Americans are rightly more concerned with the acts and words of Biden than those of Putin. All the critical editorials published or pronounced by American sources a have zero impact on what Putin does and at the end of it all, Americans can do nothing to oust Putin from power short of war. Biden has shown a distinct propensity throughout his public political life to talk tough and fabricate events that portray him as a "tough guy." But one searches in vain for actual proof of any sort of toughness, whether physical, mental or more importantly, moral and ethical. He is the opposite of the Teddy Roosevelt ideal of speaking softly but wielding a big stick. He is a loudmouth churl, an empty suit whose very physical presence evinces weakness rather than strength, the entirety of his boasting aside. As in the case of Emerson's famous admonition regarding professions of virtue, so it is with Biden's professions of toughness; let us all be scrupulous to count our spoons thereafter.

Anonymous said...

Big talk...all lies, apparently.