When your Democrat president has lost the Washington Post as thoroughly as its front web page suggests, you’ve really entered into uncharted territory. Volodymyr Zelensky’s thinly veiled scolding of Joe Biden for leading from behind had a dramatic impact on Biden’s coverage, at least for now. How dramatic? Take a peek at the Post’s midday front page on its website:
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) March 16, 2022
Until now, US media outlets have tried to paint Biden as a behind-the-scenes consensus builder rather than reactive and/or passive entity we’ve seen. The scales have begun to fall, however, even from some of Biden’s ardent supporters. Progressive columnist Greg Sargent notes Zelensky’s effort to “shame” Biden, although Sargent defends Biden’s caution:
In perhaps the most powerful moment, Zelensky aired video of the horrors Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainian people, followed by the stark words: “Close the sky over Ukraine.” Addressing President Biden directly in halting English, Zelensky said: “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
In so doing, Zelensky reiterated his call for the United States and its allies to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and again demanded new shipments of fighter jets, which the administration has been reluctant to deliver.
This is already being portrayed as an effort to shame Biden into plunging deeper into the conflict. But in a way, both men are right.
Zelensky is unquestionably right that the United States and its allies could do more. Yet Biden is also right to be proceeding with extreme caution, and media coverage that obscures the complexities of that calculus is not exactly enhancing the long term prospects for humanity.
I agree with Sargent that there’s a big risk in acting too hastily. We’ve seen some pretty bizarre knee-jerk responses from the Right for the US to assassinate Vladimir Putin (thanks, Lindsey Graham), to criminalize dissent to policies supporting Ukraine (Mitt Romney, weirdly), and especially in initial calls to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine. That would put NATO planes in a position where they would be committed to attacking Russian planes that fly into Ukrainian airspace, a great way to start World War III. Some level of caution is clearly required from US and Western leadership.
However, Biden keeps demonstrating that he has no real strategic approach to this crisis. On the MiGs, the Biden administration first offered a “green light” on a transfer, only to backpedal days later after Poland set up the transfer. They’ve vacillated ever since, although no one can really figure out why other lethal-weapons systems are acceptable for transfer but somehow MiGs are a bridge too far.
Speaking of other weapons systems, Biden’s only just getting around to sending over weapons systems that can counter Russian air attacks and artillery units. If those weapons systems can be transferred to Ukraine now, they should have been transferred to Ukraine two weeks ago, when it might have saved Ukrainian population centers from Putin’s brutal attacks. And even more inexplicably, the White House changed its position again on just which weapons systems will go — balking initially on the more effective S-300s Zelensky explicitly requested, and then apparently approving them:
That’s news: @RepMcCaul tells me S-300 air defense systems have already been sent into Ukraine.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 16, 2022
(stock image) pic.twitter.com/7LeRyGyD0U
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) March 16, 2022
Or did he?
NEW: Here’s the detailed list of the $800M in military equipment President Biden just announced the US is providing Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/q2C9sG8f0K
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) March 16, 2022
The S-300s are notably not included on that list. Allahpundit will have more on this decision later, but it raises a couple of questions. First, we don’t own any S-300 systems, but our allies do — and one would expect Biden to take credit for such transfers at this point. Did they already get shipped? Even if they did, why not send more, and/or at least mention those transfers to show the scope of support? And again, why did it take Zelensky begging Congress for action to shake loose the weapons, rather than Biden acting on his own at the beginning of the conflict — or better yet, before it as a deterrent? That’s not strategic caution. It’s not strategic anything. It’s called winging it.
Aaron Blake has a clearer take on Zelensky’s message. It’s worth reading in full, especially in covering the months that Biden had to show leadership on the issue, but I’ll excerpt the especially sharp points:
“As the leader of my nation, I’m addressing the President Biden,” Zelensky said. “You are the leader of the nation — of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
Zelensky made the remarks shortly after switching from his native language to English, and it was diplomatically stated, so as not to be seen as so directly criticizing Biden, necessarily. But that subtext and the context were unmistakable: This was Zelensky’s using a speech he was invited to give by American political leaders to effectively challenge the fortitude of American political leaders — and one leader, in particular. …
But although those finer details are important, what matters to Zelensky right now is reaching for anything he can to apply pressure. In doing so, he is serving notice that whatever comes of the war in Ukraine can be laid at Biden’s feet. That’s because Zelensky has repeatedly told Biden — in no uncertain terms — that he was allowing the continuation of something that could be stopped, if only Biden and the United States had the will to stop it.
It’s some fascinating and hugely consequential interplay, and Zelensky turned the screw even more Wednesday — using a platform the U.S. government itself provided.
That began with Biden’s lifting the Nord Stream 2 sanctions and continued right up to this morning. Biden hasn’t projected leadership at all on Russia and Ukraine. In fact, instead of standing up to Putin on Ukraine, Biden allowed Putin to act as intercessor on Biden’s idiotic attempts to re-enter the worthless Iran deal. That puts Putin in position as guarantor of Iran’s compliance at the very same time that Biden’s suggesting that Putin might use chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s not strategic — it’s insane.
Zelensky succeeded today in forcing Americans to distinguish leadership from puttering. The fact that the Beltway’s newspaper reflects that difference should give Biden’s handlers the cold shakes … as well as Democrats in Congress who will likely pay a price for it in November.