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March 11, 2022

Biden Bows to Putin

Every time push has come to shove, the American president has blinked.

Right about now, Joe Biden could really use a big red reset button. Trouble is, it wouldn’t work. Vladimir Putin sized him up long ago and deemed him an easy mark. How else to explain the Russian president’s unwillingness to move on Ukraine during the entirety of Donald Trump’s term in office, and his eagerness to do so with Joe Biden as Leader of the Free World?

This Putin-Biden Alpha-Beta relationship became readily apparent months ago, when the Russian president tipped his hand to the world, loaded up his forces on the Ukrainian border, and all but said: “Yeah, I’m invading. What’re you gonna do about it?”

Not enough, as it turns out. The sanctions are serious, and they’ve gotten Putin’s attention. But they came too late. They should’ve been implemented before he crossed the Rubicon, not after he moved in and began firing missiles into high-rise apartments and dropping bombs on maternity hospitals. He’s committed now. As with any bully, the best time to demonstrate one’s resolve is before the fists start flying, before the shooting starts. If that isn’t the First Rule of De-Escalation, it should be.

Joe Biden, though, doesn’t get it. He’s weak. No wonder Barack Obama chose him as second fiddle. (If you want to appear strong, surround yourself with pushovers.)

Yesterday, we learned that Biden’s weakness is even worse than we thought. As it turns out, his administration’s decision to refuse a supply of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters from our Polish friends for passing on to Ukraine was made by Scranton Joe himself. Why? Because he thought such a move might provoke Putin. As The Wall Street Journal reports: “The logic seems to be that sending lethal anti-aircraft and antitank weapons won’t provoke the Russian, but 28 fixed-wing aircraft would. That distinction is hard to parse, especially when the Pentagon is also saying that the Ukrainians don’t need the jets because their other weapons are more effective. So sending less lethal aircraft will lead to World War III, but not arms that are really deadly?” (Incidentally, the Biden administration was for the fighter jets before it was against them. So weakness is being compounded by unsteadiness and irresolution.)

Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton made this exact point yesterday during a Senate hearing: Hundreds of aircraft-killing stinger missiles and tank-killing javelin missiles — both of which we’re supplying to Ukraine — aren’t “escalatory,” but 28 Soviet-era jets are?

The larger point, of course, is that Joe Biden is being bullied, the United States is being embarrassed, and the Ukrainian people are being slaughtered. We don’t need to go to war with Russia, but neither do we need to bow down to Putin. There’s plenty of fertile ground between appeasing the Russian president and starting World War III; between cowing to nuclear blackmail and throwing American troops into the fight.

To be sure, this is a thorny issue, and it’s fraught with peril. But we think Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse strikes a good, noble balance for the nation that Ronald Reagan called “the last best hope of man on earth”:

Ukraine needs airpower urgently and America should send it. Zelensky’s message is simple: “Close the skies or give us planes.” Let’s be clear-eyed about our options: A No-Fly Zone means sending American pilots into combat against Russian jets and air defenses — in a battle between nuclear powers that could spiral out of control quickly. But Americans should absolutely send Ukrainians planes, helicopters, and UAVs. Let’s resupply Ukraine’s Air Force today and keep the Ghosts of Kyiv in the skies.

Unfortunately for the freedom fighters of Ukraine, Joe Biden isn’t Ronald Reagan. Or Donald Trump.

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