Were Biden's Nine Naughty Words For Putin A Good Gaffe, The Best Gaffe, Or Neither?
President Joe Biden gave a great speech Saturday in Warsaw where, unlike his predecessor, he fully committed the United States’s support to its European allies. While Donald Trump once again praised Vladimir Putin as “smart” this weekend, Biden unequivocally denounced Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, declaring it part of a global “battle between democracy and autocracy.” He reaffirmed that America stands behind Ukraine, despite what some Russia-humpers in Congress say.
"Today, Russia has strangled democracy and sought to do so elsewhere, not only in his homeland. Under false claims of ethnic solidarity, there's invalidated neighboring nations. Putin has the gall to say he's 'denazifying' Ukraine. It's a lie. It's just cynical, he knows that and it's also obscene.
President Zelenskyy was democratically elected. He's Jewish. His father's family was wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust. And Putin has the audacity, like all autocrats before him, to believe that might will make right."
Biden also warned Putin not to even "think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory. We have [a] sacred obligation. We have a sacred obligation under Article 5 to defend each and every inch of NATO territory with the full force of our collective power.”
It’s a really good speech, is what we’re saying. The full text is here.
However, very serious and important people are focused on nine unscripted words at the end of Biden’s remarks. They fear he might’ve officially started World War III when he correctly noted that Putin, an unhinged madman, shouldn’t maintain access to nuclear weapons. America seemingly learned this the hard way.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Mr. Biden declared, a comment that two White House officials said was not included in the president’s prepared speech.
Even as top administration officials spent Sunday walking back Mr. Biden’s remarks, the statement had already sent ripple effects throughout the world, highlighting just how powerful nine unprompted words from the president can be, particularly during a foreign policy crisis.
BBC News claimed that Biden’s “off-script” remarks are “dangerous” and "have upped the temperature of US-Russia relations to near boiling point.” Oh no! Are we no longer on Putin’s Christmas card list? Russia attacked our elections, helped install a white nationalist puppet president, and has now invaded a sovereign nation, merrily committing war crimes along the way.
Tom Nichols at the Atlantic described Biden’s unscripted remarks as an “unforced error.” He wrote, "Putin has already made himself a pariah in the West, and though Biden has been right to call Putin a thug, a butcher, and a war criminal, it is another thing entirely to use language that could be misconstrued by both the American public and the Kremlin as a suggestion that the United States is interested in changing the Russian regime.”
Nichols resents whenever anyone questions his expertise, but isn’t regime change the only realistic end to this war? What are the magic words that would make Putin abandon his mad dream of restoring the former Soviet Union? Putin lacks a human soul and is incapable of remorse or concern for the mounting death and destruction that’s entirely his fault.
During a TV interview Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said, “I wouldn’t use [these] kind of words,” in reference to Biden’s speech. Maybe Macron lives in a chocolate croissant-induced fantasy world where he thinks he can pursue diplomatic solutions with a monster who bombs nurseries and kindergartens. This will somehow result in a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, we guess.
“If we want to do this, we mustn’t escalate,” [Macron] said, “neither with words nor with actions.”
That’s bonkers. NATO giving Putin anything — even a souvenir mug — after his unprovoked war would only embolden him. Kurt Volker, former US envoy to Ukraine, had a more realistic view earlier this month: "[W]e have to understand that Putin is bent on a military victory. He wants to destroy Ukraine, decapitate the leadership. He doesn't care about how many casualties this causes, what happens to the civilian population. This is a messianic mission that he is on. This is why he has to be stopped.”
The White House quickly backtracked on Biden’s statements, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken insisted, “We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter.”
However, Biden’s nine naughty words might not have been diplomatic but they were honest.
Watch the speech here. As we said, it's a very good speech.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."