Biden must abandon his quest for a nuclear deal
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about: This week Iran escalated its war against the West.
On June 8 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution calling on Iran to explain traces of uranium that it found at three undisclosed sites of nuclear activity. Hours before the IAEA vote, Iran disconnected security cameras from one of its declared nuclear sites. Then Iran began taking down IAEA cameras throughout its territory. The world’s nuclear watchdog is flying blind. “When we lose this,” IAEA director Rafael Mariano Grossi told reporters, “then it’s anybody’s guess” what Iran is doing.
But we know what Iran is doing. Iran is playing hardball. For over a year now, the Biden administration and its European partners have attempted to lure Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal, a.k.a. the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Those negotiations have failed. Iran keeps upping the ante. It wants Biden to drop sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its terrorist army, and to guarantee that future presidents won’t back out of the deal. The first demand is harmful to national security and a political hot potato. The second is impossible. Result: deadlock.
Deadlock that favors Iran. The mullahs have used the months of jaw-jaw to prepare for war-war. Ayatollah Khamenei has placed radicals in top positions, including the presidency. His proxy forces have spread violence in Iraq, Yemen, and throughout the Greater Middle East. He has plotted to assassinate U.S. officials. He has evaded sanctions. And he has built up his stockpile of nuclear fuel.
Iran has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. Last week, David Albright and Sarah Burkhard of the Institute for Science and International Security (the good ISIS) wrote that “Iran’s breakout timeline is now at zero.”
Swell. How does President Biden respond? He says there is still time to make a deal that even his lead negotiator, State Department official Robert Malley, admits is “tenuous at best.”
The complacency is maddening. The other day, when a reporter asked National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for his thoughts on Iran’s dispute with the IAEA, Sullivan said, “From our perspective, we have to view these on separate tracks, and that’s how we’re going to proceed.” Translation: We won’t let Iran’s hostile behavior get in the way of appeasement.
On June 9, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran’s moves against the IAEA are “counterproductive and further complicate our efforts to return to full implementation of the JCPOA.” Also, the sky is blue. What’s Blinken going to do about it? “We continue to press Iran to choose diplomacy and de-escalation instead,” he said.
This is willful blindness. Iran made its choice. It rejected diplomacy and de-escalation. It opted for confrontation and resistance.
Yet America is too preoccupied, too distracted, too overwhelmed to act accordingly. Inflation, crime, the border, guns, abortion, and Ukraine command the public’s attention. The growing danger from Iran does not. Meanwhile, the secretary of defense is a background player. The secretary of state and the national security adviser are staffers, not independent leaders. The president is 79 years old and not good at his job. This moment demands confidence, willfulness, boldness, imagination, and risk. What we get are odd ramblings from Biden on Kimmel.
Things must change. Iran policy is a good—and urgent—place to start. Step one is to face reality. Close the open hand that the ayatollah has spat upon. Demand enactment of snap-back sanctions. Adopt the bipartisan Senate bill that would integrate air and missile defenses in the Greater Middle East. Call for a massive defense buildup. Ease restrictions, limits, and delays on lend-lease to Ukraine, then take the same approach to arming Israel and our Gulf partners (as well as Taiwan). Recognize the importance of the Abraham Accords as the foundation for regional stability. And revive the military option to demonstrate our seriousness.
The drift toward global disorder began after former president Obama decided not to enforce his red line against chemical weapons in Syria. That was almost a decade ago. One way to repair the jagged breach in American credibility and American deterrence would be to make good on our longstanding promise that Iran won’t obtain the world’s most terrible weapon.
The current path leads to a world where America is ignored, where Israel’s existence is threatened, and where the risk of nuclear war is greater than it is even today. We’ve been telling ourselves for a while that such a world would be unacceptable. Let’s act like it.
The president’s budget doesn’t match U.S. commitments
War was in the background of President Biden’s trip to Asia last week. He redeployed U.S. forces to Somalia before he left. He signed into law $40 billion in financial and military assistance to Ukraine during his visit to South Korea. Then, in Japan, a reporter asked Biden if he was prepared to “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan.” Biden’s answer was succinct. “Yes,” he said.
Forget the clumsy White House reaction to Biden’s moment of lucidity. Leave aside the question of whether the United States should move from a policy of strategic ambiguity, where our response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is left undefined, to a policy of strategic clarity where we let China know the direct consequences of such an attack.
Consider instead the following: Does the Pentagon have the resources to defend democracies from autocrats in two hemispheres?
Afraid not. The Pentagon ditched the “two-front” war preparedness strategy under Barack Obama. Meanwhile U.S. defense spending as a percentage of the economy has been in decline for decades. Biden has shown little interest in changing its downward course. Indeed, the one place where he’s been reluctant to spend money is national defense.
Biden’s fiscal year 2022 request of $715 billion was too small even for the Democratic Congress. It ended up authorizing $728.5 billion. Biden’s fiscal year 2023 request is for $773 billion. Maybe that seems like a hefty sum. It’s not. Biden’s defense budget is meager compared with the tasks the president has set out.
Why? Part of the reason is inflation. The Biden budget request paints a rosy—and inaccurate—scenario. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Mackenzie Eaglen has run the numbers. She begins with the $773 billion marked for the Pentagon. “Using a more honest 7.46 percent CPI [Consumer Price Index] estimate (the FY22 average so far) for military personnel raises the topline to $794.5 billion needed next year,” she writes.
That still isn’t enough, however. “$846 billion in FY 2023 is a more realistic down payment on matching defense investments against national security threats,” Eaglen concludes, “and should be the starting point as Congress builds a more accurate defense budget.” In other words, Eaglen recommends a 9 percent increase in the Biden administration’s topline before Congress and its appropriators become involved. Her proposal makes sense. It’s necessary. And it won’t happen.
It won’t happen for several reasons. The first is inertia. None of the threats we encountered or fear we might encounter in the post-Cold War world have provoked the people’s representatives to increase defense spending to Reagan-era levels. The political willpower doesn’t exist. Entitlements and interest on the debt act as additional constraints. We’ve muddled through for 30 years, this thinking goes. No need to stop now.
The second brake on defense spending is the Progressive bias against hard power. By the 2024 election, America will have been governed by presidents skeptical of defense spending and the military for 12 of the past 16 years. Such leadership has an effect not only on materiel but also on the culture of the national security establishment. Progressives under Obama and Biden see the Pentagon more as a vehicle for social policy and geopolitical featherbedding than as an instrument of deterrence and the national interest. Left-wing taboos against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, oil and gas, and the warrior mindset take precedent over military readiness and lethality. The president overrules the secretary of defense and joint chiefs. America grows weaker even as its leader calls for greater global activism.
