If Vladimir Putin doesn’t invade Ukraine, thank Joe Biden: conservative

If Vladimir Putin doesn’t invade Ukraine, thank Joe Biden: conservative

It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen in Ukraine. As of Wednesday morning, February 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to invade the East European country — which doesn’t mean that he won’t. And conservative-leaning New York Times opinion writer Thomas Friedman, in his February 15 column, argues that if Russia doesn’t go through with an invasion, one of the people Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will have to thank is U.S. President Joe Biden.

“The Ukraine story is far from over,” the 68-year-old Friedman writes. “But if Vladimir Putin opts to back away from invading Ukraine, even temporarily, it’s because Joe Biden — that guy whose right-wing critics suggest is so deep in dementia he wouldn’t know Kyiv from Kansas or AARP from NATO — has matched every Putin chess move with an effective counter of his own.”

Biden, to be sure, has maintained a stern, aggressive tone with Putin during the Ukraine crisis — much sterner than anything that Putin and the Kremlin ever got from former President Donald Trump when he was in the White House. Regardless, right-wing media outlets mindlessly echo Trump’s claim that “Sleepy Joe” Biden isn’t mentally sharp.

Friedman mentions the “Sleepy Joe” meme in his February 15 column, but not to disparage Biden. Rather, that’s Friedman’s way of mocking the silly talking points of the MAGA far right.

“Putin has been on such a run of outmaneuvering the West and destabilizing our politics that it is easy to overrate him,” Friedman explains. “It is also hard to believe a word that comes out of his mouth. But if Putin was sincere when he said Tuesday that he was ‘ready to continue on the negotiating track’ to ensure that Ukraine never joins NATO and was also pulling back some of his menacing forces — U.S. officials say there’s no sign of that yet — it’s because Biden’s statecraft has given Putin pause.”

It isn’t hard to understand why Putin, during the United States’ 2020 presidential election, was hoping that Trump would win a second term. Trump was vehemently critical of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Putin considers a major thorn in his side — whereas Biden campaigned on rebuilding the United States’ relationship with its European NATO allies. And Putin obviously hates the idea of Ukraine eventually joining the U.S., Canada and a long list of European countries in NATO.

“Specifically,” Friedman observes, “the Biden team has mobilized enough solidarity among the NATO allies, enough advanced defensive arms transfers to Ukraine and enough potentially biting economic sanctions on Russia to put into Putin’s mind the only thought that matters: ‘If I go ahead with a full-scale invasion and it goes bad — wrecking Russia’s economy and resulting in Russian soldiers returning home in body bags from a war with fellow Slavs — could it lead to my own downfall?”

The columnist continues, “That is the only calculation that matters, and Biden has done the best job a U.S. president could do, given the asymmetry in interests between America and Russia on Ukraine, to frame it.”

Friedman, over the years, has a been a political wild card in the Times’ opinion section. He clearly isn’t a liberal like his colleagues Paul Krugman and Michelle Goldberg, but he isn’t far-right either. And when it comes to Democrats, Friedman much prefers the Blue Dog Joe Manchin/Kyrsten Sinema wing of the Democratic Party over its progressive wing.

Friedman supported former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, an ex-Republican, in the 2020 Democratic primary before supporting Biden over Trump in the general election. And where Ukraine is concerned, the hawkish columnist likes Biden on foreign policy.

“Biden has had to thread a real leadership needle,” Friedman argues. “He could not credibly threaten direct U.S. military force. Therefore, he had to do the next best thing: assemble a solid-enough coalition of NATO allies. Get enough of them to ship arms to Ukraine. Convey to Putin exactly what crippling economic sanctions will be piled on his economy, banking system, factories and cronies if he invades Ukraine. And make clear that an invasion will actually produce the NATO that Putin fears — one that is totally united, with more NATO troops and maybe even missiles moving closer to his border.”

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