Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Putin invaded Ukraine under Obama in Feb 2014 and Biden in Feb 2022.
The invasions eight years apart to the month are not a coincidence. Both times Vladimir Putin was facing a lame duck Democrat who had just flinched away from a military engagement.
Each time Putin smelled weakness and he struck.
Obama, after declaring a red line in Syria, had panicked and backed away in 2013. He then cheered on Ukrainian protests against a pro-Russian regime in Kiev and Moscow responded by calling his bluff and seizing Crimea. Afterward, Obama called Putin to warn him that Russia’s actions were in “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty” and that “in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions.”
Those “sanctions” consisted of buying twice as much Russian oil in Jan 2015 as in Feb 2014.
The latest Russian invasion followed the Fall of Kabul and the pathetic spectacle of American forces abandoning their own citizens to Taliban terror which helped make Biden a lame duck.
Would we be watching a war in Ukraine if not for Biden’s disgrace in Afghanistan?
Apart from the questions of what we should have done in Afghanistan or Syria is the issue of basic national credibility. Nations can do smart or stupid things abroad, but the one thing they can’t afford is not to be taken seriously. When the president of the United States says something, the world should sit up and take notice, instead of yawn and change the channel.
Putin is, despite the claims from the administration and its media, a rational actor. Like every tyrant he sees no value in rhetoric except as assertions of strength or admissions of weakness.
Biden, like his former boss, keeps insulting and threatening Putin not from a position of strength, but as an admission of weakness. Biden calls for regime change and war crimes trials for Putin, and then slow walks shipments of weapons and refuses to transfer planes to Ukraine.
The message is the same as when Obama condemned Putin’s invasion of Crimea and then refused to provide meaningful armaments to Ukraine while slow walking shipments of boots.
Putin understands the message the same way a big dog understands when a little dog yaps.
Moscow isn’t paying attention to what Washington D.C. says, but what it does. And the real message from Biden is that he’s afraid of Putin, but looking to cover it up with tough talk.
Biden wants all the political benefits of siding with Ukraine, with none of the military risks. Like Obama, he’s trying to prop up an international order centered around the United States while pretending that it can be done through diplomacy and sanctions without the use of force.
The real world doesn’t work that way.
The false choice between globalism and isolationism is just that. Foreign policy is not an ideology, it’s a balance. When nations embrace ideological foreign policies, they court disaster. Putin’s disaster in Ukraine put ideology ahead of strategy, embracing wishful thinking that ignored the realities of the battlefield and the cost of war. That’s something we know about.
But whatever damage Putin inflicts on Russia in Ukraine, Biden has inflicted more on us.
Beyond the economic pain, Biden has once again wrecked America’s credibility, making public commitments and private disavowals, putting our honor on the line for a war he has no intention of winning or even getting involved in. Putin understands that even a partial victory in Ukraine means not just a defeat for that country, but for the United States and Europe as paper tigers.
And Moscow may be willing to sacrifice ten or twenty thousand men for that strategic objective.
Biden has put America in the terrible position of having committed to a war that only a third party can win. And he has no intention of properly arming that third party to win on the battlefield.
What that really means is that Biden and his administration have set up America to lose.
Like Obama, the Biden administration has dragged us through a series of international humiliations that appear calculated to weaken us as a world power and wipe out our credibility.
Biden has clumsily deployed sanctions and weapons shipments behind Putin’s strategic schedule, playing catch up with the pace of events while letting Russia take the lead. That hasn’t made the war any better or safer, instead it’s become more agonizing for everyone.
If Russia is defeated after all, Biden will claim all the credit and deserve none of it.
The administration’s fearful dithering gave Putin the impression that he could quickly take Ukraine and win. After giving Putin permission for a “minor incursion” as his version of Obama’s red line, Biden was confronted with a full invasion and after a month still hasn’t made it clear to either Russia or Ukraine, or any of our allies, what they can expect America to do about it.
These mixed signals convinced both sides that they can still win and have prolonged the war.
If Biden believes that it’s in our national interest that Russia be defeated, then he should say it and act like it, instead of empty babble about who should run Moscow, something he has no say in, or even more hollow threats of war crimes trials. If he wants to arm Ukraine, then he should do it properly or stop altogether because a halfway approach will just kill more people.
Washington D.C. can reduce Ukraine, like Boko Haram and ISIS, to a hashtag war, but China and Iran are watching and drawing their lessons from what is happening. And if we treat Taiwan and the Middle East, our tech and energy regional lifelines, as disposable, there will come a war that we will have to fight. And heaven help us if we try to fight it with hashtags and sanctions.
Strong nations make it clear what they will and won’t fight for. And they don’t send mixed signals that only communicate weakness. Nor do they talk about how fearful they are of a fight.
That doesn’t mean that foreign wars are a good idea or should be embraced as a policy.
But the best way to avoid foreign wars is by having meaningful red lines and doctrines that clearly lay out national interests, and by viewing war as a choice made from a position of strength, not the catastrophic conclusion to a series of inept entanglements that alternately convince our enemies we won’t fight and that they have nothing to worry about even if we do.
Instead Biden has continued the failed policy of ambiguous global commitments under the guise of international law and the even more implausible values of the international community that have no clear red lines for engagement or disengagement. In Ukraine, Biden, like Obama, is hiding behind the Europeans, who are hiding behind us, for a global show of cowardice.
Vladimir Putin understands that wars are something you win, while the D.C. establishment doesn’t fight wars, but commits American forces to implementing multilateral values.
That’s why we never win. If you don’t fight a war, how can you possibly win one?
Putin understands why he’s in Ukraine. Do we? What are our national interests there or anywhere? How does our employment of military force make us safer, stronger, or wealthier? Are we involved to keep energy and bread prices low, or to avoid a future war on worse terms?
These are basic questions and the failure to answer them sets us up for defeat every time.
Two Democrat administrations have sent a message to our allies, enemies, and countries wondering which of these they might want to be that the American era has come to an end.