Noninterventionism and restraint on the foreign policy right creates a bipartisan reluctance to spend more on defense. President Trump increased defense spending, but not by enough. His administration was filled with skeptics of American engagement and foreign intervention who wanted to reduce not only the Pentagon’s budget but also its influence throughout the world. Republican voices in Congress promote an “America First” foreign policy that would constrict U.S. deployments, aid, and partnerships.
About a quarter of the House GOP and a fifth of the Senate GOP, for example, voted against the latest aid package to Ukraine. Granted, this batch of aid seemed designed to split conservatives, who have a longstanding aversion to unconditional economic assistance. The vote stands as a warning for both liberal and conservative internationalists, nonetheless. The bipartisan consensus over Ukraine may not survive a prolonged war of attrition.
You correct a mismatch between resources and commitments by increasing resources or decreasing commitments. President Biden resists increasing resources for national defense, while powerful elements of both left and right work to reduce American commitments. Neither strategy makes America safer. Someone needs to make the case for a major U.S. defense buildup in response to the challenges of China, Russia, and Iran. And they need to do it soon.
As the rest of the world reeled from the COVID pandemic in 2020, it looked like China had things under control. Americans and Europeans sheltered in place, while the Chinese enjoyed pool parties and weddings. The World Health Organization concluded in a February 2020 report: “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic. This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real.”
Turns out, China’s “bold approach” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. For weeks now, the country’s Communist leaders have imposed lockdowns on some of its largest cities to grapple with a spike in hospitalizations. China’s COVID vaccines are far less effective than those developed and produced in America and Europe. Despite state censorship, cell phone videos of average citizens yelling at the authorities have gone viral (so to speak). People don’t have enough to eat. They are imprisoned in their own apartments. Meanwhile, even the bluest cities in America are lifting mask mandates.
None of this should surprise anyone. On the one hand, China invests a great deal in trying to convince the rest of the world that it should be feared, and its leader, Xi Jinping, has accumulated increasing power.
But the regime has also blundered. Xi this year signed a sweeping pact with Vladimir Putin on the eve of Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine. And China is gaining little from picking a fight with India in the Himalayan Mountains.
What Xi and his apparats do not understand is that every time they bully a neighbor or con an international organization, they are making a strong argument to weaker states that it is better to align with America than to accept Chinese hegemony. When the rest of the world sees that Beijing cannot control a virus that likely originated from one of the regime’s biological laboratories, that case gains strength.
None of this is to say that America should not prepare to confront China in the coming years. The Chinese have surpassed us in hypersonic weapons technology. China’s military buildup is real. But just as the world is now learning through Russia’s blunders in Ukraine just how incompetent and corrupt the Russian Army is, we should not assume a military untested in battle will be as menacing as Chinese propaganda would have us believe.
Totalitarian regimes look fearsome right until they crumble. Xi’s is unlikely to be any different.
Inaction by the Biden administration and an aversion towards long-term strategic policy goals has put the United States in an exceedingly vulnerable position, with China and our adversaries aggressively advancing their plans to overtake the United States on the world stage.
Our nation’s current leadership has failed to act on forward-thinking initiatives to strengthen the economic and national security of America. It is imperative that new voices be sent to Washington who recognize future challenges and implement strategic plans to protect the wellbeing of American industry, security and freedom.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict underscores the need for a comprehensive plan to confront geopolitical and domestic challenges before they arise. This conflict was driven by Joe Biden’s withdrawal of United States Energy Independence at the world stage, all while the intelligence community and lawmakers having advance knowledge of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. Instead of acting to deter the Russian threat, lawmakers and the Biden administration failed to issue a preemptive sanction package. By lacking the foresight and courage to act, Biden disgraced American diplomacy and strength on the world stage.
It’s paramount that our next class of lawmakers address the needs of tomorrow’s America and develop long-term policies that strengthen United States national security and economic interests. I led the fight for energy independence and stood with President Trump’s successful policies by suing the Biden administration over the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline and filed suit against Biden’s disastrous ‘Social Cost of Greenhouse Gas’ rule. We must strengthen the American energy sector, and never become a pawn of another nation’s exports.
The lab leak in Wuhan, China exposed critical vulnerabilities in our country’s national security and economy. As Missouri Attorney General, I’ve fought China at every turn, suing the Communist Chinese Party in 2020 to hold them accountable for unleashing COVID-19 on the United States. But more must be done. We must eliminate funding for gain of function research, as seen in the NIH-funded Wuhan lab. The United States, through financing the NIH lab in Wuhan, placed an economic weapon in the hands of our greatest adversary.
This is an unacceptable lack of foresight our country can never allow to happen again. In the U.S. Senate, I will be relentless in my pursuit to hold accountable, whether foreign or domestic, those responsible for unleashing the pandemic on the world.Through Iran-Contra-like investigations, I will ensure that our enemies will never have the opportunity to use American research funding against us again.
Energy independence and opposing China, along with the foresight and willingness to take on these big fights like President Trump did so effectively is what our country needs, with the threat to our nation at the highest point in decades. International turmoil, rising inflation, and economic stagnation embolden our enemies and have been perpetuated by the Biden administration. We must do better. We need fighters. And we need long-term solutions. That’s why I’m running for the United States Senate.
The U.S. Air Force now has 57 new, high tech refueling tankers with more in the proverbial pipeline to replace its aging fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers. While tankers don’t generally capture the headlines, without a capable tanker to do mid-air refueling, the reach of our military’s bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance planes are cut dramatically. Simply put, tankers allow America’s warfighters to stay in the air and on target longer and without making extra trips back to the home base to refuel. And the KC-46 is operating right now refueling military aircraft over Poland and Germany that are protecting NATO as war wages nearby in Ukraine. The modernized KC-46 tankers are the most capable on the planet, and are more fuel efficient and can deliver fuel to every single aircraft in our arsenal. That means they are better for the taxpayer, the environment, and the warfighter.
Our nation’s military leaders estimate that we will need about 480 tankers to entirely replace America’s aging fleet and meet our defensive needs. As with all military equipment, many years or even decades from now, we will likely replace the KC-46 tanker, just as we are now doing. However, for the fights of today and the generation to come, the KC-46 is the world’s most capable and robust tanker. It’s also cost-effective at a time when budgets are being spread thin.
