Biden’s recent European tour left a trail of miscalculations and missteps. And he was not helped by the travels of Secretary of State Antony Blinken either.
If Biden and Blinken are trying to convince the world that the battle against Russia is a generational battle between democracy and autocracy – childishly framed as a Manichean battle between good and evil – then the clumsiest step may have been the least reported. Unlike Biden’s unscripted mistakes, Blinken was acting from the script.
On March 27, Secretary of State Blinken attended a foreign ministers’ meeting in Israel. There he met with his counterparts from Egypt, the United Arab Emirate, Bahrain and Morocco: hardly a meeting of democracies that condemn autocracy. Most of these countries are autocracies: sometimes brutally repressive ones.
Most ironically, perhaps, is sitting at the table with Morocco. One of the core principles the US says it is defending in Ukraine is that countries cannot change the borders of others by force and cannot annex territory. Morocco should not be invited to that table. Morocco changed borders by force and annexed Western Sahara. Though the UN and the International Court of Justice have ruled in favor of Western Sahara’s right to self-governance, the US has endorsed the annexation and officially recognized Western Sahara as part of Morocco.
Biden made of series of mistakes that were unscripted and dangerous. It is worrisome if they were mistakes; it is more dangerous still if they were not.
The US continues to warn that Russia is considering using chemical weapons despite the little reported revelation by the Pentagon that "There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now.” On March 24, Biden drew a red line: if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine, it "would trigger a response" from NATO. As Obama proved in Syria, red lines are dangerous. Knowing the red line that would bring NATO into the war can motivate US allies to stage false flag chemical attacks to finally bring the US to their aid.
But that may not have been the biggest danger in Biden’s mistaken language. Answering questions – so, on his own without a script – Biden said "The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use." Then, elaborating, he said "It would trigger a response in kind," seemingly announcing that the US would respond to a Russian chemical weapons attack with a chemical weapons attack of their own: worrisome if it was a mistake; dangerous if it was not.
The second mistake came the very next day. Speaking to the 82nd Airborne Division in Poland, Biden said, "And you’re going to see when you’re there. And you – some – some of you have been there. You’re going to see – you’re going to see women, young people standing – standing the middle of – in front of a damn tank, just saying, ‘I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground.’ They’re incredible. But they take a lot of inspiration from us."
With that mistake, Biden seemed to undo war saving guarantees that the US was not sending troops into Ukraine to fight Russia. Without explaining what Biden did mean, the White House explained that that’s not what he meant. A White House spokesperson clarified, “The president has been clear we are not sending U.S. troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”
Again, if it was a mistake, that is worrisome; if it was not, that is dangerous. And maybe it was not. Or, at least, not exactly. When asked about the comment, Biden accusingly answered, "You interpret the language that way." He went on to claim that he was talking about "helping train the troops in – that are – the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland."
With that off script explanation, Biden seemed to admit that the US was currently, not only arming Ukrainian soldiers, but training them in Poland to use those weapons to kill Russians in Ukraine. From the Russian perspective, that may be a very provocative admission that Biden went off script to make.
So, the script writers and fixers had to be brought in again. This time, they had to clean up the word "train." It turns out they’re not training them, they are only "liaising" with them. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby was brought out to de-escalate Biden’s remarks. In a master class on euphemism, Kirby explained that US troops were "liaising" with Ukrainian troops in Poland: “It’s not training in the classic sense that many people think of training. I would just say it’s liaising.”
The next day, the third mistake came. And it was the biggest. This time Biden called for a coup in Russia. Before he ended his speech that day, Biden added the call, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
The White House speech writers and fixers struggled with this one because the meaning was too clear to accuse commentators of misinterpreting the language. Biden "was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” the White House translated. "The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."
But, demonstrating the disconnect between the President and his staff – and that you cannot trust the clarifications of his staff – Biden held his ground and said that that’s not what his point was. During a press conference, a reporter asked, "Do you believe what you said – that Putin can’t remain in power? Or do you now regret saying that? Because your government has been trying to walk that back." Biden responded, "I’m not walking anything back. The fact of the matter is I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing, and the actions of this man – just – just the brutality of it." He then added that "I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change."
Biden is right to express moral outrage over the war in Ukraine. But, by the same moral principle, he should express outrage at Truman for dropping two atomic bombs on civilian populations in Japan. And he should express outrage at a series of presidents for the war that killed between 1.2 and 3.2 million Vietnamese. He should express moral outrage at Reagan for his murderous Central American wars, at Clinton for Yugoslavia and at Bush for Iraq. He should express moral outrage at his own vote in support of Iraq and at the Obama-Biden administration for the continuation of Iraq and Syria, not to mention Libya and the support of the war in Yemen. In fact, if he does not express moral outrage at every president since he was born, then he is expressing a principle, not of morality, but of exceptionalism and hypocrisy.
And it should not be surprising that Biden is personally calling for a coup. He has an extensive track record with coups while in the White House. The Obama-Biden administration occupied the White House during the June 2009 coup in Honduras and the 2010 attempted coup in Ecuador. It financed and supported the 2010 Haitian elections. They knew about and supported the 2012 coup in Paraguay, interfered repeatedly in Venezuela and were, at best, silent in Brazil when Dilma Rouseff was removed from office. Most importantly in the current context, Biden approved of the 2014 coup in Ukraine. In the intercepted call between Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and American ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt that demonstrates the US role in the coup, when Pyatt says the West needing to "midwife this thing," Nuland says that Biden, himself, would be willing to do the midwifery.
So, the largest in a series of mistakes should come as no surprise: Biden has a long history of supporting US efforts at regime change.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.