As analysts, pundits, and social media users try to dissect the happenings in Ukraine, it seems that only Russian President Vladimir Putin is comfortable in his surroundings. Instead of debating policy and the efficacy of sanctions, politicians and the press in the United States are in the process of fighting an entirely different battle over which American president would better handle the situation.
It comes as little surprise that those who support President Joe Biden deem him a statesman of great stature capable of dealing with the Russian Bear. His detractors say otherwise, insisting that the 45th president, Donald Trump, would not have let the state of affairs go this far.
Making the Arguments
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set the Twittersphere alight by posting his assessment of the situation. He wrote:
“For 4 years, the Left parroted the hoax that our Administration was weak on Russia.
“Yet, they didn’t dare invade Ukraine on our watch. But now they do.
“Who do you think Putin feared more?”
Pompeo’s assertion was rebuffed ad nauseam by the Biden-friendly media, which took umbrage at the comparison. Thus began a tit-for-tat war of words to prove without doubt that each side’s chosen champion is the man for the moment.
Trump himself weighed in on the debate, releasing a statement damning the present administration:
“If properly handled, there was absolutely no reason that the situation currently happening in Ukraine should have happened at all. I know Vladimir Putin very well, and he would have never done during the Trump Administration what he is doing now, no way!”
The Fourth Estate appears determined to compare the former president with the current man in the White House and has published a series of articles that are almost formulaic in their reportage: plaudits for Biden’s handling of events and not-so-kind swipes at Trump. It seems the media are attempting to get ahead of the kitchen-table topic dominating the conversation: Who would have handled this better?
For a national press that has solidly supported the Biden administration to admit that Joe Biden may not be the best man for the job is just a step too far, especially after declaring “the adults are back in charge.”
Many of the outlets reporting on the comparison between Biden and Trump highlight that the current president’s real success is in keeping NATO members together in their joint condemnation of Putin. This is being hailed as a political and diplomatic success in contrast to Donald Trump’s strained relations with the organization.
CNN noted, “After Trump derided and weakened the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Biden has rallied NATO on Ukraine’s behalf.” A prominent Washington, D.C., staple published at least two articles claiming that Trump tried to weaken NATO purposely. And yet, one may recall that Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric was aimed at member states not paying the full share they had promised; by attempting to increase member funding, his goal was to strengthen rather than weaken the alliance.
Let’s Face Facts
Setting aside the partisan sniping and the reality that each side is almost obliged to defend and promote its pick regardless of performance, a few basic facts are worth noting:
- Putin did not invade Ukraine when Trump was president.
- Putin chose to take advantage of Biden’s historically low approval ratings because he would face little support domestically whatever he decided to do.
- Just because a response from NATO, the European Union, and the Biden administration is unified and in lockstep, it does not mean that it is necessarily a good response.
Yet, in the end, it seems likely that Putin decided to make his move on Ukraine during Biden’s presidency because of personality. He knew that Biden would seek the internationalist approach and stop short of a significant reaction. Putin also knew that if Trump were in the Oval Office, the Russian would likely have not gotten so far in his plans. As National Review’s Rich Lowry put it:
“The sheer unpredictably [sic] of Trump, his anger at being defied or disrespected, his willingness to take the occasional big risk (the Soleimani strike), all had to make Putin frightened or wary of him in a way that he simply isn’t of Joe Biden.”
Biden has been in Washington, D.C., for a very long time. His playbook is spread open, and his responses to international incidents have been recorded, replayed, weighed, and measured. The Biden administration comprises careerists whose responses have been well-documented over the years. Put simply: There are no surprises likely to come out of the White House.
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.