Friday, May 20 2022

President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron at a NATO summit Thursday in Brussels.


Photo:

Benoit Doppagne/Zuma Press

Some issues are just too important to be left to an improvised Joe Biden. This is not CNN and your humble correspondent is not a doctor, so this column will not offer a remote diagnosis of the president’s mental health or an assessment of how his cognition compares to that of other world leaders. . But we live in dangerous times and we would all be much safer if Mr. Biden used more prepared statements on topics such as, say, weapons of mass destruction.

Two months after an awkward press conference in which Mr Biden hinted that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might be tolerable for the United States and its allies, the president has flown to the Europe this week and ended up answering questions from NATO reporters. headquarters in Brussels.

Yes, it is important for all of us to be able to hear our elected officials and to appreciate the tenor of their remarks as well as the skill and conviction with which they defend their policies. But this particular chosen one doesn’t seem up to the task. While we consider the implications, Mr. Biden should try to say as little as possible in public during an international crisis.

This presents a unique challenge since he happens to be the current President of the United States. But there is no constitutional requirement for the president to make off-the-cuff remarks or deliver speeches of any kind. If necessary, he can send messages to Congress rather than talking to lawmakers.

Before this week’s trip to Europe and the latest presidential adventure in media relations, Mr. Biden’s political response to the Russian invasion had been clear enough: help the Ukrainians, punish the Russians and seek to avoid the scenarios in which NATO forces could be drawn into the conflict. Then came Thursday’s press conference. Here is an excerpt from the White House transcript:

Q Hello. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So you warned of the real threat of the use of chemical weapons. Have you gathered specific information to suggest that President Putin is deploying these weapons, moving them into position, or considering their use?

And would the United States or NATO respond with military action if he used chemical weapons?

THE PRESIDENT You know, on the first question, I cannot answer that. I’m not going to give you intelligence data, number one.

Number two, we would answer. We would respond if he used it. The nature of the answer would depend on the nature of the use.

So if America goes to war is ultimately up to Vladimir Putin and what weapons he chooses to use and under what circumstances? The subject returned a few minutes later:

Q… And to clarify, on chemical weapons: Would if chemical weapons were used in Ukraine, would that trigger a NATO military response?

THE PRESIDENT: That re- — that would trigger an in-kind response, whether or not — you ask if NATO would cross; we would make that decision at that time.

A response in kind? A common definition of the phrase might suggest that Mr. Biden was considering a scenario in which he, too, went beyond paleness. Appearing this weekend on Fox Business Network’s “WSJ at Large,” columnist Tammy Bruce helpfully notes, “The use of chemical weapons is against international law. It is certainly a moral abomination. She adds that the president has been a politician for half a century. This is not an error resulting from a lack of experience in foreign affairs. It’s something worse.

Thank goodness the White House was ready with a communications cleanup effort. On Friday aboard Air Force One, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded to a press request:

Q Jake, President Biden, at yesterday’s press conference, said that if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine, the United States and NATO will react in the same way, which would seem to imply the use of chemical weapons in return. Did he mean by “in kind”? Or what was he trying to say there?

[MR. SULLIVAN]: No. No. And you heard it in another answer that we will respond accordingly – which means, you know, we will choose the form and the nature of our response depending on the nature of the action taken by Russia, and we we will do so in coordination with our Allies. And we let the Russians know, as the president said publicly a few weeks ago, that there will be a high price if Russia uses chemical weapons.

And I will go no further than to say that the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances.

Many of us will cling to the belief that the President was confused and did not understand what he was saying, all the more reason for him to avoid straying from a prepared text in this perilous time. .

Of course, presidential silence isn’t a long-term strategy, but right now the world doesn’t need more misrepresentations from Biden on issues as important as weapons of mass destruction.

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Mr. Freeman will host “WSJ at Large” this Friday at 7:30 p.m. EDT on the Fox Business Network. The program repeats at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. EDT Saturday and Sunday.

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James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival”.

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Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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To suggest articles, please email best@wsj.com.

(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web.)

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