We tend to view our political leaders as figures playing their parts in an ideological drama portrayed on our screens, beautifully attired, their faces polished by make-up made to look real.
We forget they are human.
Not until we read their biographies after they have passed away can we actually catch a glimpse of how they lived and what were the personal struggles they endured while moving the pieces on the chessboard of public life.
Three days after Biden delivered a highly polished speech at the Brookings Institute in May, 2015, his elder son died of brain cancer. Biden thought his cancer might have been due to his exposure to burn pits in Iraq. Burn pits contain all the junk of battle – plastic bottles, uniforms, used weaponry and other materials that were likely permeated with depleted uranium. When inhaled, these substances cause cancer.
Biden’s Brookings speech was forceful. It began by detailing the US relationship with Russia during the Obama years when he served as Vice President.
He had been suggested for that role by Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland during the Maidan riots when she had helped our government install the Western friendly president, Arsenyi Yatsenuk.
Victoria Nuland is a neoconservative who continues to work in the State Department along with another neocon, Anthony Blinken.
Biden tells us that the following year, he made three trips to Ukraine and had an average weekly phone conversation with Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko.
In his talk, Biden proudly described his administration’s earlier attempts to make friends with Russia, and to work together on subjects of mutual interest. The President of Russia was Medvedev who was committed to economic growth.
From 2009 to 2012, much was accomplished. Biden “helped integrate Russia into the world of responsible nations” like Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization. He made America’s position “crystal clear”:
“We will not recognize any state having a sphere of influence, no inviolable borders, and we recognize the sovereign right of states to choose our allies.”
A more paternalistic approach can hardly be imagined.
I am not sure exactly how these three rules apply but sphere of influence is self-explanatory, like the Monroe Doctrine guaranteeing the special relationship of the entire Western hemisphere with the US.
It was a cozy relationship until 2012 when Putin returned to the Kremlin as President. Our relationship with Russia “took a different course,” he told Brookings. “When Putin became President, he set Russia “on a different path, recriminalizing libel, calling off the direct elections for governors, aggressive policies at home, even silencing the Mothers of Soldiers employed in Ukraine, and disregard for Russian commitments made in Helsinki, Paris and Budapest.”
Biden must have been pretty frustrated, even angry with Putin for undoing his good work of setting the Russian barbarian on a more civilized course. “Putin must understand, as he changed, so has our focus.”
In the Brookings talk, as in Biden’s address before the Ukrainian parliament he refers numerous times to Russian’s aggression against Ukraine without specifics about what occurred or when. To my knowledge, in 2015 Russian’s aggressions consisted of a single act, the seizure of Crimea, where the majority Russian-speaking population, seeing the horrors perpetrated by neo-Nazis in the Maidan had sought Russian support, and a referendum confirmed that Russian rule would be their preference. [See Oliver Stone’s movie, Ukraine on Fire, for vivid depiction of that and other events.]
There were scrambles over the Donbas region, after the Minsk agreements failed, but Ukraine was as much responsible for those skirmishes as Russia was.
Last month, former Prime Minister Angela Merkel revealed that “we” – Germany and France, who had been appointed overseers of the Minsk agreements, did not expect the protocol to be followed. They were simply trying to gain time for Ukraine to become prepared for future aggression, she said. Her comments revealed that the US and NATO were already preparing for a war against Russia in Ukraine.
Did Biden not know that? At Brookings he says sanctions will remain in place until Minsk is followed to the letter, a neat trick since Ukrainians and Russian speaking citizens are also involved.
Why was Biden so ferocious against Putin and remains so today? Why does he so often fail to understand what Putin is really seeking? In Brookings, he launches into an analysis of what Putin is doing that seems to be his very own interpretation, offered without evidence. “President Putin is wagering that he has greater staying power…that he can outlast the present [Ukrainian] governments new reform movement and undermine it economically.” Where does this insight into Putin’s intentions come from?
In his National Security Strategy released in October 2022, Biden outlines the steps the United States and its allies are taking to “prevent Russia from causing further harm to European security, democracy and institutions.” It is not clear how Russia’s attack on Ukraine threatens the security of Europe. In any case, Biden is projecting a dismal scenario that arouses fear; what, Putin attacking Europe?!
There is no evidence that Russia wants to take over Ukraine, let alone Europe. Putin continues to reiterate his original intentions: the de-nazification of Ukraine’s government, the protection of the pro-Russian territories, and a neutral Ukraine.
Biden’s scenario seems to have been influenced by Zbigniew Brzezinski whom Biden knew during the Carter administration. Brzezinski was the first to compare Putin to Hitler. In 1997, Brzezinski published a highly influential book, The Grand Chessboard, in which he argued that Ukraine’s role was integral to insuring US dominance in the unipolar, post-Soviet world. If Russia maintained control of Ukraine, he wrote, Russia would remain a Eurasian power capable of continuing its aggression into Europe. Without Ukraine, Russian would become “merely Asian,” he said.
Merely partners with China, India, Brazil and others with the largest populations in the world? That as it turns out is the direction in which Russia is now moving. With China, Russia is committed to the formation of a multi-polar world in which nations would share power. The principles of their agreement are stated in their “Joint Statement” signed at Sochi during the Olympics. The document, available on the internet, offers a positive, pragmatic view of what these two powers hope to foster. Much of it is noble and democratic, which must be why we hear so little about it; it might disturb our view of the evil Putin and premier Zi Ping as “threats.” We know Biden is striving for a unipolar world dominated by the US. In that light, it’s interesting that Biden has appointed Brzezinski’s son Mark to be Ambassador to Poland, a country on Ukraine’s border which hosts a US missile defense project. (Mika Brzezinski, Mark’s sister, is the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.) Poland will no doubt be playing a key part when Putin attacks Europe!
Russia had expected a short war; Putin was apparently not prepared for the intensively trained Ukrainian troops and materiel from the US. Even then, the two countries had reached an agreement that would have ended the war in April, but Boris Johnson, British prime minister, was dispatched to Ukraine to deliver the message that peace was not the goal, because “Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with.” Zelenskii withdrew.
What is it that drives Biden to continue fueling this war until “the last Ukrainian”? Is it ambition? Does he really believe he is saving the world from the evil Russians? In his depiction of Putin, he seems to be wrestling with his own shadow.
We may learn the answers if we are still here to read Biden’s biography. For now, the reality is clear. Biden, wielding all the power that the US still has at its command, is the biggest obstacle to peace in Ukraine.