U.S. President Joe Biden wants to keep his country out of the war in Europe. But what will happen if Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin does not give him a choice? A commentary.
Red lines are a double-edged sword. Anyone who draws them must be willing to inflict punishment if they are crossed. If they do not, credibility will be lost. Barack Obama found that out during the war in Syria. The U.S. did not intervene militarily, despite the proven use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, which Obama had previously described as a red line.
His vice president back then, Joe Biden, who is now in charge in the White House, is avoiding drawing clear red lines. At least, he is avoiding doing so in relation to Ukraine. That is because Ukraine is located east of the NATO borders, inside which the defensive alliance would be obligated to intervene militarily.
Things would be different if Russian troops attacked Poland or the Baltic states. Then the mutual defense clause would take effect. The NATO member countries themselves drew this red line.
For now — this phrase alone demonstrates the dramatic nature of the situation during the past few days — this stage has not been reached. That is why the U.S. is trying to refrain from doing anything that might look as though it is actively entering into the war. It is merely — at least officially — strengthening Ukraine’s defensive capabilities in an unequal struggle and attempting to reduce Russia’s clout with strong economic sanctions.
Yes to embargoes and arms deliveries, no to U.S. troops on Ukrainian soil — that is the motto. That also applies to the implementation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians, which Kyiv is desperately calling for. As this would need to be enforced militarily, it could also be construed as entering the war.
Biden Once Called Putin a ‘Killer’
Biden, who once bluntly called Vladimir Putin a “killer,” has taken the warning about a third world war, which should be avoided, to heart. He knows U.S. citizens are with him on this point. Although a large majority of Americans now describe Ukrainians as “friends,” only a minority have spoken out in favor of U.S. troops being deployed in Ukraine.
After the long missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that involved heavy losses, very few Americans are eager to enter a new war. Biden had promised them he would end the “forever” wars and bring the troops back home.
Washington does not want a direct confrontation with the Russian army, which could result in a nuclear war. The White House has not even drawn red lines with regard to the consequences should Putin use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.
When Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki warned on Thursday that Russia could use biological or chemical weapons soon, she said that such an action would have “a severe price.”* But the president’s decision not to send U.S. troops to Ukraine has not changed. Psaki did not say whether that could happen in the future, or under what circumstances.
Suddenly, anything seems possible. Even the most confident experts are shying away from providing an answer to the question of whether the Kremlin leader will acknowledge any borders — both geographical and moral. There are many reasons to believe that that was Putin’s intention; he factored in the fear of Western societies.
Yet Biden does not have a choice: He has to confront the aggressor without causing further escalation himself. And he has to respond if that which now seems unimaginable becomes reality, regardless of whether he had previously drawn a red line.
*Editor’s Note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.