Given what has happened in recent years, it is clear that we have a lot of pressing national security budgetary needs. We will need to expand our missile defense and deterrence capabilities and make sure we have the tools to deter Chinese and Russian aggression as well as deter rogue states like North Korea and Iran. In times like these, we can’t afford to waste billions of dollars to buy a less advanced foreign tanker, let alone the years of development and testing it will take to upgrade it to the capability of an aircraft we already own. Doing that would simply divert money from other pressing needs which would have the impact of endangering our nation — not protecting it.
Development of military hardware is an expensive and time consuming process. And adding a whole host of changes and upgrades to bring a foreign tanker up to U.S. military standards would be a major development program with all the same risks of the unknown and the unproven. If the Pentagon starts down that path on another tanker today, it likely won’t roll off the assembly line for close to a decade. By that time, the Air Force will be looking to next generation tankers that are unmanned, stealthy, and able to fly places a wide body aircraft never will. In the meantime, if the Pentagon wants new technology or capability built into the new KC-46, that can easily be done. l
Some Pentagon officials want to pursue a relationship with Airbus. That would be a mistake. Even as Russia wages war against Ukraine, threatens expanded war against the Western world, and even threatens nuclear escalation, Airbus continues to buy titanium from Russia. In contrast, U.S.-based Boeing has announced that it is ceasing Russian titanium buys.
But that’s not the only reason the U.S. should be wary of entering into business with Airbus. The company has a long history of scandal and corruption. In the United Kingdom, for example, investigations have exposed massive bribery scandals. French investigations have also uncovered evidence of corruption. Additionally, Airbus has paid billions in fines because it has engaged in bribery schemes around the globe.
Moreover, Airbus has cost Americans thousands of high-paying aerospace jobs by violating trade laws and trade agreements. It doesn’t make sense defensively or economically to outsource our high tech capabilities and make our nation more dependent upon unreliable and untrustworthy trading partners.
“Buy American” is a mantra being repeated far and wide by the White House and others, from newsrooms to manufacturers. It’s merits can be debated, but the reality is that it makes no sense at all to choose to make ourselves dependent upon other nations for the things we absolutely must have to survive in a dangerous world. For example, missile defense technology and national security technology must be 100% American.
The KC-46 tanker is the most capable in the world. It is new and in the coming years if it needs updates, it can be achieved at a minimal cost. There is simply no real benefit to our war fighters, our taxpayers, or our nation to start developing a foreign tanker, especially given the current global environment.
The U.S. has a lot of work to do in other areas of national security to ensure that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran pose no serious danger to our nation. When you consider all the facts, it becomes clear we need a new tanker built by Airbus like we need a gasoline powered turtleneck sweater.
The Biden administration is ending missile tests against defunct spy satellites, making the United States the first world power to do so.
In a Monday speech at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States will no longer conduct the “dangerous” missile tests, which scatter debris in space that could threaten astronauts, weather and GPS satellites, and U.S. military interests.
The announcement comes after Russia in November destroyed a Soviet-era satellite with a missile, a decision Harris called “reckless” and “irresponsible.” The United States and China have not conducted a missile test in more than 10 years. About a dozen have been conducted since 1960 by the United States, China, India, and Russia.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R., Fla.), a member of the House’s Armed Services Committee and Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said the decision “handicaps” the United States’ ability to “deter future conflicts.”
“While the Chinese Communist Party launches more into space than the rest of the world combined, the Biden administration has opted to diminish our space capabilities by banning anti-satellite missile tests,” Waltz said. “We deter future conflicts by showing the capabilities to confront and defeat our enemies, not by hoping the CCP and Russia will cease military tests after the United States does. The Biden administration should understand this decision only handicaps the United States and reverse course immediately.”
Iran won’t back down from its assassination campaign targeting former U.S. officials over the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, a top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander said.
IRGC navy commander Alireza Tangsiri said that Iran would not accept a deal whereby the U.S. would lift terrorism sanctions in exchange for Iranian pledges to “give up on avenging Soleimani,” Reuters reported yesterday. Tangsiri, Reuters added, seemed to be speaking specifically about Iran’s demand that the U.S. remove the IRGC from its Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which bans members of the group from entering the U.S.
“This is pure fantasy. The Supreme Leader has emphasized the need for revenge and the Revolutionary Guards’ top commander has said that revenge is inevitable and that we will choose the time and place for it,” Tangsiri said.
When Iranian officials talk about avenging Soleimani’s death, they are understood to be referring to their efforts to kill Trump administration officials who planned the Soleimani operation.
Tangsiri’s comments are an indication that Tehran continues to take a hard line on its demands that the Biden administration lift the FTO designation — which has brought the talks in Geneva to a standstill.
They also demonstrate that Iran has no intention of backing down from its ongoing assassination plots, even if the Biden administration were to lift the FTO designation and return to the deal.
The Iranian government has made a number of threats targeting former U.S. officials over the Soleimani killing.
To mark the two-year anniversary of the strike in January, Iran placed 52 U.S. officials it said were involved in the Soleimani strike on a sanctions blacklist believed to double as a list of people to target for assassination. In another memorable instance that month, the country’s supreme leader even shared a video depicting Trump’s assassination on the Mar-a-Lago golf course.
Meanwhile, a number of former senior U.S. officials, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, have reportedly been assigned security details beyond their government service. The intelligence community believes that Iranian agents are working to assassinate the two officials on U.S. soil, the Washington Examiner’s Tom Rogan reported last month.
The Biden administration’s response to these Iranian assassination threats, besides the protective details, has largely been symbolic.
Although national-security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement in January pledging to inflict “severe consequences” on Iran in response to any assassinations, the U.S. has not withdrawn from the nuclear negotiations in Vienna over the ongoing threats to former officials. Instead, the administration has continued to participate in the talks, despite Iran’s demands to remove the IRGC from the FTO list.
In fact, there’s reason to believe that the administration is holding back from taking steps that would name and shame Iranians involved in these assassination plots for fear of disrupting the nuclear talks.
Rogan reported that the Department of Justice possesses indictable evidence against at least two IRGC members who are working to recruit a U.S.-based assassin to kill Bolton. (While Rogan noted that the department may have opted for a sealed indictment, he called the possibility unlikely.)
Those efforts haven’t prompted the White House to scrap the nuclear talks, and neither have Tangsiri’s recent comments.
Even as a top Iranian commander doubled down on his country’s assassination threats, the Biden administration has opted for continued engagement toward an agreement that would undeniably empower the IRGC.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has raised concerns about SpaceX’s plans to put more than 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit to create its satellite internet system.
To put that into perspective, Sputnik was launched 65 years ago and there are less than 3,000 functioning satellites orbiting the Earth. NASA questions whether SpaceX’s automated collision avoidance system would be effective given the dramatic increase of satellites that would be in orbit.
