There has been a flurry of establishment corrections, obfuscations, explanations, and justifications since Biden’s “small incursion” statement on Wednesday. It is difficult to analyze the different statements largely because they don’t make sense.
On the one hand, commentators have maintained that Biden was “just telling the truth.” But, what truth was Biden telling? The commentary largely focuses on the fact that the U.S. and all the NATO allies don’t completely agree on the appropriate response to Russian aggression. So, the commentary goes, Biden was just saying out loud what everybody knows anyway.
But, that’s not what Biden said. He didn’t only say that the allies don’t all agree on an appropriate response to Russian aggression. And, this was not the important thing that he said. What he said was that a “small incursion” would be considered less serious and therefore prompt less response from the allies. What Biden was in fact saying was not that there was no agreement, but that there was agreement. A “small incursion” would trigger a lesser response, perhaps no response at all. This is a statement of fact, not a statement of disagreement.
CNN reported Wednesday night that the Ukrainians were “shocked” by Biden’s statement. I do not think the Ukrainians would have been shocked had Biden just said that there was some disagreement among the members of NATO about an appropriate response.
And, if in fact Biden was telling the truth about NATO disagreement, why has his administration been promising unprecedented sanctions, sanctions like nothing the Russians have ever seen? If the allies are in that much disagreement, how was he able to repeatedly promise such a response?
What the commentary has largely involved is an attempt to deny the meaning of Biden’s words, to convince us that he didn’t say what he said. I, for one, have had enough of that kind of behavior from the Republicans. It’s yet again a “do you believe me or your lying ears” attempt.
As the CNN reporter on the ground in Ukraine said on Wednesday night, the United States had never, ever said that a “small incursion” would be met with diminished sanctions, or that there was even a consideration of a sliding scale on which aggression would be judged. The Ukrainians had certainly not heard this before. And, as president Zelensky tweeted, there are no “small incursions” against another country.
William Cohen, commenting on CNN this morning, continued the effort to downplay Biden’s “small incursion” statement by saying that it was just an “error.” Cohen, like most of the other establishment commentators, said that Biden was only telling the truth. Cohen also said that Putin could not use Biden’s statement as a green light for an invasion.
The question is why not. What Biden was telling Putin was that as long as he confined his outrageous aggression to something they could all call a “small incursion” everything was fine.
Even when the White House Communications Director tried to “clear up” Biden’s statement, she did not.
Wednesday’s statement from White House
“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.”
But, cyber warfare is not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border.” Missiles are not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border.” Pro-Russian separatists taking over parts of the country with Russian assistance is not “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border. So, rather than return to the “aggression will provoke unprecedented sanctions” approach that seemed to be in effect before the press conference, we are still in a position where the Biden administration laid out the fact that “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border” was the only thing that would trigger these (supposedly) unprecedented sanctions.
Had the White House really wanted to completely walk back what was called an “error” they would have said: Even a “small incursion” would trigger unprecedented sanctions. They did not.
So, Biden has taken off the table a U.S. military defense of Ukraine. He has taken off the table exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT program, and now he has put on the table the probability that anything short of “Russian military forces mov(ing) across the Ukrainian border” would be met with less opposition.
This is unconscionable.