President Joe Biden lacks a comprehensive strategy. In 24 hours, yet another breathless flip-flop on one element of the Russian-Ukraine policy crisis. Recently, the Biden administration claimed they will restrict Russian oil exports to the United States. Or is it to the West in general? Or is it just to limit the purchasing of 500,000 barrels per day from Russia here in America? Whatever the case, the administration needs to be clear on their strategy to the American people and our allies.
The daily press release from the White House is not how to execute a foreign policy plan in a crisis while the world sits on the brink of another major military conflagration in Europe.
Does the administration have a comprehensive policy objective and plan for engagement with Russia on Ukraine and the wider Russian national security issues? The short answer is that we see no evidence of any comprehensive strategy being executed. Thie White House, nor any White House team, cannot survive with poor leadership and no comprehensive strategy.
There is only so much bandwidth available in every White House team to manage day-to-day operations. It is well-understood in national security policy events, intelligence developments and primary military operations that your decision-making matrix, regardless of how good it may be, begins to fray and collapse when you have to run at full speed managing from crisis to crisis, with no time to reflect on the impact of your decisions, especially if you’re not operating against a strategic policy objective with a solid plan that everyone supports. Then, as you try to seize the initiative and build momentum for a policy strategy that will diffuse the crisis, it can become like life on a hamster wheel, where no matter how fast you run, you don’t seem to get anywhere.
Biden’s statement earlier in the week threatening to cut off all of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oil export revenue, or some aspect of that huge policy lever, like so many WH statements, takes time and revisions to get an accurate read on what was actually said, what it meant and when it might happen. This impulsive statement is a significant escalation step that should not be taken lightly or impulsively because the noise from Capitol Hill is getting louder. The solution to de-escalation and reaching a cooling-off period with a ceasefire is something that takes a comprehensive series of decisions and international moves in concert with an overt policy objective. Impulsive, feel-good political pronouncements don’t solve international crisis situations.
Biden needs help. His team is failing. The stakes are high and getting more dangerous by the day. Throwing ideas at the wall to see if one of them sticks is not a policy plan. Instead, it’s a terrifying example of presidential weakness and a team of incompetent political people actually having to act responsibly and effectively in a pressure cooker environment — and they all clearly lack the tools to perform. Some presidents are tested and quickly rise to the occasion after a bumpy start, like John F. Kennedy. But the Biden administration looks more and more like the Jimmy Carter presidency. Carter took three years before his administration hit the point of no return. Biden has gotten to that point in 12 months.
Biden has fallen into the policy and management trap of measured response, incremental escalation, crisis decision making, strategic patience, etc. All these word salad phrases were created to describe a weak and ineffective decision-making matrix and personal style.
A unique style that is driven by the question, “How is this decision going to play politically?” doesn’t incorporate the question of, “Will this work and advance our position in the crisis?”
Biden’s strategy is ineffective, and Putin is now and will remain able to anticipate and manage the U.S. government policy of throwing ideas at the wall to see which one sticks.
Before Biden makes a decision that causes more problems and complexity, the president should dispatch a presidential envoy who can engage with substance, experience and, most significantly, credibility with the Russian Army and Putin. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice come to mind. They are some of our most experienced statesmen. If the White House were to send a message to Moscow asking Putin to meet with either, I’m confident they would get a meeting. There are many reasons for this view. Some are public knowledge; some are not.
Those of us old enough to remember the Carter presidency watched this current leadership style play out in four short years that destroyed a presidency and changed the world for the worse. We have a fantastic body of research and knowledge on how to examine presidential candidates, and the historical precision of records to clearly judge how well they performed and accurately measure success or failure.