By David Gergen
President Joe Biden’s speech Saturday in Warsaw at the conclusion of his European trip was the most significant of this war and probably of his presidency. It was surprisingly bellicose and hostile, especially in his stunning call for Putin’s overthrow. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said. Though the White House is trying to walk back that story, it is pretty darn clear that Biden wants a regime change in Moscow. Many presidents have privately wanted the ouster of a foreign power but I can’t remember one who has openly called for it.
In the short term, Biden has sent a message of toughness that will be widely welcomed by Ukrainians as well as many Americans and Europeans. Until now, some have questioned just how much steel he has. No longer.
But in committing to a long war and speaking rarely of peace, this speech – coming on top of Putin’s own bellicosity – heavily suggests that this war is now unlikely to be settled any time soon through negotiations. That option now seems off the table. Putin may well believe that in this poisonous environment, he has little choice but to fight to the finish. Otherwise, he is the weak one bowing to the United States.
The speech was so hard hitting that one could be forgiven in thinking that we increasingly have a new Cold War on our hands and that Biden has chosen to be its western leader.
Indeed, Biden implied that he intends to make this the centerpiece of his presidency while at the same time implying a more engaged and involved foreign policy around the world. That is surprising. In his first year at the White House, Biden has focused mostly on America’s domestic revival; until the Russian invasion, national security was less of a priority than the pandemic, the U.S. economy, climate change, etc. Those have not been shoved fully aside – especially climate – but at least for weeks if not months to come, Russia’s threats to the world will be at the top of his agenda. Keep your seat belt buckled.