On Ukraine and National Security, Biden Withholds His Vision

The concept of the aftermath of war. Illustration of the destruction after the war in Ukraine. Consequences of shelling by artillery shells and air strikes on a military base

Where’s the “vision thing,” Joe?

In a State of the Union speech that took President Biden 73 minutes to deliver last week, there were a scant 71 words (that’s counting articles, conjunctions, honorifics and fluff) on the continuing conflict in Ukraine, to which the United States has committed almost $50 billion so far. By normal standards of public speaking, that is less than a minute.

Given the very real prospect that Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago could expand into a broader Eurasian conflict, 71 words is pretty short shrift. After all, foreign policy is supposed to be one of the things Biden is good at – or so advisors to Barack Obama reasoned in August of 2008 when they drafted him as their running mate.

To be fair, American military assistance has been instrumental to Ukraine’s ability to staunch Russia’s various offensives. Plus our support has stiffened the notoriously flimsy backbone of the Europeans, as witnessed by Germany’s hesitant agreement to supply the Ukrainians with tanks last month. But there is a difference between being an arms dealer and being a world leader.

When pressed on questions of America’s strategic intentions, the White House’s response these days amounts to “Get off my lawn!”

The American people, not to mention the various democracies around the globe that still look to us for leadership, deserve more in terms of an answer. Lurching from one crisis to the next is not a strategy.

“This is particularly annoying about this administration,” House Permanent select Committee on Intelligence Mike Turner said on CNN’s Sunday show “State of the Union” yesterday, “the White House needs to stop briefing us through television and come up here and tell us what’s going on.”

Turner was referring to the information blackout on what kind of flying object the Pentagon shot down over Lake Huron this weekend, but his comments echoed the frustration of other lawmakers who have demanded details about the various classified documents discovered at Biden properties, or indeed the big picture on where America and our NATO allies see the Ukraine war going.

Having Chuck Schumer say he thinks it was another balloon the Department of Defense shot down doesn’t cut the mustard.

On Ukraine, President Biden needs to paint a picture – not of the daily Russian atrocities that the media has been ably documenting – but of America’s plan. In doing that, he will telegraph to Vladimir Putin our resolve and our response in a language that the Russian leader will clearly understand.

Clearer, that is, than muddled talk Biden let spill last year about “it’s one thing if it’s a limited incursion,” which some say only emboldened Putin.

Since former President Barack Obama’s pronouncement about “red lines” in Syria 2012, which his administration then failed to back up with action, it may be understandable why Biden the politician wants to avoid bold statements of intent. But Biden the leader of the arsenal of democracy needs to give the forward view of the war in Ukraine more than 71 words.

Especially when the vague words he did offer last week are followed by supposedly tough talk on China that doesn’t square with what America saw in practice before we summoned the gumption to start shooting down balloons.

We can assume there are some unspoken red lines, such as Israel’s reported deal with Putin not to strike Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Good for the Israelis. Now where are we?

In just over ten days, the Russian invasion will mark a one-year anniversary. That would be a reasonable moment for Biden to lay the cards on the table that until now his administration seems to think are none of our business.


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