While SpaceX claims there is “zero risk” of its Starlink satellites colliding with other satellites or spacecraft, NASA sees that calculation as dangerously misguided.
As proof that NASA is right, in 2019, there was a potential collision (the risk was 10 times higher than the threshold requiring a collision avoidance maneuver) involving a Starlink satellite. SpaceX did nothing to avoid the collision with a European Space Agency (“ESA”) satellite. So it was left to the ESA to avoid the collision.
SpaceX blamed its failure to take any action or even respond to the possible collision on an email snafu. That doesn’t instill confidence.
Elon Musk has made headlines with Tesla electric cars, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. But there has been a consistent question about safety and taking short cuts.
Problems and collisions with Musk’s automated or driverless cars have been blamed on others with little recognition of the shortcomings of the vehicles’ safety systems. Likewise, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have had a number of explosions that destroyed the rocket and cargo, yet SpaceX has been opaque about its failures and cavalier about safety concerns.
While the promise of expanding high-speed broadband internet all over the globe via satellite is promising, the issue of space junk and debris is a growing safety concern. And it has life and death consequences and could become an economic disaster as well.
Space debris, satellites, and spacecraft are carefully tracked so that potential collisions can be predicted and avoided. Transparency and communication are needed because when a satellite’s trajectory is changed to avoid a collision, new collisions become possible — like on a crowded freeway, swerving to miss a pothole could create other accidents.
Similarly, if two satellites have collision avoidance systems, it is helpful if they can predictably do their avoidance jobs so that they don’t accidentally both adjust themselves into the path of the other and thus fail to avoid the collision.
Government space agencies and space sustainability experts have noted that Starlink’s planned constellation of satellites is a threat to satellite safety, including the International Space Station (ISS). And NASA says that launch safety windows become much smaller when the number of objects flying around the earth at 18,000 miles per hour dramatically increases.
A study concludes that SpaceX’s satellites have been involved in about 1,600 close or highly risky collision encounters which turns out is about 50% of all possible collisions. Imagine what happens if SpaceX increases by more than 16 times the number of satellites it has in orbit.
These collisions are a problem not merely because the two satellites would be destroyed, but because the collision would create a dense field of space junk and debris which would continue to orbit around the planet at speeds of up to 18,000 miles per hour. Even a small chunk of metal (like a nut or a bolt) can do considerable damage traveling at that high speed.
A typical 9 mm handgun shoots a relatively small bullet at about 820 miles per hour. So imagine the energy and damage that could be done by an object traveling about 20 times faster. And imagine many thousands or even millions of pieces of space debris that can be created when two satellites collide and the dramatic increased risk of future collisions that would ensue.
Given Musk’s track record of being a bit cavalier about safety concerns and passing the buck when safety issues are raised, we should be careful about blindly jumping on board with his plans.
While there is a great deal of promise in expanded satellite systems that could revolutionize communications, we must make sure we don’t make satellite technology nearly impossible to maintain because of massive space debris fields that could have been avoided with responsible and transparent safety systems.
If the U.S.’s national security satellites or our communications satellites were at risk because of some Russian oligarch’s irresponsible space launches or because of the totalitarian Chinese regime’s provocative actions in space, it seems safe to say that we would not cheer them on. So perhaps we should expect more from Elon Musk, SpaceX, and Starlink.
As NASA points out, it isn’t asking too much that the project be “conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment.” And if we would expect this of Russia and China, we should expect this of American companies as well.
The president has an unerring instinct to make problems worse
“This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply into production,” President Biden said during his announcement Thursday that he would release more barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve than at any point in American history. His decision was also a concession. None of the policies Biden has enacted throughout his short presidency have alleviated the problems they were meant to solve. Quite the opposite: In practically every case, Biden has made things worse.
Energy? Killing the Keystone pipeline was one of the first things Biden did when he took office. In February, Biden delayed approval of new oil and gas leases. He continues to blame the increase in gas prices on Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even though prices began to rise early in Biden’s term. Biden scapegoats oil companies for sitting on profits, while he could be doing everything in his power to ramp up domestic production of available fuel sources—including nuclear.
The fallout from Putin’s war was bound to make energy scarce and thus more valuable. Biden could have lessened the pain on the American consumer by pursuing an all-of-the-above energy dominance policy from the start, and by reducing the size of the American Rescue Plan so that it didn’t contribute to inflation. He chose to ignore the warnings of economists such as former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers and followed his advisers who incorrectly predicted that inflation would be temporary. By turning to the Strategic Reserve, Biden is promoting a temporary fix while the long-term solutions are plain to see. He’s relied on similar gimmicks before. They haven’t worked.
Consider Biden’s immigration policy. He spent his early days as president tearing up President Trump’s agreements with Mexico and several Central American countries that forced asylum-seekers to stay in third-party nations while U.S. judges decided on their claims. The rush for the border was swift and ongoing. This week, Biden is expected to reverse a rule Trump enforced during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed border agents to repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly because of the public health emergency. Homeland Security officials tell the New York Times that because of Biden’s decision they are planning on unauthorized crossings to double from an already high level. Republicans must be giddy with anticipation at the coming headlines.
Immigration and the border were the first places where you saw erosion in Biden’s job approval numbers last spring. Now he’s about to do something that will undermine border security and his political standing, and for no discernible reason. The pandemic is not over. Border crossings aren’t falling. We know that Biden’s decision will attract additional illegal immigrants. Nothing about this policy makes sense.
Biden doesn’t make sense. His Europe trip was a substantive success but a stylistic failure. The Western alliance is holding. But the president gaffed his way across Eastern Europe—saying the West would respond “in kind” to a Russian chemical attack, denying the deterrent value of sanctions when his subordinates have said precisely the opposite, telling U.S. troops that they would see the horrors of war in Ukraine firsthand, then raising the possibility that America’s strategic goal is regime change in Russia. Then, when Fox’s Peter Doocy soberly asked him about these inadvisable statements, Biden denied that he had said anything problematic.
I happen to believe that the world would be a safer place if Vladimir Putin were out of power—that indeed one possible consequence of a Russian defeat in Ukraine is Putin’s demise. I also believe that presidents shouldn’t sound like me. They need to watch their public statements because, as we were reminded throughout the Trump administration, words matter. Biden’s sentiment in Warsaw was correct. His sense of timing was wrong. After all, you never get in trouble for what you don’t say. Biden’s problem is that he rarely lets his actions speak louder than his words. And the words are garbled.
