N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power’, the nine explosive words Joe Biden uttered Saturday night at the end of a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. These words certainly weren’t at odds with the rest of his speech. The US President did not shy away from big words. He said, the war in Ukraine is a battle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and oppression. Biden described Putin as a ‘dictator’ after calling him a ‘butcher’ earlier in the day.
Afterwards, Biden’s assistants declined to say whether the crucial message had been discussed in advance or whether it was a prompting of the moment. The fact that the White House immediately emphasised that nothing will change in the strategy of the US and NATO seemed to indicate the second. US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith called it ‘a principled, humane response’ from the president, and that he only wanted to indicate that Putin should not interfere with neighbouring countries. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it is only up to the Russians themselves to choose another leader.
On Twitter, retired top US diplomat Richard Hass, now chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, was sharp: ‘Putin will see this as confirmation of what he always thought.’ In other words, Biden makes a dangerous situation even more dangerous.
There are still reasons for Americans to be silent about a regime change. When they pursued that goal in the past, as in Iraq or Libya, it plunged entire regions into chaos.
Maybe you remember that during his presidential campaign, Biden often reproached Donald Trump that ‘words matter’. Isn’t that especially true in times of war?