(JNS) Several commentators have argued in recent days that the crisis between Russia and Ukraine has been a godsend for President Joe Biden ahead of the midterm elections in November.
The argument is fairly straightforward. With tough talk and without endangering any U.S. forces, Biden is managing to block Russian President Vladimir Putin from carrying through on his plan to invade Ukraine. Since Biden and his advisers have been signaling that such an event would precipitate a U.S.-Russia war, (i.e., World War III), simply by talking tough, Biden is preventing a world war. Obviously, this is a historic, indeed, an epic achievement that without question blots from the public’s memory Biden’s incompetent and strategically disastrous surrender in Afghanistan.
While at first glance this claim seems reasonable, it is problematic on several counts. The first problem with the claim is that according to an ABC News poll, most Americans don’t care about the events in Ukraine and believe the United States should stay out of the conflict. It’s hard to see how Biden’s actions in an area Americans are unconcerned with will move the needle of public support in Biden’s favor. Americans cared about Biden’s decision to lose the war in Afghanistan and leave in humiliation because it was an American war that he chose to end dishonorably. Ukraine is not America’s war. So the public doesn’t care.
Beyond the fact that Americans don’t really care about what happens to Ukraine, there is a second problem, which is that Biden’s messaging on Ukraine and Russia is demonstrably false and misleading.
The administration’s first misleading message is that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would precipitate World War III because it would put the United States in a shooting war with Russia. This claim is simply wrong. In his speech on Tuesday, Biden made clear that the United States will not go to war to defend Ukraine. It will not send U.S. forces to fight on Ukraine’s behalf. This is a statement that Biden and his advisers have made multiple times in recent weeks. This statement on its own is enough to make clear that there is no chance of a world war opening as a consequence of a Russian invasion.
Biden’s dismissal of a U.S.-Russia war as a possible outcome of a Russian invasion is not a function of any anti-war predisposition on his part. It is a function of four considerations, which are not subject to change.
First, the U.S. public is unprepared and unwilling to go to war against Russia. With 53% of Americans opposing U.S. involvement in the Ukraine crisis, a presidential decision to go to war is unthinkable.
Second, the United States has no formal commitment to defend Ukraine’s independence. For nearly 20 years, successive administrations have worked behind the scenes to block any possibility of Ukrainian membership in NATO because they didn’t want to be formally committed to protecting Ukraine from Russia.
This then brings us to the third reason the United States will not take up arms to defend Ukraine. While the U.S. national interest is advanced by an independent Ukraine willing to stand up to Russia and that welcomes the United States and the European Union as allies, that interest cannot compete with the U.S. interest in avoiding war with Russia. And as a result, it is against the U.S.’s national interest to wage war for Ukraine.
Finally, the United States has a limited military capacity to fight a ground war in Ukraine against Russia. Russia has 150,000 troops deployed along its border with Ukraine. Putin can manage their logistical supply lines because they are in Russia. The United States has neither the forces nor the will to send tens of thousands of soldiers to Ukraine to fight the Russian army. It cannot compete.
So far from rebuilding U.S. credibility on the world stage after his Afghanistan debacle, Biden’s empty threats of world war have exposed America’s weakness and the hollowness of America’s commitment to its allies.
Biden hasn’t only been bluffing about the prospect of world war. He is also bluffing about sanctions. Biden said on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the United States will impose sanctions on “key industries” in Russia. But just as his talk of World War III was entirely empty, so his threats of sanctions have no foundation in reality.
Immediately after pledging to impose sanctions in retaliation for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden said that such sanctions—presumably on Russia’s energy exports to the West—would also hurt Americans in their pocketbooks. With inflation rates in the United States at 39-year highs, and with public faith in their president’s stewardship of the economy at all-time lows, you don’t need to be an A-list political consultant to understand there is zero chance that in an election year Biden will impose sanctions on Russia that will boomerang against U.S. consumers.
The argument that Biden comes out ahead from the Ukraine crisis also ignores what Putin has gained from the crisis on the one hand, and what the United States has lost on the other hand. Without ordering any of his soldiers to cross the border into Ukraine, Putin has already achieved what he set out to accomplish: keeping Ukraine permanently out of NATO.
