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Blinken moonlighting as a rock star in Ukraine isn't helping

The secretary of state is not the first U.S. official to show off his music skills and probably won’t be the last. But one has to wonder how much thought was given to the optics.

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On his latest visit to Ukraine this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a surprise appearance at a bar in Kyiv, where he took the stage to perform a cover of a Neil Young song.

“Listen, I know this is a really, really difficult time,” Blinken told the crowd at Barman Dictat on Tuesday night, a red guitar slung over his body.

“Your soldiers, your citizens, particularly in the northeast in Kharkiv, are suffering tremendously. But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you,” he said. “And they’re fighting not just for a free Ukraine but for the free world, and the free world is with you, too. So maybe we can try something?”

With the band behind him, Blinken then jammed out to "Rockin' In the Free World."

Now, politicians have long misunderstood or opted to ignore the meaning of songs that on the surface seem like flag-waving anthems. “Rockin' In the Free World” is a less than patriotic song about the bleak malaise of American society — and it doesn't even have anything to do with foreign policy.

Blinken is not the first U.S. government official to show off his musical skills, and he probably won’t be the last. But one has to wonder how much thought was given to the optics of this photo op: Blinken is role-playing as a rock star as Ukraine struggles to withstand Russian troops' latest offensive on Kharkiv — a kind of "Nero fiddling as Rome burns" vibe that some critics have chided as "inappropriate." Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and to assuage concerns about the delivery of U.S. aid to the besieged country.

It’s probably unwise to try to make too much of a stunt like this, good or bad. But if you're a U.S. secretary of state trying to give the people of an allied country a pick-me-up, maybe next time choose a song that isn’t about America's failings.