Biden’s trademark political ethos tested by war in Ukraine

Both comments caught advisers off-guard, did not appear in his scripted remarks, and went far beyond an official government position. His remarks about the genocide that occurred inside an ethanol plant in Iowa, standing on a stage covered with straw.

“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally if it qualifies,” he said on the tarmac of Des Moines International Airport as he prepared to board Air Force One, “but to me it seems so.”

When Biden confronts a war official who believes can continue for many months, he is navigating both the weight of the presidency and its limitations. His words are rigorously analyzed for their official meaning, even when they are captioned, leading to worries about an escalation of the crisis.
At the same time, his urge to visit Ukraine and witness the situation firsthand was thwarted by the bubble that accompanies him everywhere. And domestic concerns are pulling him in other directions, his refuge reaching far beyond a foreign war – leading to sometimes discordant situations as claimed. genocide inside a biofuel plant, bits of corn dust fly down from above.

The move has at times created tension for a President whose response to the conflict is sometimes dramatic and has decades of experience in international relations – at the lower level of senators and senators. vice president – is informing his thoughts.

His comments on the genocide have some officials concerned that he is ahead of the administration’s legal process and that it could be seen as putting pressure on officials currently working to make a decision. official, according to people familiar with the response. Just a week before he spoke, Biden’s top national security official said the conditions had not been met to call it genocide and the State Department had yet to say whether it had found evidence. evidence to change that opinion or not.

According to a person familiar with the matter while watching the brutal scenes that emerged over the past week, Biden privately suggested they could be evidence of genocide. However, that was not officially announced by his administration when he labeled it a genocide in public.

It’s the latest example of Biden’s longstanding political ethos of candid talk and empathy being tested in his newly elevated role. His allies and advisers say those traits serve as the unraveling force for a unified Western alliance. And Biden has privately said that there is little time to waste in calling Putin’s actions to be what they are.

But some have questioned his impulsiveness and wondered if a more disciplined approach might work better.

After he said in Iowa that it was becoming “more and more clear” that genocide was happening in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron raised concerns that escalating language could hinder efforts to negotiate a resolution to the violence. .

“I want to keep trying as hard as I can to stop this war and rebuild peace,” Macron said. “I’m not sure that an escalation of rhetoric will serve that goal.” Similarly, he warned against escalation following Biden’s comments in Warsaw that Putin should no longer be in power.

Other world leaders applauded Biden warmly. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he thought it was “absolutely correct” for more and more people to use the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s attacks in Ukraine. However, the Canadian leader did not stop accusing the Kremlin of genocide.

Biden out in front of the rest of his administration

Normally, American presidents are wary of labeling “genocide” first a protracted process that ended at the Department of State. The designation is only Officially applied eight times. And after Biden’s remarks, officials said they have yet to make an official designation based on what he said.

“There are a number of legal obligations that come with a formal determination of genocide,” Victoria Nuland, secretary of state for political affairs, said on CNN a day after Biden’s remarks.

However, the White House has been careful not to belittle the words of a private citizen.

“He’s the President and we’re here to make his point,” said press secretary Jen Psaki. “I think we shouldn’t misunderstand who he is and where he stands on the totem pole, at the top.”

In the end, Biden’s comments on the supposed genocide are unlikely to prompt any immediate change to US policy towards Ukraine, leading some to wonder what the benefit of saying that is.

“For me, the biggest question is what purpose does it serve? We can have a philosophical, legal debate about whether what the Russians have done so far is a crime of genocide. technically they have committed any kind of war crimes, but the question is why talk about it that way? end easier?” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t see the benefit of doing this, and don’t get me wrong, that’s not what the Russians are doing,” Haass continued. “Those aren’t terrible things. My question now is, how does it serve the strategic and policy purposes of the United States? And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t understand how it is. .”

Finally, Biden’s remarks also stemmed from Mr. Putin’s determination not to stay in power: The brutal emotion of the conflict, which has manifested itself in hard to see images of brutality and suffering. . Biden himself has lamented that as president, his ability to witness the suffering in Ukraine is limited by the heavy but necessary pitfalls of the job.

‘We are not sending the President to Ukraine’

In planning a visit to Poland last month, Biden’s team explored the possibility of crossing the border to visit Ukraine, which would send an important signal of support. President Volodymyr Zelensky encouraged Biden to visit Kyiv several times in a phone call before the Russian invasion and continued to openly encourage Western leaders to make the trip.

White House officials, discussing the prospect of Biden slipping into Ukraine, considered both the US footprint such a visit would require – including military and Secret Service assets, as well with aides and the press – as well as what Ukrainian resources will be needed.

In the end, however, the scale of a US presidential visit was too great and aides did not take it seriously. Instead, Biden went to a town in the southeast Poland near the border. When he was there, he lamented that he couldn’t go 50 miles more into Ukraine.

“Understandably, I guess they wouldn’t let me cross the border and see what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said.

As a senator and vice president, Biden is a frequent visitor to America’s war zones, including on secret, dark-night trips – a fact he mentioned when he met troops on a military tour. stadium in Poland.

“I went to and from Iraq and Afghanistan about 40 times,” he recalls.

However, unlike stops in Iraq or Afghanistan, where US bases and personnel could help secure airspace, Ukraine is not a US war zone and Biden has staunchly refused to send troops. America in the country.

As Russian troops withdrew from the area around Ukraine, a host of Western leaders arrived in the country. First was European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who stopped to watch atrocities in the town of Bucha before setting off for Kyiv.

She has been followed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who walked the streets of the capital with Zelensky, shake hands and meet residents emerged after weeks of bombardment. A woman gave him a ceramic chicken statue to show her gratitude. He ate a bowl of soup with Zelensky.

Watching from Washington, Biden couldn’t help but yearn to go on his own. Since taking office, he has long insisted that meeting leaders in person is much better than talking on the phone, and last month’s last-minute NATO summit in Brussels was the idea. your. As a politician, his strength has always been in human interaction with ordinary people.

Yet even the logistics of the British leader’s visit – which included planes, trains and helicopters – proved impossible for an American leader.

Since returning from Europe, Biden has used his public appearances to focus exclusively on domestic affairs, scaling back travel around the country to welcome economic progress. as his approval ratings continued to drop. The aide says kitchen table issues are a priority, and his schedule reflects that.

Mr. Biden said this week he was still deciding whether to send a senior US official to Ukraine. When he jokingly asked a reporter if they were ready to go, they turned: “And you?”

“Yes,” Biden said.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday in an interview with “Pod Save America.”

However, she made it clear that there was no prospect of such a trip coming to fruition: “We are not sending the President to Ukraine,” she said.

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