Joe Biden is facing “a Munich moment”. Will he impose tough sanctions on Putin for crowning his ongoing invasion of the Eastern Ukraine with the recognition of the puppet regimes he installed in 2014 and has maintained in power since, as independent countries, who will now invite Russian troops in to “protect” the population?
It is clear from the reports above that Biden is temporizing, drawing fine intellectual distinctions just like his mentor, Barack Obama, who helped create the present Ukraine crisis by not reacting strongly to Putin’s invasions of the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine in 2014.
In 2014 Obama objected to the characterization of the Russian invasion of the Donbas as an “invasion”, preferring to term it an “incursion”. An “incursion did not require as strong a response with sanctions as an “invasion”, as Biden eerily communicated to Putin in a press conference some weeks ago.
Biden has made two colossal strategic misjudgments, and appears to be making a third at this very minute.
The first was the irrevocable decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. Once that decision was made, all that followed was a future foretold.
The second strategic blunder was to tell the world publicly, including Putin, that he was taking force off the table as a possible response to potential Russian aggression against Ukraine.
By that decision, Biden shaped the battlefield in ways which were sharply detrimental to Ukraine, and to the U.S. and its allies.
Now, having set the stage with the first two colossal blunders, Biden is making his third, by not applying the threatened severe sanctions against Putin for merely having engaged in an “incursion” in the Donbas.
The initial sanctions announced today, to ban business with entities in the “separatist” republics and to sanction personally individuals involved in the decision is a bad joke, and repeats–almost in cut and paste fashion–the bad joke of Obama’s sanctions against Russia for invading the Crimea in 2014.
In 2014, it was a bad joke which emboldened Putin. In 2022, it is a bad joke which will not deter Putin from a larger war, and which very likely will increase his contempt for Biden–unless it is followed within a day or two by the heaviest of sanctions.
Biden’s third strategic blunder is underway, but it’s not too late for him to do some fresh thinking and adopt the heaviest possible sanctions.
Biden needs to lead the anti-Russian coalition, not merely sink to its lowest common denominator.
Putin will not stop until he hits a brick wall. Biden must either bring that brick wall into play, or choose the path of appeasement, as Western leaders did at Munich.
He faces what is likely to be greatest Munich moment in his presidency.