In a last-minute volte-face, President Joe Biden announced via a New York Times op-ed that the US will, indeed, be providing “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” to Ukraine; a position contrary to his own just one day earlier. Confusing allies, friends, the media, and other members of the administration is fast becoming a hallmark of Biden’s approach to national security policy. The chief executive’s inability to keep a consistent message is again on display.
The president wrote, “We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table … That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.” And yet, on May 30, speaking outside the White House discussing whether the United States plans to ship long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, Biden insisted, “We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”
A Long Tale of Twists and Turns
On May 27, White House reports indicated the administration had decided to honor Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated requests for longer range weapons. “The White House is preparing to dispatch long-range rocket systems to Ukraine as part of a fresh package of military and other aid that could be announced as soon as next week, according to a new report,” Callie Patteson explained in the New York Post. The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) consists of a mobile, tracked launcher with 12 highly accurate rockets fired in less than 60 seconds with a range of 186 miles. The weapon’s range would allow Ukrainian soldiers to engage Russian artillery at a safer distance than conventional howitzer-type tube artillery.
“[I]t’s absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainian military. And indeed, what they need now is the type of rocketry, the Multiple Launch Rocket System – MLRS – that will enable them to defend themselves against the very brutal Russian artillery,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Bloomberg. Providing the MLRS makes sense to deal with the persistent bombardment of the Donbas, where the Russians are making incremental progress. However, having the longer range rocket system with its precision would make each kilometer Putin’s forces acquire incredibly costly.
In a more definitive assertion, Lexi Lonas, reporting for The Hill, said, “The US will transfer long-range rocket systems to Ukraine to aid the country’s fight against Russia in the Donbas region, officials told multiple outlets.” Other news sources were cagier, not explaining fully what weapon systems were being discussed in the Pentagon, but suggesting the transfer would take place the week of May 30.
Last week Russian state television, never losing an opportunity to throw a scare into the US national security team, warned its viewers, and by default the Biden administration, that deploying the MLRS would be “crossing a red line, and we’ll have witnessed an attempt to provoke a very harsh response from Russia.” Whether worried about the Russian reaction to providing the MLRS or not, Biden seemed to cancel the initiative.
Biden’s characteristic “ready, shoot, aim” approach to announcing US foreign and defense policy left reporters scratching their collective heads. Is the president of the most powerful nation on earth cowering, again worried about what Moscow will think?
“Apparently, once again the Biden Administration is intimidated by Russian rhetoric. This is another terrible day in the continuing travesty of Biden’s foreign policy,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted with an air of disgust and exasperation. Well, faster than a speeding MLRS, one of the president’s “senior administration officials” clarified that no final decision had been made on sending such systems to Ukraine. “MLRS is under consideration, but nothing is on the table with long-range strike capabilities,” a well-known Washington, DC, newspaper reported.
With his New York Times article, it appears the president has once again reversed course, giving approval to the rocket transfer. That the president and his national security team can never seem to tell the same story on any given day is a recurring self-inflicted wound that continues to fester. Russian leadership may react to this avalanche of policy-making dysfunction with bluster for now. But it’s possible Biden’s bumbling may prompt the very escalation he scrambles so furiously to avoid.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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