Joe Biden, Ukraine, and a Reign of Error

Several decades ago, my then-elderly mother was mugged in a New York City subway station.  She was knocked to the hard ground by a male stranger, who ran off with her purse.  According to reports, there were several other passengers on the platform, but none of them came to her aid.

Fortunately, my mother was not seriously hurt.  Her material loss included several valuable pieces of jewelry, which she had kept in a bank vault, aware of the possibility of their being stolen from her apartment.  Having retrieved and worn them over the weekend, she had put them in her purse and was on her way to returning them when she was mugged.

Such a brutal incident was not that unusual, even then.  And perhaps my mother might have felt relieved to emerge from it relatively unscathed.  There have always been bad actors taking advantage of the vulnerable.  And in a burgeoning society increasingly reluctant to "get involved" with strangers, the job of the evildoer is facilitated.

This senseless subway incident roars back at me whenever — like an idle bystander — I observe on TV the horror in Ukraine.  As the outrageous war images multiply, I feel as conflicted as the shocked passengers on the subway platform — mindful of the right thing to do yet minding my own business, because, quite frankly, that is of greater immediate concern.

Russia's month-long assault on Ukraine has only grown more brutal.  What is happening there represents within a single year a second military incursion in which the reaction of the United States has lacked clarity and focus.  In both aggressions, Biden presumed that the battles were not ours to fight.  He even refers to the current action against Ukraine as "Putin's War."  Not long ago, Joe reminded us that what was happening in Kabul was not "our war," either.  In fact, he was relieved to be withdrawing from the mess, abandoning billions of dollars of equipment and presuming that the Afghan forces would determine the country's fate.

 Biden may jaw about how the buck stops at his desk, but he rarely assumes responsibility for what's going on here or abroad — unless, of course, the news is favorable.  During his ignominious retreat from Afghanistan, he shrugged off queries about the recent deaths of Afghans desperately clinging to the wings of departing aircraft, regarding it as old news.

Another discouraging parallel between the Biden administration's handling of the Afghan and Ukraine crises is the fact that in both events, "conventional wisdom" — based on our "intelligence" — proved dead wrong.  Before America's leave-taking from Afghanistan, Biden assured us that the Afghan air force was more than up to the task.  He even described it as an impressive, well-trained fighting group that would have no problem with any opposition.  And despite hundreds of intelligence personnel on the ground in Afghanistan at the time, there was little reported awareness that the Taliban were gobbling up other Afghan cities on their inexorable march toward Kabul.

Frighteningly, the same pattern of miscalculation and negligence appears to be happening in this administration's assessment of the Ukraine situation.  One wonders what Biden and Putin chatted about during their face-to-face meeting in June of last year.

Whatever it was, Biden, who minced out of the meeting looking vaguely hopeful, proved totally ineffective in stopping Putin from eventually invading Ukraine.  And he was slow on the uptake to help the Ukrainians repel the invasion.

Once the fighting began, many liberal pundits gave viewers the impression that determined Ukrainian forces, though hugely outnumbered by Russia's military, would nevertheless prevail.  We saw images of stalled Russian columns, badly in need of food and fuel supplies.  There were rumors of defections among the Russian ranks.

 That was the tale they wanted us to believe.  Such coverage led us to assume that a discouraged Putin might be in retreat and the war would soon be over.  Surely the Biden administration had a more realistic grasp on the situation.  But once again, we were flummoxed by those who run our non-transparent government.  How much sheer incompetence does it take before we lose all faith in them?

Now Biden is heading off to a NATO conference in Brussels, as if anything he has to say will make much of a difference.  And, scarier still, as if he is even aware that such is the case.

Perhaps the most chilling prospect during Biden's brief reign of error is that America, once the leader of the free world, is clearly losing its clout.  Our back is to the wall, shoved there by Russia's threat of worldwide nuclear war, China's acquiescence to Putin's treachery, and Biden's policy — from "day one" — that has made America energy-dependent on Russia and other rogue states.

Despite this administration's threats against Russia, Putin is still in the catbird seat and in control of his people.  Biden may saber-rattle with the best of them, even calling out Vlad as a villainous war criminal.  But the nations of the world have caught on to Old Joe.  In light of his failures at home and abroad, they dare not depend on someone who is tongue-tied without a teleprompter and, more importantly, exhibits the pointless bravado of a man who puts politics above principle.

Like Americans, the rest of the world is watching developments in Ukraine with a heightened sense of today's horror and tomorrow's dread.  An attack against Russia could mean Armageddon.  Suddenly, global warming seems less catastrophic than global war.

So like the passengers on the subway platform who did nothing during a brutal attack on another human being, we tend to measure this latest atrocity with the yardstick of our own self-interests.

As long as Putin is in charge, we can no longer dismiss the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin as mere "Russian disinformation."  Yet at the same time — and with good reason — Americans are growing more skeptical of what our own government tells us.

As the world hangs in the balance, this is hardly the time for a compromised president and his ineffective staff to be calling the shots.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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