When it comes to making a deal with Russia, Joe Biden has a problem. He wants to talk, Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine — and has massed 175,000 troops on the border to prove it.
Biden has a similar problem with China and Iran. The president wants to talk about a range of issues and differences, they want to expand their territorial control and crush their enemies.
Our adversaries have clear goals and iron fists, we have a fumbling, mumbling president who leads an alliance of largely disarmed welfare states formerly known as NATO. Our military is a woke but sleeping giant.
As presidents go, Biden is an especially weak one. He can’t unite his own party in Congress, and members of various factions feel no need to give him the legislation he wants. Nobody fears him.
His poll numbers are underwater on virtually every issue. On foreign policy, his approval is a meager 36 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics average of recent surveys.
One reason could be that, whatever the flashpoint, the Biden White House reflexively and repeatedly stresses its commitment to diplomacy. Sometimes it promises “robust” diplomacy, which is supposed to convey a stronger brew, but you have to be steeped in Foggy Bottom word games to know for sure.
Either way, diplomacy is an admirable process, but not an outcome. For Russia, China and Iran, the outcome is the whole point.
Instinctively, Americans get that. They don’t want war, but neither do they want to see their country pushed around on the world stage.
Which brings us to Biden’s weakest link: Afghanistan. His craven, chaotic withdrawal last summer revealed a willingness to abandon friends and allies, not to mention US citizens.
The ghost of that disaster hangs over every foreign-policy challenge, and Putin, China president Xi Jinping and Iran’s mullahs certainly factor it into their thinking. Afghanistan may turn out to be a tragic foretaste of what awaits Ukraine, Taiwan and Iraq.
Indeed, the Iranians are probably wondering how far Biden would go to protect Israel. No doubt Israelis themselves aren’t sure, which is why they are taking matters into their own capable hands by blowing up the mullahs’ nuke plants and eliminating their scientists.
For Israelis, Iranian nukes are existential threats, and they would be nuts to wait for Biden to save them.
If there is such a thing as wanting peace too much, Biden is guilty. As even the ancient Romans knew, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
Like Chamberlain in 1939, Biden is a sucker for every war-plotting tyrant who says the magic word only to buy time and concessions.
The president talks frequently about the “power of our example” rather than our power itself. It’s a feel-good sound bite for domestic audiences, but it’s an invitation to the global malevolent.
Every president is tested by foreign actors and up to now, Biden was able to finesse those tests. Now they are growing and converging in threatening ways.
Russia and China have done joint military exercises and are helping Iran avoid economic sanctions. Russia and China also developed hypersonic missiles that apparently surprised US intelligence, and proved we are lagging far behind.
“We’re not as advanced as the Chinese or the Russians in terms of hypersonic programs,” Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, admitted recently.
It was surely a coincidence that the Biden-Putin virtual summit took place on the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew America into World War II. It’s safe to assume neither man wants another global conflict, but they are not equally risk-averse about Ukraine.
“I would never underestimate President Putin’s risk appetite on Ukraine,” Biden’s CIA director, William Burns, said Monday at a Wall Street Journal conference.
Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and officially annexed it in 2014, during the Obama-Biden administration, so Biden should know the Russian strongman won’t be deterred by words alone.
Putin’s massing of troops along Ukraine’s eastern border now certainly makes the point in case Biden has forgotten.
Whether Putin will actually invade is unknowable, and it’s possible he’s just using the troops as a pressure point for concessions. Or maybe not.
The one guarantee is that Putin has no intention of allowing the former Soviet state to join NATO or become a Western outpost. Hence the military support for the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and the menacing buildup.
Even Biden’s warning of economic sanctions if Russia invades comes with caveats. For sanctions to work, he would need the support of Germany and other European powers.
But Biden undercut that possibility in May by foolishly waiving sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which takes natural gas from the Russian Arctic under the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.
Former president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the project and its chief executive, a close associate of Putin. Biden canceled the penalties supposedly as a favor to then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but the project makes Germany a hostage to Putin’s games. If he shuts off the gas in winter, Germany freezes.
In total, Europe gets about 35 percent of its gas from Russia, which makes Germany and others in NATO unreliable partners even for imposing sanctions.
Similarly, Biden’s “diplomatic embargo” of the Beijing Olympics is a weak-tea answer to China’s human-rights abuses, the silencing of Hong Kong dissidents and threats to invade Taiwan. China, like Russia, will not be dissuaded by half-measures that don’t even amount to saber-rattling.
Iran, although much weaker than Russia and China, is equally bold in giving Biden the brush-off. It won’t meet with his negotiators to restart the nuke deal Trump abandoned, leaving Biden to bid against himself in growing concessions.
Given the growing dangers, Robert Gates’ stinging rebuke can’t be ignored. Biden, the former defense secretary wrote, has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Fortunately, Biden wasn’t president during those earlier blunders.