It’s one thing to know this. It’s another entirely to say it out loud. Shortly after departing Kyiv with Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared that the US “want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kind things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Want to bet that the modifying clause of “to the degree” and everything afterward doesn’t get translated into Russian?
The top U.S. defense official said that Russia had suffered significant military losses in Ukraine, including “a lot of its troops,” and that the Pentagon was working to ensure that Russia does not have the ability to “very quickly reproduce that capability.”
Speaking after a risky and secret visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Lloyd J. Austin III, the U.S. secretary of defense, said that there would be a more detailed discussion about what Ukraine would need to prevail against Russia at a meeting in Germany on Tuesday. “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kind things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” he said.
In the two months since the start of the war, the Biden administration has steadily increased military assistance while at the same time imposing wider sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy. The assertion by the top U.S. defense officials that America wants to degrade the Russian war machine reflected an increasingly emboldened approach from the Biden administration.
Mr. Austin, who made his comments during a brief news conference on the Polish-Ukrainian border, was joined by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who said that Russia had failed in its goal of destroying the Ukrainian state. U.S. diplomats would soon be returning to Ukraine, he said, and he expected the embassy in Kyiv to reopen in a few weeks.
Do we want to weaken Russia? Yes, now that everyone’s woken up to its threat and isn’t dismissing it as either “the Eighties wanting its foreign policy back” or “Putin’s no different than us.” Every step we have taken in response to the crisis in Ukraine has that goal in mind. Western sanctions have a sledgehammer impact on the entirety of Russia, and necessarily so if we hope to keep Russia from replacing its military materiel and providing an economy that can further mobilize the populace. Targeted sanctions against Vladimir Putin and his ruling clique weren’t enough, even though we tried that before the invasion.
However, openly declaring that “we want to see Russia weakened” plays directly into Putin’s domestic propaganda campaign. Putin has been selling this war at home as a necessity against an imperial US and an encroaching NATO that will not allow Russia to thrive and to re-establish her rightful place on the European continent. It’s easy to fall into the risk of confirming Godwin’s Law, but Putin is using the same national-greatness-and-Lebensraum argument that Hitler did in the 1930s, with the same national paranoia about the plotting of allied powers (and the same pretexts about ethnic minorities in other countries, for that matter). Putin needs the West to take aim at Russians, not just him, for that to succeed.
Austin made it a lot easier for Putin to make that case by using that ill-advised declaration,. We should be emphasizing that we want Putin weakened, and his corrupt oligarchical cult destroyed. The Biden administration should be emphasizing that we want the Russian people freed from Putin’s poisonous grip. Instead, Austin and Joe Biden himself appear to calculate their public statements for our own domestic audience rather than think strategically about how their words could potentially make matters worse.
How damaging is this? It’s not catastrophic, by any means. Putin’s propaganda would have made this point repeatedly even if Austin never said a word. However, it certainly doesn’t help to provide Putin that material for free either.
This morning, I’ll be discussing this with our pal Hugh Hewitt while I co-host his syndicated radio show, airing from 6-9 am ET, live from the home studio deep in the heart of Texas! We will have a great lineup of guests and regular contributors:
- Salena Zito
- Jake Sherman
- Ari Fleischer
- Josh Kraushaar
We’ll also take your calls to the show at 800-520-1234, and you can watch the show live at The Hughniverse. There’s a great chat room that goes with it, and lots of original content in the troll-free websurfing experience for subscribers. The audio also streams at HughHewitt.com.