by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Some things are best not said aloud. It will come as no surprise to Vladimir Putin that the U.S. would prefer to see someone else in charge in the Kremlin. And the U.S. is right to want this. Not out of a wish to see a democratic Russia, however much such a development is to be hoped for, but because Putin has irrevocably crossed a line.
For years, we treated Putin as a dangerous but relatively cautious opponent. His acts of aggression appeared carefully calibrated to what the limits imposed by the current international order would tolerate. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine has changed that. It is no longer safe to stick with our earlier assumptions about the limits on Putin’s behavior. Even much of Europe now recognizes Putin as a challenger to that order.
Nevertheless, for President Biden to have added the impromptu comment that “this man [Putin] cannot remain in power” at the end of a major speech in Warsaw was a serious mistake, however understandable the sentiment. In a situation as perilous as the one in which we now find ourselves, a president cannot enjoy the luxury of venting. He should not threaten things he is not prepared to back up.
Biden’s words were a gift to Putin’s propagandists, enabling them to assert, however ludicrously, that the U.S. has every intention of meddling in Russia’s internal affairs, a claim that will not only rally domestic support behind Putin, but will also help Russia’s dictator depict any opponents at home as American puppets. …
… The inevitable result of all this is that the president looked first bellicose and then both muddled and weak, a triply damaging impression that will not have been lost on our allies, opponents, or those undecided in which direction they should leap.