People notice. They don’t like what they hear, they can’t stand what they see. The public verdict on Biden is grim. He has not benefited from a rally-around-the-flag effect. His approval rating continues to fall. He’s at 41 percent approval in the FiveThirtyEight average of polls. He fell under 40 percent approval in this week’s Marist poll. Republicans continue to lead the congressional generic ballot. Democrats recognize that the electoral battlefield has widened. Biden is running out of time to improve his standing. And he hasn’t demonstrated an ability to bounce back as president.
Biden entered office at a time of national emergency. He benefited from the public’s desire to see Donald Trump off the airwaves for the first time in years. He oversaw the successful implementation of the vaccination program Trump had started. The resilience of the American economy helped him too.
Then the situation went sideways. Biden’s problems started on the southern border, ramped up with the Delta variant of coronavirus, accelerated with inflation, spread with the debacle in Afghanistan, and haven’t abated since. His rallying of the West in support of Ukraine is laudable, but he still hasn’t done enough to help the Ukrainians and he keeps stumbling on his own message. His commitments to the left wing of his party keep him from embracing the center. And damaging leaks about the federal investigation into his son’s finances only will mount if Republicans take Congress in November.
Biden’s reliance on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is telling. This is a presidency that is running out of gas.
The veteran community is facing numerous crises in this country and as geopolitical tensions continue to rise, America must make the hard choices to ensure we properly take care of the men and women who defend our freedoms around the globe.
While there are many issues that plague our veterans, the assistance programs that the government provides when our troops return home are falling short. More specifically the benefits and housing programs need to build upon past success and not further disrupt any progress that has been made to date.
The veteran’s benefits program is our obligation to the brave men and women who have served this country. Unfortunately, the current system is both underfunded and confusing, leaving veterans at a disadvantage when seeking the benefits, they are ethically, medically, and legally entitled to.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest and most complex agencies in the U.S. government. The last two decades of war have produced the greatest number of veterans since the Vietnam War, and the system’s cracks are starting to show as backlogs get longer and backwards incentive programs emerge.
Congress is set to take up a key bill that would speed health care and benefits to millions of veterans exposed to burn pits during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans diagnosed with cancer, lung disease, and other respiratory problems suspect they were caused by the toxic exposure, and we should support efforts to identify and help those that need assistance and provide key benefits they have earned.
President Biden mentioned this bill and the need to provide better benefits and services to our veterans in his State of the Union speech, but in his latest VA budget request, his administration proposed the elimination of veterans choice on benefits claims by attempting to revive ill-advised VA “reforms” considered in the last Congress. This request would remove the ability for private claims agents to be accredited and process VA benefits claims, robbing our veterans of the freedom to choose.
Also recently, during a joint Veterans Affairs Committee hearing some members of Congress were attacking companies that help veterans navigate the VA, simply because they make a profit. That’s not how we should judge VA consultants – we should judge VA consultants on whether they do a good job of securing better and needed benefits for our vets.
While good intentioned, volunteer organizations who support the VA disabilities benefits program cannot do it all. Veterans need help and we need a change. Current law allows for veterans to seek fee-based consultation on their benefit claims if they choose. Any legislation around this issue must ensure a veteran’s right to choose is not jeopardized.
Another key issue that we need to focus on is housing. Veterans experience homelessness at a disproportionately high rate compared with the rest of the population. In 2019, 21 out of every 10,000 veterans were homeless. While these numbers are improving, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the veteran population hard due to many of them having disabilities that can limit their employment options and segment them into industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic.
In its 2022 budget request last year, the VA asked Congress for $2.2 billion for homelessness programs, a 16% increase from 2021. While I am often critical of increases in government spending; we cannot abandon our men and women in uniform once they leave the service. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
We have a lot of work to do to live up to the promises politicians make when the TV cameras are on, and it is on the American people to stay vigilant and ensure we follow through for our brave men and women. Many veterans have sacrificed much for our freedoms — it is time we paid them back, rather than shortchanging them.
The confusion over providing fighter jets to Ukraine underscores a dangerous reality: NATO has no end-game and no off-ramps for this war.
A remarkable exchange took place earlier this week between the United States and Poland, which shares a long border with Ukraine and likely would be first to get hit by Russian forces if the war expands beyond Ukrainian territory. The exchange was not only embarrassing, highlighting the U.S. State Department’s incompetence, but it underscores what can only be described as a complete absence of strategy among the NATO allies, which appear to have no end-game and no off-ramps in mind for Ukraine and Russia.
Here’s what happened. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Sunday that Poland has a “green light” to provide fighter jets to the Ukrainian air force, adding that the U.S. was working with Poland to find a way to replace MiG-29 jets (which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly and fight) that might be sent to Ukraine with American F-16s.https://d26db64193801a286bbefe4cc520e1de.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
News quickly spread on Monday that the U.S. and Poland had reached such a deal, and that dozens of Polish MiG-29s were in fact going to supplement Ukraine’s war effort. If true, that would have been a shocking escalation on the part of NATO. It’s easy to see how Russia could then claim that Poland, by putting its own warplanes in the fight, was now a belligerent in the conflict, and then justify expanding the war into Eastern Europe.
But it wasn’t true — not quite. Poland, acutely aware of what Moscow’s likely response would be if dozens of Polish warplanes flown by Ukrainian pilots crossed from Poland into Ukraine and started hitting Russian targets, issued a curious statement on Tuesday. The Polish Foreign Ministry said it was ready to deploy, free of charge, all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, “and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”
The statement went on to request that the U.S. “provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes. The Polish Government also requests other NATO Allies — owners of MIG-29 jets — to act in the same vein.”
This move by Poland apparently caught the U.S. State Department completely off-guard. Later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby responded to the Polish proposal, which he said, “shows just some of the complexities this issue presents.”
The prospect of fighter jets “at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America” departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance. It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.
What can we conclude from this bizarre back-and-forth? First, that Blinken’s “green light” comment Sunday was made without consulting Poland or our other NATO allies. Second, that Poland’s statement Tuesday was a not-too-subtle attempt to shift the responsibility for the entire scheme to the United States. Essentially, Poland was saying that if the U.S. government wants to aide Ukraine by giving it warplanes, Poland would not be the one to transfer or even facilitate the transfer of those aircraft onto the battlefield. They would have to come from a U.S. air base, not Poland.
Lastly, the U.S. response reveals that despite Blinken’s reckless comment, the U.S. has not thought seriously about how any of this would work, and what might or might not give Moscow a casus belli to attack Polish or NATO targets in Eastern Europe.
