In Focus

Joe Biden’s visit to Europe: is the president a liability?

Staff had to correct impression given by his public statements on number of occasions

“Joe Biden’s visit to Europe at a time of acute crisis for the continent should have been a reassuring event,” said The Daily Telegraph. That it turned into a “gaffe-strewn embarrassment” was not just unfortunate – it was “dangerous”.

Biden’s staff had to correct the impression given by the president’s public statements on a number of occasions: at one point he seemed to suggest that US troops would be sent into Ukraine. Far more worryingly, in his big speech in Warsaw last Saturday, he added an unscripted remark, saying of Vladimir Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” In other words, he appeared to be calling for regime change.

“The very suggestion feeds into the Kremlin’s paranoia that the West is intent on destroying their country, a view inculcated into the Russian psyche for centuries.” For a month, Nato had supported a single, clear aim, said Patrick Wintour in The Guardian: “the defence of the territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Now the position has been blurred.

A US official tried to explain it away, saying: “The president’s point was Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region.” But it was too late. The Kremlin propaganda machine ran the clip of Biden’s words again and again. It will make negotiations more difficult: Putin can claim there is no point in talks, that it’s “all or nothing”.

Biden’s remark has also revived claims that he is suffering from “serious cognitive decline”, said Hugh Tomlinson in The Times. It was only his latest diplomatic misstep. In January “he appeared to throw Ukraine under the bus”, stating that a “minor incursion” into its territory by Russia would not merit a powerful international response.

Actually, this wasn’t a gaffe, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Biden gave a perfectly good explanation of his own words: he wasn’t calling for regime change in Russia, but was expressing his personal “moral outrage” at Putin’s “brutality”. And who could argue with that? In Berlin in 1987, Ronald Reagan famously called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. At the time, his advisers thought he was being too confrontational. But Reagan was absolutely right – and so was Biden.

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