No early media "lid" at the Oval Office today: The administration begins three rounds of talks with the Russians looking at next steps in the crisis over Ukraine.
Expectations that this exercise in diplomacy will deliver a better night’s sleep for the White House are low. Still, President Biden has a real opportunity here. Global events could well push the next catastrophe for the president’s foreign policy by a month or so, giving the administration more time to find its footing.
This week’s high-level meetings include direct talks between Washington and Moscow, a meeting of NATO with Russia, and a session of the Organization of Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE). That’s a lot of talking. As Winston Churchill said, "Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war."
Churchill, however, would recognize this crisis for what it is. It is not a diplomatic problem. Putin intentionally created this situation with a massive deployment of forces on Ukraine’s border and then issued an outrageous, impossible list of concessions. This is just naked old-fashioned aggression.
The White House has said the president is looking for ways to "deescalate" the crisis. A statement that suggests they understand the problem exactly wrong. Deescalation suggests there is a need for both sides to back down. But there are not two sides to this story. There is just bullying from Putin, blackmail and the threat of war that could put the fate of 44 million Ukrainians at risk.
This isn’t a disagreement. This is a threat to kill, destroy and create a massive refugee crisis overnight.
Yet the administration says it wants to test Putin with discussions about missile deployments, troop placements and military exercises. Bet on this. Any concessions the U.S. does grant, Putin will just put in the bank and push for more later. Indeed, even if the U.S. grants major concessions, Putin might march anyway.
If the White House goes down the path of giving Putin something for nothing, they will spend all their diplomatic energy beating up on Ukraine and the Northern and Central Europeans to give in to what Putin wants. There is no way, if Biden chooses this option, that we don’t wind up with a shakier NATO and heightened risk of future wars.
What Biden needs to do is flip the script. Instead of talking concessions, he should look at how quickly he can reinforce the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, and make every effort to contribute to the self-defense of Ukrainian territory by Ukrainians.
Biden, thanks to a blessing he does not deserve, may have a window there to preemptively move to buck up NATO rather plead with Putin. The Russians are moving big time to clean up the mess in Kazakhstan. Can Putin really handle both Kazakhstan and invading Ukraine at the same time? Some experts think not.
Meanwhile, China must surely want to keep everything low-key until after the Olympics. At the same time, the Iranians are trying to wrangle every concession possible out of Biden in the Middle East.
Biden could have a month more to jump on building up NATO conventional deterrence and aiding Ukraine. He can be making deals to strengthen European energy security. He could be consulting with all the NATO allies. He could be reinforcing Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts rather than participating in multinational dialogues that include every interested party but Ukraine.
He could not be calling an early lid at the White House every day. He could cut back on the beach trips. He could stop using the White House for partisan attacks and refuse to push out ridiculous diatribes from his press room on COVID and the economy worthy of Pravda. He could pull a Harry Truman and seriously throw himself into confronting America’s adversaries and protecting U.S. interests.
Biden may have the most consequential opportunity to save his presidency. But it won’t last long. The clock is ticking.
This piece originally appeared in Fox News