President Joe Biden certainly didn’t anticipate that his second year in office would see the United States on the verge of a military conflict with Russia, but here we are.
Vladimir Putin continues to wage his Ukraine invasion with little regard for civilian casualties, acting unconcerned about any potential consequences from the West. On Sunday, Russia bombed a military training center 10 miles from the Polish border, coming dangerously close to NATO territory.
Meanwhile, Russian officials essentially kidnapped an American citizen and WNBA player who was attempting to return home after playing for a Russian basketball team. The Wall Street Journal reports that Russian prosecutors are now threatening similar treatment for executives of U.S. corporations doing business in the country.
Mr. Biden has done an admirable job so far of marshaling our European allies and other countries to present a unified front against Putin’s unprovoked aggression. Harsh sanctions are necessary and serve as an important tool to isolate Russia economically.
But the White House has otherwise been leading from behind.
Mr. Biden initially refused calls to ban Russian oil imports to the United States. He originally said his administration would not revoke Russia’s normal trade status, and he opposed congressional efforts to stop a vital pipeline set to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. Yet on all three issues, the president made a quick U-turn under bipartisan pressure from Congress.
“It’s an emerging pattern that has not gone unnoticed during the escalating war in Ukraine,” The Associated Press reported last week. “A remarkably unified Congress is out front on foreign policy, pressuring Biden to go further and faster with a U.S. response that has no clear endgame in sight.”
Whatever back-channel diplomatic efforts are taking place, Putin appears eager to speed past any possible offramp, gambling that the United States and the West have little stomach for using military force to confront his aggression. He continues to make threats designed to test the West’s resolve in the face of his senseless slaughter. Does Putin believe Mr. Biden will follow through on his promise to defend “every inch” of NATO territory? A more forceful White House would be abundantly clear.
Ten years ago, Barack Obama ridiculed Mitt Romney during one of their presidential debates when the Republican named Russia as the country’s greatest security threat. A thoroughly vindicated Sen. Romney had more to say last week. Mr. Biden would do well to take his advice seriously today.
“I believe there’s a sentiment that we’re fearful about what Putin might do and what he might consider as an escalation,” Sen. Romney said. “It’s time for (Putin) to be fearful of what we might do.”