China’s Xi Wins Biden-Putin Cage Match Over Ukraine

COMMENTARY Global Politics

China’s Xi Wins Biden-Putin Cage Match Over Ukraine

Jan 25, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.
Civilians, including Tatiana (L), 21, participate in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit training on a Saturday in a forest on January 22, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The administration needs a clear strategy for how to look like a real global leader—and there’s no sign it has one.

For his part, Putin has numerous options. He has made impossible demands, but will pay zero consequences if his maximum ambitions are not met.

The West needs leaders with broader and more confident vision.

When the squabbling over Ukraine concludes, it’s hard to see how China’s President Xi Jinping doesn’t come out on top. His counterpoint in the U.S., Joe Biden, lacks a clear strategy to ensure that the transatlantic community emerges from the latest standoff with Moscow in a stronger and more competitive position in the ring of global geopolitics.

Let’s be honest. Despite all the misstatements, missteps and miscues from the White House, it is clear the president does not want to abandon either Ukraine or our European allies (despite the fact that before the crisis some administration officials were suggesting that was what the U.S. would do). 

But not wanting another debacle like the disastrous international blowback Biden saw after the Afghanistan withdrawal isn’t enough. The administration needs a clear strategy for how to look like a real global leader—and there’s no sign it has one.

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The list of tentative, unsure policy steps is long. First and foremost is the wobbly way Washington rolled out arms and ammunition to help Ukrainians defend themselves and deter Putin. Rather than proactively shoving assistance out the door at the front end to send Moscow a strong signal, Biden dithered. It was months into the crisis before the U.S. president acted.

The first "lethal aid" only just arrived. Even now, the U.S. can’t muster the full support of NATO allies for bolstering Ukraine’s self-defense. Biden’s good buddies, such as the Germans, have been embarrassingly recalcitrant.

Perhaps the ultimate signal that the Biden team has run out of diplomatic runway is Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s hashtag stand with Ukraine twitter campaign this weekend. Hashtag statecraft is to great power politics like Twinkies are to a balanced diet.

For his part, Putin has numerous options. He has made impossible demands (like an end to NATO enlargement), but will pay zero consequences if his maximum ambitions are not met.

Putin has already achieved two major objectives. First, he has made a mockery of the Biden "the adults are back" bumper sticker. Confidence in Biden’s leadership is lower than an Alaskan thermometer in January. Second, Putin has dug deep into the fissures of European solidarity. Nobody is bragging about a Europe "whole, free and at peace" these days.

Where Putin goes from here only he knows. Here is what we do know. Putin has been around a long time and taken many reckless, risky and destabilizing steps. He has never, however, triggered World War III. He’s likely smart enough to figure out how to wring something he wants out of this crisis without setting the world alight.

This raises the China card. With Biden so unable to lead, many are offering up their own ideas to fill the vacuum, though they are equally vacuous. One German admiral made headlines arguing Germany make nice with Putin and worry about Beijing. (He then immediately resigned.) He is, however, not the only one tossing out this suggestion. This is a proposal lacking a ticket to the logic train.

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Russia and China have the same objectives in Europe. They want a Europe divided and weak. They want the transatlantic community to dissolve and for Americans to sit at home on their hands. Asking for Putin’s help with China is geopolitical assisted suicide.

Asking the transatlantic community to just worry about Russia or China is like telling a patient the hospital can treat their cancer or their bad heart, so they get to elect how to die a horrible death. Sophie had better choices.

Dithering over Russia, regardless of how Ukraine plays out in the end, only helps China. Xi’s read of the West’s response to Putin will be that free nations aren’t serious about protecting their own interests. The Biden administration and European leaders have demonstrably shown they don’t have a sound strategy to deal with either, let alone both.

The West needs leaders with broader and more confident vision. Right now Putin sleeps at night dreaming of Stalin in all his glory. Xi dreams of Mao on the march. Biden and his buddies must be dreaming of SpongeBob.

This piece originally appeared in Fox News