By: tippinsights Editorial Board, TIPP Insights
For the complicated world in which we live, the press coverage of the 2020 presidential campaign was notable for its lack of emphasis on foreign policy.
The media and the Deep State were committed to defeating President Trump. The menu for action was simple: suppress everything that makes candidate Biden look bad (Robert Gates’s assessment that Biden was wrong on every foreign policy question; Hunter Biden; Ukraine; China) and Trump look good (no new wars; destruction of ISIS; a pivot to Saudi Arabia and record low oil prices; Abraham accords; and a tight lid on Iran). Meanwhile, the narrative that Trump was compromised, corrupt, and evil continued non-stop.
Even after President Biden was sworn in, foreign policy rarely made it to the news. The administration was more interested in making the military woke, and domestic concerns such as the Covid spending bill, infrastructure, inflation, Build Back Better, and election integrity.
But in the backrooms of the State Department, the Biden foreign policy vision, architected by Secretary Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, was taking shape. Two weeks after assuming the presidency, Biden declared that “America is back” on the global stage. He vowed to confront “authoritarianism” in China and Russia while reengaging with allies. There was just one problem. For an administration consistently high on rhetoric and weak on its ability to execute, the vision had no real chance to become policy.
And then, Russia attacked Ukraine.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but everything Biden promised in his speech a year ago is happening as though to a script. The West is more united than it has ever been in 75 years.
Fear of social media boycotts has driven corporations and individuals to stand with Ukraine, dramatically multiplying the effect of government-led economic sanctions. President Zelenskyy is the most well-known and unifying figure in the western world. Rising in confidence with each address to a country’s parliament, Zelenskyy has warned that inaction to support Ukraine will be noted in the Hall of Shame. The case of automaker Renault, majority-owned by the French government, is an outstanding example. Renault had announced that it would continue production in Russia. Ukraine complained, and within one hour, Renault announced a suspension of Russian operations.
Foreign policy at warp speed is not the staple of any government, but the Russo-Ukraine war is changing all manuals that have existed for a hundred years. There is no time for the clinking of wine glasses at expensive resort locations in Europe. There is no time for carefully-worded official communiqués.
The Left’s approach to formulating policy is to find a victim created by a bad character. If a bad actor is not seen, the playbook is to create one, as they did for Justice Kavanaugh. Covid, Jim Crow 2.0, the fossil fuel industry, and Jan 6 were great motivators to unite behind a goal.
No one can be as terrible to the Left as Vladimir Putin, a pariah one step worse than President Trump. And there can be no better victim than Ukraine because, unlike in other global conflicts (Israel v. Palestine; Iran v. P5 + 1), everyone understands who the victim is.
Although in the latest TIPP Poll, 42% of Americans give Biden poor marks for handling the war, the country is decidedly behind Ukraine and against merciless Russian aggression. The White House is milking the American voter’s graciousness and righteousness – even sending Biden to NATO to drive home a universal truth: that Putin is evil. Biden continues to take credit for the West’s unity, ignoring the harsh reality that the West would have been united no matter who the president was.
But as Biden shines in the global limelight as a world leader, the risks are profound: Americans want the war to end quickly. With gas prices reaching $7 a gallon in some parts of the country and predictions of worldwide food shortages imminent, a prolonged war of shame has its practical limits.
This week, Biden was visibly irritated by a CBS News reporter’s question at the NATO press conference. “Sir, deterrence didn’t work. What makes you think Vladimir Putin will alter course based on the action you’ve taken today?” Christina Ruffini asked. Biden appeared to lose his patience: “Sanctions never deter. You keep talking about that. Sanctions never deter.” There was a significant problem with this categorical assertion. Every administration official, from VP Harris to Blinken to Psaki to Sullivan, has consistently maintained that the reason for sanctions was to deter Putin.
No one political event has lifted White House confidence since its inauguration. For someone who served as the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman for years, the worst international crisis since World War II is happening on Biden’s watch.
But Biden understands what happens if he peaks too early. Nearly 31 years ago, George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings were almost 90% after successfully prosecuting the first Gulf War. Bush lost convincingly to President Bill Clinton and became a one-term president six months later.
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