The White House 'overreacted and undercut' POTUS after he called for Vladimir Putin's removal: columnist
President Joe Biden's unscripted closing statement during a speech in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday in which he appeared to call for the ouster of Russian President Vladimir Putin was a stark break from the administration's previous stance that regime change in Moscow was not something sought by the United States.
"For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden said at the end of a powerful address about Putin's ruthless invasion of Ukraine. Fearing potential repercussions or misinterpretation by the Kremlin, the White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly tried to clarify what Biden actually meant.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” one official said in an email to news outlets.
"On Putin, Biden expressed what billions around the world and millions inside Russia also believe. He did not say that the US should remove him from power. There is a difference," tweeted former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
On Putin, Biden expressed what billions around the world and millions inside Russia also believe. He did not say that the US should remove him from power. There is a difference.— Michael McFaul (@Michael McFaul) 1648340690
Biden “made the point last night that quite simply that President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine, or anywhere else,” Blinken said in Jerusalem, Israel on Sunday. “As you’ve heard us say, repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else.”
Biden's words themselves, however, contained little ambiguity. Their shock value notwithstanding, the commander in chief spoke from the heart. Opinion columnist Jennifer Rubin believes that by correcting the president, his advisers may have inadvertently taken the wind out of his sails.
"The WH staff freakout was misguided and unhelpful," she replied to McFaul.
and the WH staff freakout was misguided and unhelpful— Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Jennifer 'I stand with Ukraine' Rubin \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1648389378
Rubin expanded on her dissent in Monday's Washington Post.
Biden's "reaction only drew further attention to the remark — and then made Biden appear weak, confused or rash. At a time when Biden was impressing European allies with his moral strength and diplomatic savvy, his own advisers marred an otherwise successful trip. The explanation they chose — disavowing desire for new leadership in Russia — was the most aggressive and extreme way to contradict the president," she wrote.
Calling for the removal of a murderous, atomic-armed dictator like Putin who wages unprovoked wars of aggression "is a perfectly acceptable, morally sound view," she argued.
Attempts to keep Russia happy – which were largely successful – have defined the default American approach since the Cold War, Rubin noted. Changes to that, she continued, lie at the sole discretion of the president, whose message was concise.
"Well, critics (and quivering aides) might say, Sure, but Biden called out the current leader by name, not just an ideology. Listen, Putin’s ideology is kleptocracy or perhaps thugocracy. Would it have been better if Biden had said, 'For God’s sake, a thugocracy built on the cult of personality that invades its neighbors cannot endure?' Biden’s phrasing had the benefit of clarity," wrote Rubin.
By rewriting Biden's off-the-cuff declaration, Rubin opined, his team "plainly overreacted and undercut him." What they should have done was "cool it — or at least explain: No great nation should be ruled by a war criminal. Yes, one day we hope the Russian people will throw off the yoke of oppression. The world would be a better place if they did,'" she opined. "Who could argue with that?"
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