In other words, there is no NATO strategy, either to assist Ukraine in a way that would turn the tide of the war or to imagine an end-game that’s something less than a total Russian defeat. Last week, Blinken articulated what can best be described as a maximalist policy for the war: “We have to sustain this until it stops, until the war is over, Russian forces leave, the Ukrainian people regain their independence, their sovereignty, their territorial integrity. We’re committed to doing that.”
So the apparent position of the U.S. government is that it must help Ukraine to bring about a complete humiliating Russian withdrawal, something like the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 — or the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, for that matter. If the NATO allies are worried that Russia will widen the war over a couple dozen Polish MiG-29s, what do they think the Kremlin will do to avoid the kind of defeat that Blinken has laid out? Have they thought about the possibility that Russia would use tactical nuclear weapons to avoid that kind of defeat? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Setting all that aside, though, the U.S. and our NATO allies have just demonstrated to Russia and the entire world that we have no plan to provide Ukraine with warplanes, let alone tanks or troops or other advanced weapon systems. The NATO allies obviously don’t even agree on how that might be done in theory, and they apparently are not talking to one another about it behind closed doors but issuing embarrassing and contradictory statements in public.
As my colleague Eddie Scarry notes, all of this blows up the polite fiction that President Joe Biden is providing strong NATO leadership, and that the alliance is solid and united in confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It also blows up the notion, increasingly popular among neocons in the corporate press and in Washington, that NATO is able to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and can be pressured into doing so. If the Poles won’t even allow its MiG-29s to be transferred to Ukraine via Polish airspace, why would they agree to send sorties out from Poland to engage and shoot down Russian warplanes? Why would smaller NATO allies in the Baltics?
They won’t — and they shouldn’t, because doing so would be an act of war that would pull the entire NATO alliance into an armed conflict with Russia. Likewise, funneling warplanes and other heavy weapons into Ukraine will bring NATO right up to and arguably well past the line of belligerence. To paraphrase the Pentagon, the proposal is not a tenable one.
Here is what I would like to happen in Ukraine:
Outraged by Russia’s aggression, armed Ukrainians in both the country’s military and its spontaneously formed civilian militias are able to fight hard enough in all regions that the demoralized and confused Russian army retreats with its tail between its legs. Appalled by the spectacle, and vowing “never again,” the international community comes together to turn Russia into a pariah state — limiting its access to international institutions, weakening its economy, draining the country of talent, and making Vladimir Putin’s position untenable even within his own circle.
Alarmed by their vulnerability, previously unreliable nations such as Germany commit to increasing defense spending and to taking NATO more seriously. In the West, the tales of Ukrainian bravery become the stuff of legend, and in Ukraine, President Zelensky cruises to reelection as the new symbol of national resolve. In casual conversation, “Zelensky” and “Putin” become avatars of Good and Evil, while “invading Ukraine” becomes colloquial shorthand for “doing something stupid.” Putin is forced out of office, and Russia reforms itself. The experiment is universally deemed to have been a failure, and we learn that, despite all odds, the world has changed substantially since the mid 20th century.
That’s what I’d like to happen. It’s also what I’m being led to believe, by social media and the hive that sustains it, is happening. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that anything ever turns out that neatly, and I’m not sure that the crisis in Ukraine will, either. As a country, we would do well to remember that, and so to ask some meaningful followup questions beyond “Which team do we like?”
The sad truth is that — myself included, of course — we really do not know as much about what is happening in Ukraine as we’d like to. Some of the things we thought we knew — that 13 soldiers were killed heroically on Snake Island; that a mysterious flying ace was downing Russian planes; that random women are carrying rifles on public transport — turned out not to be true. Some of the things we have simply assumed — that because Russia’s invasion seems to have made slower progress than the Kremlin anticipated, the Russian military is on the verge of giving up rather than of changing tactics — are as much wishful thinking as they are analysis.
And some of the things that we seem to have forgotten — that the world is full of extremely complex systems that usually cannot be altered overnight — will soon become as apparent as ever. If Russia loses this war, Noah Rothman notes over at Commentary, many of the results will be “of material benefit to the West” — but also “extremely dangerous.” As the ultimate stewards of our government, we would profit from ensuring that our national conversation covers these specifics as much as it is covering the generalities.
War is a terrible thing, and it seems likely that it is about to get far more horrible still. Unless the Russians contrive a clever reason to desist, the next stage will likely involve the broad deployment of heavy artillery and the beginning of missile strikes on Ukrainian cities. There will be fighting in and around major population centers. Volunteers will be wiped out. Children will be maimed. War crimes will be committed. The result of this — even if the ploy ultimately fails — will probably not be the good guys rushing in to save the day, but thousands upon thousands of painful deaths.
And then what? It seems clear that there remains enough fighting spirit within the broader Ukrainian population to make a permanent Russian occupation impossible. But Russia, too, can play games with its enemies’ resolve. It’s easy to tweet platitudes and change your Facebook avatar to a yellow and blue flag. But are we going to risk a nuclear war over Kyiv or Kharkiv?
All of this is a long way of saying that Americans should be careful not to get carried away, or to become so obsessed with hating the bad guys and loving the good guys that they become unaware of the details on the ground. Despite what the media would like to be true, Americans do not actually need to be fed infantile or cynical analogies in order to discern that Russia is the bad actor here: As of yesterday, just 2% of Republicans and Democrats thought that the United States had been “too tough” in response to Putin’s aggression, while 80% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats believed that it had not been “tough enough.” What we need is to be leveled with — about the real state of the war, about the most likely set of outcomes, and about the broader knock-on effects that might result. We need to grasp the potential consequences of escalation, and the potential consequences of inaction.
We need to ask ourselves tough questions such as, “If Russia were to invade Poland, should American soldiers be deployed?” and, “At what point are we willing to fight?” We need to distinguish between war propaganda — which has a real value to those fighting — and the truth. And, perhaps most important of all, we need to evaluate our nonviolent responses on their long-term merits, as well as within the existing good guy–bad guy dichotomy.
There is a season for cheerleading, but cheerleading alone will not suffice. Après cela, le déluge.
The weakness and incompetence of the Biden administration was irresistible to a tyrant like Vladimir Putin. And it may be to more tyrants, like Xi Jinping.
here is a plethora of misinformation in corporate media on the potential World War III. Shocking, I know. Let’s clear a few things up: Vladimir Putin hasn’t lost. The West did not pull together under Joe Biden’s “leadership.” But Ukraine has most definitely won the propaganda war.
