Biden and Ukraine

“Bold, brave, brilliant” are words I use to characterize President Joe Biden’s 10-hour train foray to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky and his subsequent travel to Warsaw to demonstrate America’s commitment to a free, independent democracy. 

Why bold? President Biden’s initiative in the face of Russian President Putin’s continued doubling down on escalating the war cannot be met with weak American resolve. His initiative, although shrouded in secrecy and launched in the midnight skies, must have left President Putin and his minions reeling with surprise and surely cast doubt on the wisdom of his “special military operation.” Bravo! 

Why brave? President Biden is the first president since Abraham Lincoln to dare visit an active war zone. He knew, as did his advisors, that the trip would put him at risk personally. He chose to put himself in harm’s way, a choice that can only be described as bold and courageous. Bravo! 

Why brilliant? Some commentators assert that the President’s words rank with those echoed by John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” and President Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

His moments in Kyiv and Warsaw surely did more than poke a finger in President Putin’s eye. His message was clearly and unequivocally interpreted by ordinary Ukrainians, Poles, and freedom fighters to carry on with vigor and determination. One only needs to remember the beaming expressions on the faces of President Zelensky’s supporters and high-ranking officials as President Biden greeted them with a handshake and the message to stay the course.

The brilliance also lit up the sky with Western allies, especially NATO countries threatened by the Russian bear. And, of course, President Biden’s brilliant maneuver muted much U.S. domestic criticism, except that coming from the mouths of some Republican radicals who loudly complained that “President Biden cared more about the Ukrainian border than the U.S. southern border.” 

The Kyiv moment was followed by a second brilliant moment in Poland when President Biden delivered a stinging rebut to Putin’s adventurism in his speech in Warsaw. While Putin was denying responsibility for the war in Ukraine and lashing out at the West for starting the Ukrainian war, President Biden was speaking to ordinary Polish assembled at the Royal Castle Gardens where he said “Ukraine, Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never.”  He concluded his speech by thanking Poland for taking more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing,” he said. 

Bucharest Nine Ministers (by Estonian Foreign Ministry)

The Kyiv and Warsaw moments were followed by yet another brilliant moment when he met with the leaders of the Bucharest Nine Allies, a group of countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lativa, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) in which most are strong supporters of military aid to Ukraine. He reaffirmed support for their security. 

Characterizing President Biden’s moments in Ukraine and Poland surely deserve the words “bold, brave, brilliant”. He has demonstrated the international leadership and resolve that only a seasoned statesman can. America’s future deserves an experienced leader who is bold, brave, and brilliant. As the famous Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once said, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight”, an apt description of President Biden’s policy of incrementalism in dealing with President Putin’s unending military escalation. Bravo!

Donald C. Menzel, Ph.D. is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, author and international speaker on ethics reform. Before his move to Colorado, Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years. Don and Kay have recently moved back to Florida.

[Our carefully constructed OLLI Connects schedule delayed the publication of Don’s previous piece on the Supreme Court.  Rather than let that happen to this–also timely–piece, we decided to give it our Thursday “special edition” treatment. — Editors]

6 Replies to “Biden and Ukraine”

  1. Indeed, Biden did well!
    This president has way more smarts than he may otherwise be credited with, and, to good ends, he follows his own path.
    Now it would be incumbent on him to extend his reputation as an international leader in active conflicts in other regions of the world, notably in various African countries where people are in fear of famine and death on a daily basis…in conflicts which, for various reasons, don’t receive the same media attention, where we as Americans have not been educated to understand the culture, geography, history and ethos of these peoples. The violence of war is wrong, in Ukraine absolutely and wherever else it persists.

  2. Don, thank you for these great insights. You clearly point out the strong international leadership President Biden has shown in this crisis.

    I’d like to add something else to consider. The President and many of those around him are the same people from the Obama administration who responded more indifferently back in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. And I’ve been intrigued that the response of many of these same people this time has been so dramatically different than their response in 2014. People might attribute that different response to a variety of reasons. Some critics might say that Biden and his administration “learned from their mistake” back in 2014.

    That could be true. But to me, this very different response could point to something even more disturbing and alarming: perhaps the Biden administration had different secret intelligence information last year than in 2014, that clearly pointed to the much more aggressive intent of Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Biden administration realized the tragic mistake of appeasement to aggression such as in 1940, and concluded (rightly) that the stakes are so much higher this time. If true, that could explain the surprisingly rapid coalescence of unity in NATO in their response to the invasion. And to me that makes the response of the Biden administration (just as you said) all the more bold and courageous. I think whatever history holds for us, it will definitely look favorably on the response of our government to the Russian invasion.

  3. One has to feel sorry for Biden. He has to act upon negotiations carried out 30 + years ago. Indiscriminate expansion of Nato did play a role in rise of Putin. West is seeing consequences of rise of likes of Victtor Orban. Russians are proud people and they paid heavy price in WWII. JFK did not want missiles in Cuba so why are we surprised that Russians do not want Nato next door? Old men start War; the youth pay the price. And the Military Industrial complex continues to profit. The role of “Harvard Boys” that led to privatization and rise of corrupt oligarchs while leaving ordinary citizens worse off does play role in support of a strong man who promised to “Make Russia Great” (Sound familiar?) Old cliche “history repeats itself” is worth remembering.

  4. Thanks Earl for the insightful remarks. Yes, I’ve wondered as well why Obama failed to act more forthrightly in 2014.

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