While Biden hasn’t formally agreed not to bring Ukraine into NATO, his announcement that the United States will not defend Ukraine against a Russian invasion, while 150,000 Russian troops are poised at the Ukraine border, leaves no room for doubt that Ukraine will not be made a NATO member nation. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future. For all intents and purposes, Biden’s speech on Tuesday transformed Ukraine from a U.S. client state into a Russian satellite state.
This brings us to NATO itself. On Tuesday, Biden claimed that the Ukraine crisis has made NATO stronger and more unified than ever. But the opposite is the case. By threatening Kyiv, Putin exposed that at least as far as Russia is concerned, NATO is no longer a functioning military alliance. Poland, the Baltic states and other former Warsaw Pact nations that joined NATO after the Cold War continue to view Russia as a threatening enemy.
Germany, France and other Western European NATO members view Russia as a partner. Throughout the current crisis in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been acting more like Russia’s ally than America’s. Scholz recently put forward the suggestion that Ukraine should accept the status that Finland suffered throughout the Cold War. It was independent in its domestic affairs but compelled to toe Moscow’s line in its security policies and international positions. Notably, last year Putin penned an article touting precisely this position.
While it still remains unclear if Putin will invade Ukraine, it is also unclear why he would feel it necessary to do so. Simply by sending his troops to the Ukraine border, he ended any chance of Ukraine joining NATO and effectively destroyed NATO as an anti-Russian military alliance.
This brings us to the direct losses the United States has suffered due to Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis. Rather than undo the damage he caused to U.S. credibility with his abject surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban, Biden exacerbated the damage. By threatening war one moment and pledging not to go to war the next, Biden turned himself—and through him, the United States of America—into a joke on the world stage.
When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky felt compelled to tell Biden to tone down his rhetoric about an imminent Russian invasion twice in under a week, and insist Biden’s warnings did not correspond with the situation on the ground, it became clear that U.S. support is not what it once was. Biden’s “support” for Ukraine has arguably done Ukraine more harm than good in the present emergency.
When seen in the context of Biden’s wider foreign policy, his decision to adopt a saber-rattling posture while declaring he has no saber is even more disturbing. While making entirely empty threats at Russia, Biden is genuflecting to Iran and China. Taken together, it becomes impossible to claim that Biden’s handling of the Russian threat to Ukraine has strengthened him either domestically or internationally.
Given its destructive effect on both the United States and NATO, what stands behind Biden’s strategically indefensible position on Ukraine?
It would seem that like most aspects of Biden’s policies, this one, too, is rooted in domestic U.S. power politics.
For the past three years, Special Prosecutor John Durham has been investigating the apparent conspiracy hatched and executed by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign to defeat candidate and later president Donald Trump by falsely accusing him of being a Russian agent.
In a court filing on Feb. 11, Durham revealed that the conspiracy was apparently not limited to Clinton’s campaign apparatus. The Obama White House and US intelligence agencies were also involved in the plot against Trump. Specifically, Durham revealed that both Clinton’s campaign and partners in the White House unlawfully listened to Trump’s electronic communications, which were carried out at Trump Towers, in his transition team headquarters, and apparently in the White House after he was inaugurated in January 2017.
The false claims against Trump that were generated by the Democrat Party and the national security establishment and pumped into the public’s bloodstream by the media made it impossible for Trump and his advisers to advance their plans to develop constructive relations with Russia. Their intention had been to entice Putin to abandon Russia’s partnership with Iran in Syria, and they hoped to divide Russia away from China as well.
But with Trump and his closest advisers under investigation by a politicized FBI and Justice Department, under allegations of collusion with Russia generated by opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign, and with the media pumping the story into the public bloodstream, Trump could not go through with his planned policies. He was compelled to oppose Russia at all turns. As a consequence, during his presidency, Russia grew closer to both Iran and China, to the detriment of the United States.
In light of the facts that the United States has no military option to defend Ukraine and that sanctions on Russia will harm the U.S. economy, the smart move in Ukraine would have been to cut a deal with Putin that conceded Ukraine in exchange for Russian cooperation on other fronts important to the United States. Had Biden sought such a deal, he would have preserved NATO intact, caused no further harm to U.S. credibility and, perhaps, gotten Russia on board in areas where Russia and the U.S. have common interests.
But after five years during which Biden and his party have painted Putin as humanity’s Enemy No. 1, Biden had no choice but to continue castigating Putin and Russia. And so he did. And thus NATO, and the U.S.’s credibility as an ally, have become the latest victims of the Trump-Russia conspiracy.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.