Biden’s Kyiv Visit Shows He’s a War President

Biden’s Kyiv Visit Shows He’s a War President

In visiting Kyiv on the eve of the anniversary of the Russian invasion, Biden is showing that America isn’t going AWOL. Instead, it’s staying on the field of fight.

With his dramatic trip to Kyiv, President Joe Biden directly escalated his confrontation with Russian president Vladimir Putin—and with his Republican detractors at home. Biden, you could say, is all-in on standing by Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression. His visit not only to Kyiv but also to Warsaw, where he will deliver a speech about the conflict, marks a pivotal moment. More than ever, Biden is signaling that he is a war president.

Biden’s critics like to paint him as an old duffer who is out of touch with contemporary realities. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) recently referred to him as “confused.” But his audacious trip to Kyiv showed no confusion. It demonstrated real moxie. So much for “Basement Biden.”

Nor was this all. The trip also underscored Biden’s diplomatic savvy. As a product of the Cold War era, Biden knows that he, and he alone, can exercise the leadership to bolster the Western alliance, which buckled but never disintegrated during the standoff with the Soviet Union, no matter how much pressure the Kremlin exerted upon it. It’s back to the future. Once more, Moscow is attempting to fracture NATO in the hopes of creating its own, anti-Western new world order.

Biden isn’t budging. He campaigned on restoring American democracy but has ended up defending it even more abroad. The Ukraine crisis plays to his strengths, allowing him to exercise the atrophied diplomatic and military muscles of the Western alliance to promote American predominance once again.

As Adrian Kubicki, the Polish consul-general in New York, told me, “President Biden’s visit to Ukraine and his following visit to Poland reaffirms the US’s strong commitment to continue its support to Ukraine and Ukrainians in their defense against Russian aggression. It is also an important message to Poland and other allies from the eastern flank of NATO that the security of the region is our common top priority. Poland and other B9 countries [the Bucharest Nine] will have an opportunity to discuss directly with President Biden what measures NATO should take in order to enhance our defense capabilities and security. This historic visit is a significant step forward towards the end of Russia’s war of choice.”

Biden’s emergence as a vigorous leader is not sitting well with his critics on the political Right who are scrambling to depict his courageous visit as misguided or worse. For them, the idea that politics stops at the water’s edge is so yesterday. This morning, for example, Florida governor Ron DeSantis told Fox & Friends, “I and many Americans are thinking to ourselves, OK, he’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own borders here… we have a lot of problems accumulating here.” He added that Russia has been exposed as a “third-rate military power.” Maybe so, but he conveniently ignored that the exposure would never have occurred had Biden not supported Ukraine in the first place.

Then there was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. In a tweet, she stated, “This is incredibly insulting. Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war. I can not express how much Americans hate Joe Biden.” It’s a false choice. Biden isn’t picking Ukraine over America. He’s carefully countering Vladimir Putin’s ambition to create a new Russian empire that will directly menace Europe. Anyway, the idea that the conflict is “Ukraine’s war,” as she puts it, is a canard. Conservatives used to recoil at what they called blaming the victim. But that’s precisely what she is doing—creating a fictional narrative that Ukraine is the bad guy, responsible for triggering the war through its obstreperous behavior.  Since when does mere existence constitute a casus belli for being attacked?

Make no mistake: the Ukraine war will create a searing rift in the GOP. The old guard represented by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will champion the war against Ukraine. Presidential candidates like Nikki Haley and (presumably) Mike Pompeo will attack Biden for being too soft on foreign policy. But others in the GOP are chicken about backing Kyiv. Take Donald Trump. He will promote a policy of cowardly truckling to the Kremlin—charging that Biden bungled matters by not seeking a diplomatic solution, namely, handing over Ukraine to Putin on a silver platter as part and parcel of Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. 

Acceding to Putin’s megalomaniacal desire to rub Ukraine from the map would likely spell the end of NATO. Putin’s hold on power inside Russia would be impregnable. The Baltic states would be next on his hit list. Meanwhile, China would be fortified in its ambition to gobble up Taiwan and expel America, as far as possible, from the Asian theater.

Biden has it right. In visiting Kyiv on the eve of the anniversary of the Russian invasion, he’s showing that America isn’t going AWOL. Instead, it’s staying on the field of fight.

Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.

Image: Shutterstock.