The message was unmistakable. At his first press conference since November — an event that was meant to be a reset for a presidency that has already had more resets than a dud satellite box — Joe Biden gave Vladimir Putin the green light to attack Ukraine.
That’s what I heard when I watched his mumbling, stumbling performance on Wednesday afternoon. It’s what millions of Americans heard — and it’s what Vladimir Putin was waiting to hear.
Biden said that Russia ‘will be held accountable if it invades’ Ukraine, but then added that ‘it depends on what it does’.
‘It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,’ Biden went on. ‘But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.’
Biden said that Russia ‘will be held accountable if it invades’ Ukraine, but then added that ‘it depends on what it does’
In other words, Putin is welcome to sink his teeth into a European state and an American ally — just so long as he doesn’t take too big a bite.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was understandably appalled. ‘We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,’ he tweeted. ‘Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the president of a great power.’
The country’s foreign minister was less subtle — he stated baldly that Biden’s comments could invite a Russian attack.
Once more, the leader of the free world had been thinking with his mouth open. And proving again that he can’t be trusted.
True, a desperate scrabble to clean up the mess was launched by the White House with Biden clarifying his comments. ‘I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding,’ he said. ‘If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.’
But by now the damage had been done.
Putin is welcome to sink his teeth into a European state and an American ally — just so long as he doesn’t take too big a bite
The security of Europe is on a knife-edge, the future of Nato in the balance. The credibility of the United States is on the line, and America’s allies are looking for a cool head and unconditional support for the basic principles of international law and order. But the sheriff had a senior moment, gave away the game plan, and revealed he is a clear and present danger to world peace.
Nor was this an unfortunate one-off. Whenever the President pokes his head above the parapet, Biden’s team are hanging on every ill-considered word, and issuing ‘clarifications’ of his addled thoughts in real time. It’s farcical, but it’s how this hopeless administration operates.
Twice last year, Biden made unscripted commitments to fighting China over Taiwan. China doesn’t recognise Taiwan’s independence. For more than four decades, the U.S. has followed a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’: it has armed Taiwan, but it has never stated what it would do if China attacked the country.
Biden’s ad libs threatened to upset the nuclear-tipped balance of power in the Pacific. The Chinese foreign ministry told Biden to watch his mouth. The U.S., it said, should ‘be cautious with its words and actions’ and ‘not send any wrong signals so as not to damage China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait’.
The White House clarifiers back then said the President ‘misspoke’. When he said the U.S. would fight China because it had a ‘commitment’, he didn’t mean it.
Again, the damage had been done. The world saw that America could no longer keep its promises. Allies ran for cover, and the West’s enemies licked their chops.
Biden hasn’t just ‘lost a step’ as the Americans say. He’s not even in the game.
Our loose-lipped President is sinking the ship of state, and his popularity is tanking at home.
The White House is in denial, but the country sees the sad reality of a President in obvious mental decline.
In a mid-November poll, only 46 per cent agreed that Biden was ‘mentally fit’ — and 48 per cent thought he wasn’t up to the job. Just 34 per cent think he’s ‘energetic’, and a mere 37 per cent think he’s a ‘clear communicator’.
On Wednesday, the gaffemeister-in-chief struggled to field the softest of questions.
Asked if the voters might punish the Democrats in November’s midterms, Biden replied: ‘Oh I think that it could be . . . I mean, I hope in God that they’re, uh . . . that . . . look . . . maybe I’m kidding myself . . . Time goes on . . .’
The security of Europe is on a knife-edge, the future of Nato in the balance as tensions rise on the Ukrainian border
He falls silent for five seconds in the middle of a sentence. He looks up to the ceiling, as if the thread of his thinking is tied to a balloon that has drifted out of his hand.
He grips his lectern and his folder of facts as if he’s trying to squeeze out some inspiration. He quickly gets tired.
The more tired he gets, the more he falls back on mock-spontaneous fillers — ‘C’mon, man!’ – while he tries to remember what he was saying. And he gets angrier and angrier.
Everyone has an elderly relative in cognitive decline, and everyone knows that Biden is declining fast. In the care homes of America, they call his trouble ‘sundowning’. Energy and focus ebb away through the day.
By sundown, the old-timers are halfway to sleep, if not senility. But this is the President of the world’s greatest superpower.
Biden has the worst first-year poll numbers of any president in living memory. He makes Jimmy Carter look like Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Even the broadcaster CNN, which acclaimed Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections with Pravda-like enthusiasm, has turned on him. Van Jones, an Obama appointee-turned-talking head on the network, called Biden’s performance on Wednesday ‘foggy and meandering, like Reagan at the end’.
The difference is, Reagan was on his way out by that stage — and he had won the Cold War. Biden is only a year into his presidency. He’s the figurehead of an arrogant and ignorant administration, and he’s just invited Putin to become the master of Europe.
Biden says he wants to run again in 2024, but even his deputy Kamala Harris refuses to give a straight answer when she’s asked if she would endorse him.
The world saw that America could no longer keep its promises. Allies ran for cover, and the West’s enemies licked their chops
The public share her doubts. It’s bad news for Biden that only 28 per cent of Americans want him to run again.
It’s a disaster for him that only 48 per cent of registered Democrats back a second Biden term.
‘Why do you suppose such large segments of the American electorate have come to harbour such profound concerns about your cognitive fitness?’ a reporter from the conservative site Newsmax asked Biden on Wednesday.
‘I have no idea,’ he croaked.
He was telling the truth, too.
Who could blame Putin for smiling in his Kremlin bunker?
Dr Dominic Green is the editor of The Spectator’s world edition.