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Joe Biden Should Go To Ukraine, Not Evacuate It

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

What should Joe Biden do when it comes to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine? As Russian forces massed on Ukraine’s border, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan urged Americans to depart Ukraine immediately (you see video below for more details). “We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to order it,” he said. “We encourage all American citizens who remain in Ukraine to depart immediately.”

After the Afghanistan debacle, it is understandable that the White House is sensitive to the idea that it might abandon Americans in harm’s way. Sullivan is correct to warn Americans that there is a limit to the U.S. ability to evacuate them should war erupt in Ukraine.

Where the Biden administration goes wrong, however, is in the fear they telegraph. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a schoolyard bully who feeds off panic. This is a major reason why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the Biden administration to tone down its statements.

The weakness Biden telegraphs also frustrates Ukrainians and other East European and former Soviet democracies. The Taliban victory and chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan reverberated far beyond Afghanistan’s borders and did generational damage to America’s image that no amount of political spin can cover. Nor was Biden’s lifting of Nord Stream-2 pipeline sanctions a sophisticated move to win German cooperation for a tougher line on China as supporters claimed; rather, it signaled weakness and empowered Russia. No amount of damage control could erase the subsequent diplomatic disaster of Biden’s quip that he might tolerate a “minor incursion.” With it, Biden tolerated that in his character he was still more a senator engaged in punditry than the leader of the free world.

It is not too late, however, for Biden to rise to such leadership. It will, however, take a complete reversal of the caution and fear which has defined Biden since his campaign days sequestered in the basement of his Delaware house.

Encouraging Americans to leave makes sense, but one American should do the opposite. Just as Ronald Reagan visited Berlin to face aggression and demand Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, so too should Biden fly into Kyiv, stand beside Zelensky, and demand Ukraine remain free. In essence, Biden should give the opposite of President George H.W. Bush’s infamous “Chicken Kyiv” speech.

What Biden says, however, would matter far less than what he does. Putin may saber-rattle, but the presence of the American president in Kyiv would fundamentally change any calculation the Kremlin might make about the consequences of launching a military assault on their neighbor. To visit Ukraine now would also signal to Europeans in a way that mere rhetoric cannot that “America is back.”

Biden promised to put diplomacy first. Actions, however, matter more than words. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was correct to say that what is at stake is not simply Ukrainian sovereignty but rather the post-World War II liberal order. With so much on the line, a Sullivan press conference or White House statement will not cut it. Rather, it is time for Biden through his actions to signal a resolve stronger than mere words. It is time he travels to Ukraine and publicly defies Putin. Sometimes, the most effective diplomacy involves more than words.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Commentar

    February 12, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Biden needs to be in ukraine when (or while) the curtain is being raised. Adolfo hitler used to visit the frontline before his sunday specials charged forward.

    Biden dreams of being like Clinton or bush or obama with their histories of delicious military glories, but, perhaps due to his age, Biden doesn’t know that he’s about to poke into a hornets’ nest, not a manure pile (as in the case of Clinton, bush and Obama).

    Why must NATO continue to expand. It is an anachronistic holdover from the cold war with it’s armageddon-around-the-next-corner day to day livelihood. Today NATO merely resembles the ruthless horde of the bloodthirsty genghis of yore. Yet Biden and USA military and deep state are blowing life into this piece of historical cesspit.

    Biden can’t win this one BUT he’s too old to realize it.

  2. NF

    February 12, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    Ok, suppose Joe goes to Kiev, the Russians ignore him and invade nevertheless.Then what?

    Let’s make it harder. Suppose Joe gets accidentally killed by a Russian bomb that misses its target. Then what? The US nukes Russia to avenge Joe?
    The US President to be used as a human shield?
    People, get serious and cut the B.S., will you?
    Joe does exactly the right thing on Ukraine issue: he does nothing, and refuses to listen to warmongers.

  3. Slack

    February 12, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    Biden and his cohort keep harping on ‘russian invasion’ when Moscow has said no invasion planned.

    Russia has every right to station troops inside it’s border VERY UNLIKE the US which thinks it has the right to station it’s troops and military hardware at other peoples’ borders.

    It was US stationing it’s pgm-19 jupiter missiles in turkey and pointed at the underbelly of Soviet union that led to the cuban crisis. Not much different from ukraine crisis of today.

    Today, US has troops even NG units in ukraine (is ukraine a part of US?) and has bases in almost all the northern euro states and even land aegis (aegis ashore) systems in Romania and bmd sites in Poland and Abrams tanks training in ukraine and Baltic region. Yet US is bawling about Russian troops exercising inside Russian borders. Hitler couldn’t have got it better. Shish.

  4. Alex

    February 12, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    Going to Ukraine is to start a war. Russia will simply destroy you. Not in Europe. No, guys, this is not a joke. All states will be under water.

  5. Commentar

    February 13, 2022 at 2:43 am

    Joe Biden is stepping up the gas while complaining other people are creating trouble.

    He needs to look in the mirror and ask himself if he’s actually thinking he’s immortal.

    Joe, you’re in the very late evening of your life and now trying to act like a macho young man ain’t going to do you any good. Bye-bye, 2024.

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    February 13, 2022 at 4:08 am

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  10. Alex

    February 14, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    I always follow with interest what Jen Psaki says. Ever since the time when she declared that natural gas goes from the western part of Russia to the east through the European gas pipeline. And now she believes that 30 thousand is more than 200 thousand. Although this is not surprising, after her boss (Biden) said that if 120,000 Russian soldiers invade Ukraine, it will be the largest invasion since the Second World War. For him, 120,000 is more than the 890,000 who invaded Iraq in 2003. And the British Foreign Secretary said two weeks ago that the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are located on the Black Sea. It would be very funny if it weren’t so sad.

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