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Joe Biden’s Time Interview Should Set Off Alarms

by | Jun 12, 2024

Joe Biden’s Time Interview Should Set Off Alarms

by | Jun 12, 2024

man holding digital tablet with time magazine cover featuring joe biden and stack with international newspapers

On May 28, U.S. President Joe Biden gave an interview to Time. His delivery and content were concerning for a number of reasons. Biden, at times, seemed misinformed and detached from reality. Sometimes, he seemed off message; other times, he seemed convinced by his own talking points. But four answers he gave were especially alarming and deserve to be highlighted.

The first was Biden’s assertion that America is “the world power.” The truth of that claim can be debated, but making that claim is deaf to the changes taking place in the world. Much of the world is angry at the United States for substituting leadership in the global community of international law with the imposition of an inconsistent and hypocritical rules-based order.

If the United States is still the world power, then a multipolar world that includes a rapidly growing BRICS+ and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is closer and closer on its heels. Biden seems not to have noticed what his CIA director has: that the world is in one of “those times of transition that come along a couple of times a century. Today the United States still has a better hand to play than any of our rivals, but it is no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical bloc. And our position at the head of the table isn’t guaranteed.”

In a disturbing defense of his claim, Biden said that “the reason why I cleared the intelligence so we can release the information we knew that [Putin] was going to attack, was to let the world know we were still in charge. We still know what’s going on.”

It is disturbing that Biden says that he released the intelligence, not to alert and protect Ukraine or to prevent war, but “to let the world know we were still in charge.” It is also disturbing that the United States had that intelligence, and knew Ukraine was about to be attacked, but did nothing to prevent it. Hawkishly, they could have massively armed Ukraine prior to the invasion. More rationally and responsibly, they could have seriously engaged Vladimir Putin on Russia’s December 2021 proposal on security guarantees and discussed a promise that Ukraine would not be invited into NATO. Sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko of Freie University in Berlin remarks that the United States failing to act on that intelligence in either of those ways “looks sort of strange, and of course very tragic for Ukraine.” It is disturbing that the U.S. impotently released the intelligence, not to prevent war and protect Ukraine, but to show the world that they are still “the world power.”

The second is Biden’s insistence that Putin has clearly stated his intention not to stop at Ukraine but to “reestablish the Soviet Union.” He pulled out a copy of Putin’s February 21, 2022 speech, repeatedly mocking his interviewers, “You probably haven’t read it.” But as Biden explains it to them, and summarizes it as saying “Ukraine is not a neighboring country” but “an inalienable part” of Russia, it begins to sound like Biden has not read the speech, which is highly critical of the Soviet Union.

Discussing the “critical” stage “the situation in Donbas has reached,” Putin references the closeness of the people of Donbas not to justify integrating or conquering them but to justify protecting them. If Biden has read the speech, it must have been a heavily redacted version. As Nicolai Petro, author of The Tragedy of Ukraine, pointed out to me, Biden selectively quotes from the speech while leaving much of contextual importance out.

Biden quotes that Putin “has just laid out, straight out. He said, he said, ‘I would like to emphasize again, Ukraine is not a neighboring country of us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.’” But he then omits, “These are our comrades, those dearest to us—not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.” Biden picks up Putin’s speech with “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russia, Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians,” but omits the qualifier, “This was the case before the 17th century, when a portion of this territory rejoined the Russian state, and after.”

Nowhere in Biden’s edited quotation, nor elsewhere in the speech, does Putin hint at going beyond Ukraine and reestablishing the Soviet Union.

As Petro pointed out to me, when addressing Biden’s accusation about “restor[ing] the Soviet Union,” Putin said, “the page has been turned. We look to the future based on the realities of today. There is no need to invent anything and form an opinion about Russia based on these ideas, there is no need to form an image of an enemy from Russia.” He called the “thought that Russia wanted to attack NATO” “nonsense.”

The third alarming answer that Biden gave came when the interviewer asked him if a Russian proposal to end the war is the best Ukraine can hope for when the United States finds itself “facing a difficult situation in Ukraine,” when “the war is stalled,” and when so many Ukrainians are being killed or wounded. Biden accused the interviewer of “skipping over all that’s happened in the meantime,” insisting that “[t]he Russian military has been decimated. You don’t write about that. It’s been freaking decimated.”

They don’t write about that because it’s not true. Biden’s answer is disconnected from reality. After a poor beginning, Russia has improved its battlefield strategy and its methods of dealing with Western supplied weapons and has fought effectively. The war seems to have decisively turned in Russia’s favor. Russia is gaining some ground, and Ukraine is losing huge numbers of soldiers to injury or death.

Far from being decimated, General Christopher Cavoli, the commander of United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe has reported to Congress that “the Russian ground force…is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict.” He added, “Much of the Russian military has not been affected negatively by this conflict…despite all of the efforts they’ve undertaken inside Ukraine.” On April 3, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said, “We have assessed over the course of the last couple of months that Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily.”

On April 11, General Cavoli explained the Russian army is reconstituting “far faster” than initially projected and that “[t]he army is actually now larger—by 15 percent—than it was when it invaded Ukraine” and that it is growing by 30,000 soldiers a month. Rather than being decimated, Cavoli reported that Russia is on track to “command the largest military on the continent.”

The fourth answer was, perhaps, the most confused and alarming. When asked what the “endgame” was in Ukraine, Biden seems to have answered that the endgame was a Ukraine that is not in NATO. Biden said peace means making sure Russia never occupies Ukraine. But that, he said, “means we have a relationship with them like we do with other countries, where we supply weapons so they can defend themselves in the future.” But that relationship, he explained, “doesn’t mean NATO.” He then explained that “I was the one when—and you guys did report it at Time—the one that I was saying that I am not prepared to support the NATOization of Ukraine.”

In his confusing and surprising response, Biden seems to say that the American security arrangement with Ukraine will be that of a partner supplying weapons so they can defend themselves and not of an ally in NATO.

That last response was only the most alarming of several alarming responses that either come as a surprise or seem misinformed or disconnected from reality.

Ted Snider

Ted Snider

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at tedsnider@bell.net

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