There is no such thing as a purely personal opinion on important political issues if you are in the Oval Office.
When you are president and the ball is in you, it is dangerous to give personal assessments of things you are not competent in.
One word can move entire armies, markets can shake, and diplomacy can go awry.
This does not prevent US President Joe Biden from intuitively commenting on the war in Ukraine, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, pretending to advocate a change of government in Moscow, or describing the Russian invasion as genocide, and then justifying that he spoke on his behalf and did not express the positions of the presidential institution.
This is sowing confusion in dangerous times.
America is not just a bystander in this war. The United States is Ukraine’s main arms supplier to Ukraine, a key source of military intelligence for Kyiv, and a driving force behind global sanctions against Russia. The United States has experienced for generations how to talk to and about its historic nuclear rival.
But these days Biden is expressing his personal opinion on issues important to the great powers, which his collaborators keep repeating. Like his predecessor, he sometimes reacts to what he sees on television. His words do not always have to be taken literally, some say.
The accusation of genocide is the worst sentence in history against a country – something that could oblige UN member states to intervene. Concerned about the possible consequences, the United States has decided not to recognize the Hutu killings against Tutsis in 1994 as genocide. It was more than a century before a US president recognized the genocide against Armenians, as Biden did last year.
But in Iowa on Tuesday, Biden compared Russia’s mass killings of Ukrainian civilians to genocide and remained in that position until his return to Washington. “Yes, I call it genocide,” he said. Lawyers will decide whether Russia’s actions meet international standards, the president added, but “it seems certain that this will happen.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised Biden’s remarks “True words of a true leader”, the Ukrainian president wrote on Twitter, adding: “Calling things by their real names is key to facing evil.”
But the war in Europe continues, and French President Emmanuel Macron warned: “I’m not sure the escalation of speeches serves our cause.”
“I am cautious today,” Macron said, adding: “The word genocide has a meaning … Today we are witnessing madness. It is unimaginable cruelty and a new war in Europe. But at the same time, I am looking at the facts and I want to continue to I am doing my best to stop the war and restore peace. ”
Last month at the White House, Biden told Putin in response to a last-minute question as he returned from a non-war signing event: “I think he’s a war criminal.” The US president reiterated this during a visit to US troops in Poland.
The White House was quick to say that his words did not necessarily reflect American policy.
He spoke excitedly about what he had seen on television, which was the barbaric actions of a brutal dictator who invaded another country, “said Biden spokeswoman Jen Saki.
Yesterday, the spokeswoman ruled out the possibility that someone may have been confused by the idea that Biden’s personal opinion did not reflect government policy. She said Biden was running for president with the promise that he would be extremely direct in his speeches and speak openly. His comments from yesterday, not once but twice, as well as on war crimes, are a clear reflection of that. ”
In addition, after meeting with Ukrainian children separated from their families because of the war, Biden made his associates struggle to explain his apparent support for the idea of regime change in Moscow. He told Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot stay in power.”
And again, this was not an official US position.
“I have expressed my moral outrage at this man,” Biden said days later, adding: “I have not formulated a change in our policy.”
It was Donald Trump who broke with the stereotype of the president with his many tweets. Some of them reflected politics. Some just what was on his mind right now.
“We made a dramatic transition during Trump’s term, realizing what a president sometimes should not say on behalf of the government of the country, but only on his behalf,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy. (Annenberg Public Policy Center) at the University of Pennsylvania. She paid tribute to the Biden government for quickly fixing things when something like this happened.
As a political rhetorician, she believes that public figures like Barack Obama are seen as self-monitoring – they hear what they say and correct themselves quickly. According to her, Biden lacks this filter.
“Obama was very good at monitoring,” she said.
Biden has extensive foreign policy experience and deep knowledge of how government works, but he is also known for talking a lot and being captivated by his emotions.
This sometimes caused friction when he was vice president of Obama, as when Biden supported same-sex marriage in a television interview in 2012 before his boss was fully prepared to do the same. Biden “probably has a tendency to rush and say something he shouldn’t have done yet, but it’s because of emotionality,” Obama said at the time, adding that he would “prefer to speak on the issue in his way and when he sees fit.” “.
White House officials say Biden has done so because he has never bitten his tongue in his five decades in Washington, even when it has caused him problems.
They see Biden’s statements, which differ from his government’s policies, as a reaction not only to the appalling cadres in Ukraine but also to political pressure in the United States to say and do more in response to the Russian invasion.
For David Axelrod, a former adviser to the ever-cautious Obama, Biden’s remarks about Putin that he “can’t stay in power” are an example of Washington saying that “someone’s strength is in his weakness.”
Biden’s strength lies in empathy and sincerity, Axelrod said in a recent podcast, and that can also be a weakness when the president says inappropriate things in times of crisis.
The risk of hasty comments is hardly new and is not just about Biden. In 2016, Axelrod predicted a similar problem because of Trump’s propensity for controversial claims.
“When you’re president of the United States, you can’t just shoot something first and then think about what you said,” the councilor said at the time, adding, “Because people can start firing because of what you said.”
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