This weekend President Biden made an impromptu remark that sent shockwaves to the diplomatic world as he at the NATO summit that “this man (Putin) cannot remain in power.” Media outlets used the quote, quite understandably, to indicate that the United States had adopted a regime change policy in Moscow, a radical change in U.S. policy at a grave moment. The speech, however, was another geopolitical gaffe of President Biden.
Just minutes after the President made his speech, his administration started to walk back Biden’s remark, as Secretary Blinken said that the President was not aiming for a regime change in Moscow but that “President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”
Whether you agree or not if aiming for regime change is the appropriate goal the West should have with Putin’s Russia is another question. The fact that White House officials had to do damage control and openly deauthorized the words of the commander-in-chief in a moment of high geopolitical tensions does not bode well for the future of American leadership in the world.
This was not the only gaffe or weird remark the president made during the high-stakes NATO summit. Earlier, he appeared to suggest that U.S. troops would be on the ground in Ukraine as he was talking to a group of U.S. soldiers. The president said to them: “you’re going to see when you’re there (…) you’re going to see women, young people, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, saying “I’m not leaving.” The White House immediately clarified that no American troops will be sent to Ukraine, a promise the President has made since the beginning of the crisis.
Biden’s geopolitical gaffes are a pattern, not isolated events
To make matters worse, this high-profile gaffe is not even the first time Biden has been openly contradicted and corrected by his employees.
A few days before the summit, Biden was asked repeatedly what would NATO’s response be if Russia decide to use nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine, Biden gave a rather confusing answer saying such an attack would “trigger a response in kind”, which of course lead many to believe that the President was threatening with a similar nuclear or chemical attack on Russia or Russian forces if Putin decided to cross the line.
The Biden cleaning team came immediately to the rescue again, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying the President didn’t mean that and that “you heard him in another answer say we’ll respond accordingly — meaning, you know, we will select the form and nature of our response based on the nature of the action Russia takes, and we’ll do so in coordination with our Allies.”
The Presidential geopolitical gaffes are not reserved for Ukraine either. Just a few months ago, Biden also appeared to signal a major change in U.S. policy on Taiwan, another crucial hotspot of international affairs. When asked during a CNN Town Hall if America was committed to defending Taiwan if China decided to invade the island, the President said that “yes, we have a commitment to do that.” Biden made this rather surprising remark just a few days after Beijing sent an unprecedented number of fighter jets to the aerial defense zone of Taiwan.
It was the first time a president appeared to make a strong commitment to the defense of Taiwan since the U.S. recognized the Chinese Communist Party as the legitimate government of China. Ever since, Washington has had a policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward the island, which theoretically ensures to keep relations smooth with China while also preventing a larger war between the two nations.
Biden, in what has been a constant during his presidency, was again corrected by his staff. White House Press secretary Jen Psaki immediately said that “the president was not announcing any change in our policy, nor has he made a decision to change our policy” and that the commitment he was referring to was based on the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
Just like the case with the “regime change” gaffe, there might be a spirited debate on whether strategic ambiguity is the correct approach in Taiwan. What no one can deny, however, is that having the commander-in-chief constantly corrected by his employees is not the best approach in a perilous time for America and the world.
Biden and Democrats came to power in part by promising a return to normalcy after Trump’s four years. They emphasized that Biden’s experience in diplomacy will bury the days of officials contradicting and correcting the President’s impromptu remarks in the past. It is evident, however, that they have failed miserably in that mission.