President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., wrote a guest essay (no-paywall link) for the New York Times. In it, he lays out the American role in Russia’s war on Ukraine. It strongly supports Ukraine’s position and clarifies American intentions.
There’s nothing in it he hasn’t said before, but there’s value in its coming from the President of the United States and having it all in one place.
America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.
The US has provided Ukraine with “a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition,” to include “more advanced rocket systems and munitions,” which, the Department of Defense later said, are four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
Joe Biden is running a brilliant information operation, and most of the press isn’t covering it. Probably they don’t see it. They are drawn to the drama of weapons fired, tanks blown up or towed away by Ukrainian tractors, ships sunk. An information operation provides no photos, and its most important outcomes may be things that do not happen.
Since last November, the Biden administration has been using intelligence in innovative ways, molding the narrative and perhaps the course of the war. In past administrations, we’ve become accustomed to intelligence as something to be kept secret, in few hands.
But intelligence is to be used. Think Bellingcat: they use intelligence methods on open-source information in order to expose Russian spies and war crimes. They may keep their materials and investigation secret until it’s done, but then they share it publicly. What Biden is doing is more like that than it is like what the US government has done for some time.
There have been three phases of the information operation so far. Their purpose has been to disrupt Russia’s plans for their war on Ukraine and prevent some of Russia’s worst actions. What we see of them in the news is likely the top of the iceberg. Although this innovative strategy relies on making intelligence public, there still are things we’re not going to hear.
Eena Ruffini of CBS News tried a gotcha on President Joe Biden in his press conference at NATO. “Deterrence didn’t work,” she declared. This is an alternative formulation for “Putin attacked Ukraine for no reason recognized in international law.” The advantage for a reporter is that it puts responsibility on Biden and the United States. Biden was not put on the back foot, however. He has been studying the political side of nuclear weapons since before Ruffini was born.
Ruffini’s question was the last, and Biden had noted he was running out of time. His answer was necessarily short and missed a lot. Richard Nephew expanded on the sanctions side of Biden’s answer. I’ll expand on deterrence.
“Deterrence” is a word that is almost always used badly, including by the military. It’s a difficult word. It means to convince another not to attack by preparations for that attack. It refers to the mental state of one party, influenced by the actions of another. Its meaning has slid from that interaction to the influencing actions by themselves When a reporter says “Deterrence didn’t work,” she is talking about something intended to deter. She probably could not say what specific measures those are.
What can we expect from the summit meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?
That is the expectation that Biden is setting. There will be no grand pronouncements, no reset, maybe not even a perfunctory statement of agreement on a minor point. That is part of the reason that Biden plans to hold a press conference by himself. The other part, of course, is in contrast with Donald Trump’s disastrous showing at Helsinki.
But the meeting is necessary and important. Russia is a major country, with a nuclear arsenal equivalent to America’s. Russia is adjacent to our allies in Europe and supplies energy to many of them. It has a long land border across which untoward things can happen. Those are reason enough for the leaders to meet.
President Joe Biden was a senator for 36 years. He has seen horse-trading. He has seen comity with segregationists. He has seen deadlock and filibusters. He has seen bipartisanship. He has seen Newt Gingrich’s power grab. He has seen Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism.
He knows how the Senate and the House work.
One of the things he learned is that nothing happens quickly in the Senate, particularly when the margin is as close as it is now. But there are ways. Those ways are not played out in the public eye. They involve quiet talks and promises, agreement and respect. Some of these things may even be feigned. But feigning respect, for example, is itself a way of showing respect.
None of these tactics was useful in an administration devoted to one man’s whims. The old ways decayed even before that, under Gingrich’s and his successors’ scorched-earth politics. Reporters who grew up since Gingrich do not recognize that other tactics exist. They do not recognize that relationships are built and doubts sowed behind the scenes. They are accustomed to tantrums and sudden shows of power. They do not have the tools to describe the wide array of tactics Biden brings with him.
It looks like the Biden State Department plans to emphasize human rights. Their human rights report came out this week, and a quick survey of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent tweets shows a great many on human rights.
[The Biden adminstration’s foreign policy is surprising in many ways. I’ve been thinking it out. The posts summarized here set up a background for development of that foreign policy. In later posts, I’ll look at specifics relating to various countries.]
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Asia and Europe the past two weeks, rebuilding relationships with allies. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accompanied him to Asia. He and Jake Sullivan also met with their Chinese counterparts in Asia last week, with rhetorical fireworks.
The administration faces five big foreign policy challenges:
The relationship with China
The relationship with Russia
Dealing with Trump’s promise of withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1
Rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement with Iran
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs
Any number of authors have shared the 35 things they want Biden to do in his first week and specific solutions to numerous foreign and domestic policy problems, including would-be George Kennans penning their own long telegrams. None seem to have read the administration’s documents. The Carnegie report has been available since last September.
Remarkably early, the Biden administration has issued an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. A full national security strategy document usually takes at least a year or two. The document overlaps significantly with Antony Blinken’s speech of March 3 and a report drawn up earlier by Jake Sullivan and his colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment. But after Donald Trump’s policy carnage, it’s necessary to tell government employees, the public, and other nations how the administration proposes to address national security.
The standard national security strategy focuses on how an administration sees military threats and intends to respond to them. Military equipment will be mentioned. Diplomacy and threats like climate change and pandemics each get a token paragraph or two.
Wednesday this week (March 3), Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a speech “A Foreign Policy for the American People.” Comparing the report and this speech give insights into the administration’s policy development.