President Biden’s trip to Europe aimed to soothe NATO allies in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine; instead, he blurted out several dangerous statements that his administration scrambled to throw down the memory hole. But just as deleting an offensive tweet doesn’t undo the damage, the White House can’t spin its way out of this. To avoid blustering us into nuclear war, Mr. Biden has to start acting like a president, and not a candidate.
The fixings at Mr. Biden’s Word Salad Bar revealed a troubling thread under the sneeze guard: his unsettling obsession with former President Donald Trump. Like a bizarre version of the Kevin Bacon game, he manages to connect any topic through to his predecessor.
It’s particularly self-defeating to let Mr. Trump live rent-free in your head since he thrives on the spotlight. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth said of her father, Theodore, the 46th president wants “to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.”
The best way to deny an opponent oxygen is to ignore him, as former President Bill Clinton did during the 1996 campaign by never mentioning his opponent, former Sen. Bob Dole, or former President Dwight D. Eisenhower did with former Sen. Eugene McCarthy. But that, like nuclear brinkmanship, requires a discipline our current commander in chief lacks. He’s forever in campaign mode, failing to grow into the office.
Mr. Biden clearly sees himself as having been called by history to end a mortal threat to the republic and believes in every debunked conspiracy theory about Mr. Trump being a Russian secret agent. Now, in the tradition of McCarthy, he sees Russkies behind every misfortune. So, when dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he repeats the tactics that vanquished Mr. Trump.
In “The Cain Mutiny,” Humphrey Bogart’s Lt. Commander Philip Queeg seeks to recreate a past triumph, too, becoming so unhinged that it destroys his ability to command. Queeg turned his minesweeper upside down in search of a key that didn’t exist, risking disaster. The stakes when navigating the ship of state through our current diplomatic minefield are nothing less than World War III and human civilization itself.
First, Mr. Biden called Mr. Putin “a killer.” He upped the ante this week to “war criminal,” “butcher” and “murderous dictator — a pure thug.” Those opinions were fine when he was a private citizen, vice president or even a senator from the tax haven masquerading as the state of Delaware. They’re irresponsible for the leader of the free world dealing with a nuclear-armed foe.
It’s precisely because Mr. Putin is as Mr. Biden describes that he should choose his words with great care. Instead, the president told an audience in Poland, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” with the same exasperated tone he used against Mr. Trump. There was no danger in insulting his political opponent, but a dictator with hundreds of ICBMs at his fingertips may respond with something significantly more deadly than a hashtag.
Mr. Putin has long accused the West of seeking his removal. You can be sure the former KGB chief heard Mr. Biden’s statement as confirmation, while laughing at the White House spin that the president “was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
When Mr. Biden told the 82nd Airborne that they’d see the bravery displayed in Ukraine “when you’re there,” Mr. Putin certainly looked skyward for paratroopers. The Soviet mentality, as former undercover KGB agent Jack Barsky told me, is steeped in paranoia, to the point of seeing the Space Shuttle as a tool to nuke Moscow.
When Mr. Biden told a Belgian crowd that America “will respond in kind” if Russia uses chemical weapons, it was no mere “gaffe.” Former President George H.W. Bush committed to eliminating those particularly unsavory weapons of mass destruction and renounced the very right of retaliation that Mr. Biden threatened. We’ve since met our commitments to international agreements, destroying our stockpiles. Now Mr. Putin can say, “See! The capitalists lied,” and ramp up the mustard gas.
Bogart suffered from undiagnosed throat cancer while filming “The Caine Mutiny,” which added a sense of realism to his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Queeg. When people get older, they tend to become ill, less patient and more easily agitated. Mr. Biden has always been prone to exaggerations and bluster. These flaws have only gotten worse with age, and a president can’t afford to indulge such weaknesses.
The president has achieved the job he pined for all his life. It’s time to stop campaigning for it and govern, or it won’t be just the crew of a single ship that pays the price. Sooner or later he’ll run into a mine and sink us all.
• Dean Karayanis @HistoryDean is a producer for the “Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show,” longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer and host of the “History Author Show” on iHeartRadio.
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