The weakness and incompetence of the Biden administration was irresistible to a tyrant like Putin. That left Ukraine pretty much on its own as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and United States were essentially irrelevant. The Ukrainian forces have exceeded expectations, but thus far Putin has not gone full Golden Horde on them. There is also a lot of smoke and mirrors in play, and as noted information warfare strategists Chuck D and Flavor Flav have advised, “Don’t believe the hype.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is no longer a former comedian, he’s a World War III rock star. When pictures of him in full battle rattle out with the troops were published, apparently the United States offered to whisk him to safety. His response was famously, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammo.”
Add that to the Snake Island defenders telling a Russian warship threatening them to “Go f-ck yourselves” right before the shells started raining down. Then throw in a squad of supermodels carrying Kalashnikovs and 80-year-old guys showing up to fight with a couple of sandwiches and a bad attitude.
That is a tremendous narrative of the plucky patriots fighting for their families and freedom. Those stories are all true, or maybe not. Zelensky is confirmed to have made his request for ammo, but the Snake Island heroes were captured, not killed. The supermodels are at least real on Instagram, and the same with the old guy and his lunch.
At some level, perception is reality, and Ukraine has done a brilliant job of getting its message out. Now they are getting support based on the combination of information warfare and actual battlefield action.
They seem to have stopped the Russian blitzkrieg. Kyiv has not fallen and the Russian advance appears to have stalled. There are also reports of major Russian casualties and destruction of equipment.
But reports are not reality, and it’s worth examining them. Many came from the notoriously reliable interwebz and have run the gamut from unverified to happened seven years ago to absolute B.S.
Information warfare is important in the modern social media battlespace, but it means less than the truth on the ground, which is far from certain. A few pictures of Russian vehicles abandoned by the road can be a sign their logistics aren’t up to snuff. Or show that when 10,000-plus vehicles are rolling through enemy territory, some break down or get ahead of fuel convoys.
Video of Spetsnaz looting food from a store can show their troops are starving. Or it’s a reminder that Spetsnaz are commandos who operate well ahead of the chow wagons in the rear. It is clear that Ukraine was not toppled in a weekend, but that does not mean it couldn’t still be or that was even the goal.
It has been my belief all along that Putin never wanted to own and occupy Ukraine. Assuming he does topple the government, and I think it’s premature to say he couldn’t, then he will face a massive insurgency. He was around for Afghanistan, and I can’t see why he would take that on again.
He does want ownership of the two Russian-speaking provinces on his border with Ukraine in the west and official recognition of Crimea. Making a larger assault gives him bargaining chips to ensure he can trade a promise to not destroy the infrastructure for land deeds and removal of sanctions.
There is talk of peace talks. Also, as if to punctuate his previous threat, Putin put his “defensive” nuclear forces on alert. However, talk is cheap until a deal turns into tanks rolling back to Mother Russia or at least back to the newer additions.
But we can’t ignore that for the first time in decades mass formations of tanks rolled in Europe and the leader of a major power threatened nuclear attack. The damage and danger to Ukraine are huge. The return of nuclear brinksmanship is the real loss for the whole world.
The failure to simply roll into Kyiv as the Russians thought they would is a major blow to their military morale and Putin’s image as the strong man. While the wins for Ukraine are not a bad thing, a wannabe tough guy with wounded pride could be.
Putin now has to salvage something he can call a win and at a minimum now he needs to have Russian vehicles rolling in the streets of Kyiv. Even if he doesn’t topple the regime, that visual may be enough to salve his ego. But that means the gloves are all the way off and civilians are in the crosshairs. There are already credible reports of cluster munitions in built-up areas.
We also must consider that Vlad wants a legacy worthy of his exalted image of himself as a major force in Russian history. Until now, he has done nothing worthy of that. Losing the Ukraine scrap is not an option for him. If it starts looking really bad, his inner megalomaniac may dominate. Making Russia the first country other than the United States to use a nuke in battle would certainly cement his spot in world history.
You would have to go back to the fall of the Soviet Union for the last time there was a real concern that a rogue faction would grab nukes and use them. But this is the rightful(ish) leader threatening to use them against us or anyone else who intervenes. You can’t un-ring that bell.
Neither the United State nor NATO was a serious threat to Putin’s plans, which is a problem. He can do a lot of damage without ever directly encroaching on a NATO country and triggering, theoretically, a response. And while Germany claiming they will spend 100 million euros on their military is a welcome sign, what if they had done so when President Trump pressured them to? Maybe a little peace through strength would have been an actual deterrent.
Now we confront the worst-case scenario of a Dragon/Bear alliance between Russia and China. Xi and Putin met during the Olympics and Xi likely told Vlad. “Just hold off until after the closing ceremonies.” Then they made an energy deal to ensure Vlad had an outlet to replace Nordstream2.
Love him or not, Donald Trump kept Putin, Xi, and even Kim Jong Un from causing major problems. He kept the Russians engaged and far from partnering up with the Communist Chinese. He put all of them on their back feet wondering kind of a deal might be possible but also worried what he might do if they stepped over the line.
Biden can barely be certain what decade this is, let alone present a worthy adversary for these world-class tyrants. They are stealing Joe’s (and the world’s) lunch money while he wonders if today is butterscotch or chocolate pudding.
This was mildly amusing during the campaign, but has gotten progressively more horrifying until now we approach a nuclear showdown. Sadly, the vision of Biden as Slim Pickens riding the nuke like a cowboy in Dr. Strangelove seems an actual possibility.
What happens when Xi decides Taiwan and all its chip factories are perfectly ripe for the picking with no one even marginally competent to be found in the U.S. leadership? One year and one month have led us to the point where World War III is not a joke; it may have already started. That hype you can believe and the only thing we can do is “Fight the Power.”
I don’t mean get ourselves in a war or even a skirmish at this point. We have to fight the woke left’s fundamental transformation of the United States into a toothless, doddering mirror image of Biden they can operate like a puppet. While the left is having a momentary spasm of bellicose fantasy, it is not real and will quickly pass. Their nature is to be subservient, and that is what they want America to be.
We must fight against their view of America as the soy-latte sipping, artisanal arugula-nibbling, one nation among many. That means peace through strength, which just happens to be the best way to avoid getting drawn into anybody’s wars.
But first we need to hope Biden doesn’t somehow throw more gas on this potential nuclear barbecue. Elections have consequences.
The goal of President Biden’s State of the Union Address Tuesday: reset his presidency after one of the worst inaugural years in American history. Mission unaccomplished.
How bad was 2021? Biden’s omissions in the State of the Union were telling. He didn’t mention last summer’s catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal. Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t come up. The phrase “Build Back Better” never crossed Biden’s lips. Instead, he talked about “building a better America”—subtle, I know. Biden focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his two legislative successes, and a host of proposals that have little chance of passing a closely divided Congress in an election year.
