The Republican Party may not have a clear and consistent position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the GOP is speaking with one voice on a core belief: As the international crisis intensifies, now is the ideal time for Republican to disparage their own country’s president and blame him for the war.
As The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman summarized:
The GOP critique is both blessedly free of substance and plays right into the anxieties about manhood that determine approximately 75 percent of everything Republicans do these days. So whether you’re a Putin fanboy or a cold warrior, you can agree that the real problem here is weakness. Why is this crisis happening? Because Biden is weak. What should America do now? Not be weak, because Biden is weak. Is your favorite baseball team going to win the pennant this year? They would, if Biden wasn’t so weak.
What’s far less clear is what, exactly, Republicans don’t like about President Joe Biden’s foreign policy.
Indeed, just this week, the entire House GOP leadership, along with the top Republicans from the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Intelligence committees, issued a joint statement calling on the White House to take a variety of steps in response to Russian aggression.
The GOP lawmakers appeared largely indifferent to the fact that the Biden administration had already taken those steps.
The Democratic president has helped rally our international partners and strengthened the NATO alliance. Biden has also kept Putin off-balance by telegraphing the Russian leader’s every move. The White House has announced one round of sanctions, will soon announce many more, and persuaded our allies to follow our lead.
As a result, Putin is recognized internationally as the isolated aggressor who unified his critics, while damaging his country’s diplomatic and economic standing.
So how is it that Republicans concluded that Biden screwed this up?
Waldman added, “Though some Republicans say the sanctions at the center of Biden’s strategy should have started earlier, you’ll have a hard time finding one who can specify in any detail what Biden’s ‘weakness’ toward Russia has consisted of to this point, nor what a ‘strong’ president would be doing instead.... If the answer is ‘What Biden is doing, but, you know, more,’ that’s not very persuasive.”
Even the idea that earlier sanctions would’ve made a difference is unpersuasive. For one thing, Biden was determined to give Putin an off-ramp. For another, if the U.S imposed harsh sanctions before the invasion began in earnest, it would’ve been easier for the Kremlin to say it was responding to Western aggression.
Some are likely to argue that the White House’s policy should nevertheless be seen as a failure because of the bottom-line results: The American president tried to prevent Russia’s attack, and the attack happened anyway.
But Dan Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts, had a related analysis this week, explaining, “It’s possible to implement the best policy and still lose.”
Drezner added, “Biden did almost everything right, and has worsened Putin’s strategic situation. Nonetheless, everyone will lose in the coming weeks.”