“For G-d’s sake, this man can not remain in power.” Those are the words spoken by President Joe Biden at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland. Anyone following this war and understanding the implications of what Putin has done, would have to agree with that statement. They are words that are absolutely and unequivocally correct. However, they should not have been spoken publicly by a sitting President. President Biden made a huge gaffe, a strategic error, in uttering those words.
Up until that point, the very end of his speech, it was quite powerful. It was the best speech he’s given since taking office; a well written and well presented Presidential speech. “A dictator, bent on rebuilding an empire, will never erase the people’s love for liberty. We stand with you. American forces are here to defend NATO allies.” It was well received by our allies. A not so subtle warning directed at Putin, to inform him not to be overly ambitious. The free world will never allow the Ukraine to once again become part of the Soviet Union; a puppet regime controlled by Moscow.
Biden’s mistake was essentially threatening Putin with removal from power. Whether that means by force, or by his own people removing him, makes no difference. To a dictator like Putin, all it means is, the US and NATO are hellbent on ending his reign of power. It feeds right into his original narrative that NATO is a threat to Russia and therefore Russia is justified in invading Ukraine. He is looking for reasons to attack his neighbors and the more proof he has, “can not remain in power,” the more aggressive he will become.
No matter what the President would have said, would of course made no difference. But it’s always better to stay silent about the end game. That is not to say that the US and allies shouldn’t call for the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine or that Putin’s unjustifiable attack on any other countries will not be tolerated. A line in the sand needs to be drawn and if he crosses it, NATO needs to act. But to make idle, public threats, makes no strategic sense. They make people feel better, but there is little practical meaning. Moving forward, President Biden needs to talk tough, and be believable, but he needs to stay away from comments that don’t in any way accomplish the mission.