The two major bills he signed into law are no trifle. The $2 trillion American Rescue Plan was a massive expansion of government that many economists believe helped fuel the inflation ripping through America’s economy. The $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was a rare example of both parties reaching a compromise on an issue several presidents have tried to resolve. Importantly, the success of the infrastructure plan undermined legislative support for the $4 trillion Build Back Better law, which Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) pronounced dead last December.
Not that you could tell Build Back Better is dead from Biden’s speech. He repeated the same proposals he’s been talking about all year, without the “Build Back Better” branding. Biden’s plan is no more likely to pass this year than last. This lengthy portion of his speech was directed to his Democratic base. Stands to reason. It’s all he has left.
That base won’t be enough to salvage Biden’s dismal job approval rating, however. Nor will it rescue the Democrats from the shellacking awaiting them in November. With the exception of masks and returning federal workers to office buildings, Biden gave no sign of changing course on his liberal agenda.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a historical turning point. The moment demands a serious reevaluation of current energy policy, of defense spending levels, of strategic weaponry and arms control. Biden gave no indication that he is ready to engage in such thinking. But he gave every sign that his biggest worry is losing more soft-Democratic voters who dislike his style of leadership and are unhappy at inflation and the direction of the country.
More evidence that Biden is aware of his predicament was his mention of the crisis at the southern border. “We need to secure the border and fix the immigration system,” Biden said to a bipartisan round of applause. Then he went on to outline policies that will do little to stop the flow of illegal immigration and an immigration reform that won’t pass Congress during his term.
The entire speech had this dream-like quality: Biden outlined an agenda that a popular president with substantial majorities in Congress would have a hard time passing into law, while Biden is an unpopular president with the narrowest congressional majorities in a century. He began and ended with gestures toward national unity, by invoking Ukraine and the danger of Russia at the outset and ending with calls to address the opiate crisis and help veterans. The bulk of the speech was a Democratic wishlist divorced from political and electoral reality.
If Biden wants to turn his presidency around, conditions in the country and the world need to change. For that to happen, though, Biden must reorient his agenda. The State of the Union demonstrated that Biden has no interest in doing so. Maybe November will change his mind.
No one who has been paying attention can honestly say they were surprised the Russians invaded Ukraine. Oh, it’s possible to have been shocked by the timing or because what is currently unfolding is on a larger scale than most people predicted but surprised? No.
What it does suggest is that too many Washington policymakers have been using the Russia issue as a football in a partisan political game that’s gone well into overtime. It’s all well and good to argue about who is to blame – and President Joe Biden, who was also the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine is at the top of the list – and to point fingers but that’s little better than quibbling about who forgot to lock the barn door before the cow was stolen, ground into hamburger, and eaten. The question now, as an influential New York investor of my acquittance liked to say in times of crisis, “Not what are they going to do but what are we going to do?
Finding the right answer is more challenging than some believe it to be. Before we decide what action the freedom-loving democratic nations of the West should take, it is necessary to determine Putin’s intentions. He wants, as many have suggested, to be the one who put the band back together, to consolidate the disparate parts of the former Soviet Union into Muscovite “Greater Russia” that holds sway over two continents if not the entire world.
Putin’s intermediate end game is a matter of conjecture. Is the invasion the first step toward making Ukraine a Russian province? Or will he use pacification (he’s used the word “demilitarization”) and the installation of a puppet government as an excuse to pull his troops back behind the borders as they were before the start of the current conflict?
It’s hard to tell but presume for the moment the former is, at this moment at least, a more likely outcome than the latter. Neither is acceptable, especially if coupled with a move by the Chinese against Taiwan. It would be 1941 all over again, only this time America would be facing a two-front war against Russia and China instead of Germany and Japan, neither of whom could have incinerated the nation’s heartland in under an hour.
America’s victory in that war came only because we had the time to rebuild. Over the succeeding decades, however, we’ve outsourced much of our industrial might to our enemies. The time to rebuild starts now, meaning Congress and the Biden administration must develop and enact a plan to revitalize our manufacturing sector to bring jobs and facilities home.
We must also confront Putin where he’s most vulnerable. Russia has taken steps to insulate its modern-day “nomenklatura” – including its leader and minister of foreign affairs – from the kind of sanctions imposed by President Biden in the hours and days after the invasion began. America must resolve to do more and, in consort with the British, who oversee many of the international financial holdings of Putin and those who influence them, freeze them out and block access to their holdings until such time as Russia’s troops are out of Ukraine.
President Biden must also allow the U.S. energy sector to deviate from the course he set out for them. In the just about 13 months of his presidency, the United States has gone from being a net energy exporter to an energy importer, reliant on nations in the conflict zone – including Russia – to meet its energy needs.
This is unacceptable. The spike in oil prices sparked by Putin’s invasion has been to his country’s financial benefit. Oil and natural gas are among the few things produced in or by Russia that anyone else around the globe wants. America must take the lead in blocking Moscow’s ability to sell energy in the global marketplace directly and through client states like Belarus. That would show Putin we are serious.
Other steps to be taken include the rebuilding of the post-COVID American economy through the continuation of the reforms implemented under his predecessor to reduce marginal tax rates, flatten the tax code, and deregulate industry to make the United States an attractive place for American industry to do business.
By reopening the nation to oil and gas exploration and by pulling back on new regulations that impede fracking, we would lower the price of oil and natural gas on the world market – something that would be to our betterment and Putin’s detriment – until Russia’s capacity to economically support the occupation of Ukraine evaporates. When Ronald Reagan did something similar in the 1980s, the Soviet Union broke into pieces. By most accounts, this was a good thing. One of the few people who didn’t like it was Putin – who is now doing his best to reverse that outcome.
America won the Cold War when it decided to approach it from a position of strength rather than seeking equality and spheres of influence. Putin will not stop with Ukraine. The Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – will be the next to go if something is not done. This will require the forward placement of significant U.S. forces in NATO countries including the aforementioned three so that the Russian leadership knows we are standing by our Article V obligations.
Putin’s ambitions, as revealed by the invasion of Ukraine, bring him into direct conflict with those of the United States. The recognition of that fact should be enough to reunite the internationalist and isolation wings of the American GOP under one banner – a necessary step if we are to confront the threat before us. That must happen before we can move to rebuild the U.S. military, send lethal assistance to Ukraine, develop an energy sector that can meet Europe’s need without having to rely on Moscow’s beneficence, and arm Taiwan with the support it needs to make President Xi Jinping think long and hard about repeating Putin’s mistake.