Ukraine War, March 4, 2022(I): Biden’s timid response to Russian barbarism


Due to rapidly-breaking developments and in order to facilitate readers’ access to the latest dispatches, we are publishing this article as it is being written. Please check back for updates and additions.

Dispatches and Analyses


1) Callie Patteson, “State Dept. urges embassies not to retweet Russian ‘war crime’ post: reports,” New York Post, March 4, 2022 (1:21 p.m.).


The US State Department is urging America’s embassies across Europe to not repost a tweet from the US Embassy in Kyiv that called Russia’s attack on a nuclear plant “a war crime,” according to multiple reports.

An internal message obtained by NBC News and CNN revealed the department is urging the embassies to avoid sharing language posted by the Kyiv envoy, or delete their post if they already have.

“All – do not/not retweet Embassy Kyiv’s tweet on shelling of the facility being a possible war crime,” the message reportedly reads. “If you have retweeted it – un-retweet it ASAP.”

On Wednesday, in response to a reporter who asked, “Do you believe Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine?,” President Biden said: “We are following it very closely. It’s early to say that.”

A day later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki backed the president’s caution….

“President [Volodymyr] Zelensky has said Russia’s actions clearly constitute a war crime. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said that Russia’s targeting of civilians fully qualifies as a war crime. The president wouldn’t go that far when he was asked yesterday. Why has he been reluctant to label Russia’s actions a war crime?” a reporter asked during a press briefing.

“Well, there is a process and we have stood up a process internally — an internal team — to assess and look at and evaluate evidence of what we’re seeing happen on the ground,” Psaki answered.

“That is a standard part of our process in the US government. I would note that we work very closely with our international partners, and we will provide any information that we surface through that process.”

2) Fareed Zakaria, “How to beat Putin, for real,” Washington Post, March 3, 2022 (6:23 p.m. EST).


We can see from the extreme caution of the State Department in labeling the atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine, and has been committing for some days, as a war crime, the great timidity of Joe Biden and his administration in opposing Russian barbarism in Ukraine. It is reminiscent of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s refusal to call the genocidal attacks in the Darfur region of Sudan “genocide”.

Biden’s refusal to call out war crimes is a continuation of the disastrous Obama foreign policy approach, in which it was words not actions that count. The fact is that if you describe events truthfully, such as the war crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine at the moment, that could lead to a call for action, and the one thing this pacifist president does not want to do it is to take effective action that would stop the commission of war crimes in Ukraine.

It is all of a piece with the blocking of the donation and transfer to Ukraine of some older jets by members of NATO, because the lawyers or would-be lawyers in the White House are afraid such actions would be perceived by Putin as NATO participating directly in Ukrainian self-defense efforts.

It is also consistent with Biden’s reluctance to adopt the sanction of blocking imports of Russian oil and gas. This is a measure which, in the long term, may influence Russia’s behavior. In the short term, however, thousands of Ukrainians will die. But as Biden has demonstrated with his callous withdrawal from Afghanistan, he is really indifferent to the fate of actual human beings.

The brutal truth is that Biden, like Obama before him, is afraid of Vladimir Putin. Particularly when Putin triggers Biden’s fears of World War III, he is afraid to confront him with anything that could be interpreted as the use of force. He’s even afraid to call out his war crimes, when Putin is committing them in the open for the whole world to see.

The Russian attack on the nuclear facility on March 3 would appear to be an intentional act by Putin to scare the hell our of Biden and everyone else, reminding them that Russia has nuclear weapons, which Putin brazenly threatens to use if necessary. As one Ukrainian put it, Putin is like “a monkey with a grenade”. A nuclear grenade.

Biden has a long history with Putin and war crimes. As Russia was committing horrendous war crimes in Syria to support the murderous regime of Bashar al-Asad, Obama (and Biden) agreed to “work through the Russians” on Syrian issues, and to join them in the fight against ISIS. In effect, they simply looked the other way, ignoring Putin’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Zelensky has inspired the world with his leadership and courage, which reminds one of Winston Churchill leading Britain in its lonely struggle against Hitler and Germany, as the U.S. stood on the sidelines for two years.

Zelensky has stepped up to play his role in history as a courageous defender of his people, freedom, and Western Civilization.

Will Biden step up to the plate and play a similar role?

The antecedents are not encouraging, but one can always hope for miracles.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.