BY SAEED NAQVI
Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky’s nearly three hour talks with President Biden in the White House ended with a press conference. Biden, replying to a question, showed a chink in his armour which his western cheerleaders have for obvious reasons not amplified.
Just as the US President was carrying on about the assistance in arms, including Patriot anti-missile batteries, a reporter chipped in: “When the full scale invasion started, US officials said that Ukraine cannot receive Patriot because it might be seen as unnecessary escalation. And now, right now it is happening. Clearly Ukraine desperately needs more capabilities, including long range missiles.”
The reporter then produced the punchline: “Can we make this long story short and give to Ukraine all the capabilities it needs to liberate all the territories sooner rather than later?”
This stumped Biden. Short of words, he points to Zelensky – “well…his answer is yes.” This produces laughter. Reporters on beats like the White House or those travelling with their President, generally have a “whiff” of details not otherwise available. Laughter at that particular juncture, when the President is tongue tied and weakly points to Zelensky, is revealing. Obviously during the talks Zelensky asked for arms more lethal than Patriots and Biden said no.
Biden then proceeded to explain to the press his restraint in supplying “everything” for Ukraine’s victory.
The US is not giving Ukraine everything for two reasons. One, there is an entire alliance supporting Ukraine which must not break up. And the idea that we will give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different from what is already going there (this shift) would have the prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union and the rest of the world.
“We’re going to give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself, to be able to succeed in the battlefield.”
Second, Biden said, that he had “spent several hundred hours, face-to-face with our European allies and heads of state of their countries” towards one goal: to persuade them how it is fundamentally in their interest that they continue to support Ukraine in this war.
Then comes Biden’s key utterance: while they understand the importance of western unity, “they’re not looking to go to war with Russia. They’re not looking for a third world war.” He concludes, “I think it can all be avoided by making sure that Ukraine is able to succeed in the battlefield.” Zelensky is being bluffed?
The US President, faced with a blunt question from a reporter, blurted out things a diplomat would have kept to himself.
Why would Biden spend “several hundred hours face-to-face with” his European allies trying to convince them that it was “overwhelmingly in their interest to continue to support Ukraine?” How reluctant must the allies have been to warrant this kind of persuasion by the world’s most powerful nation?
Quite unmistakably the impression is that allies or partners did not quite follow the Pied Piper; they were nudged if not dragged into this predicament. In diplomatic parlance, it was heavy arm twisting that they were subjected to. As a consequence, chants of “unusual western unity” are marketed as not cacophonous with France, Germany, Hungary, Italy etcetera singing their own, individual hymns of a post Ukraine vision.
Ukraine, Europe and the US are dancing together but to different rhythms. I have already quoted Biden: yes World War III will be avoided but Ukraine will be helped to win in the battlefield. In other words, the US, with very deep pockets, is looking for a never ending war, a war of attrition. Having failed to defeat Putin, the idea is to outspend him, bleed him economically. What will happen to Europe in this process? Considering that there is no evidence of Russia on its knees quite yet, what does one make of lamentations all over Europe? An endless war will certainly break up the alliance.
Differences within the alliance had begun to surface at the very outset, in fact the moment it dawned that the war was not about Ukraine but about a new world order.
In the vanguard of those with blueprints of a multipolar world order was France’s Emanuel Macron. As early as September this year he told a conclave of French diplomats that the “300 year old western hegemony was coming to an end”.
He could not help taking a jibe at Biden. For the past three centuries of western dominance, he said, France, England and the US had contributed, in that order, culture, industry and “war”. Within western countries, “the many wrong choices the United States has made in the face of crisis have deeply shaken our hegemony.”
Where Macron differs from his Anglo-Saxon partners is his frank admission that “China and Russia have achieved great success” under “different leadership styles”. Totally absent from his serene stance are expletives like “butcher, butcher” which Biden employed once for Putin, rather like a street fighter.
In Macron’s framework European security is unthinkable without Russia being integral to it. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, host to 20,000 US troops since World War II, cannot unhinge himself from the US. He delineates a security architecture for Europe of which the US is a critical part. This, despite the historical Anglo-American suspicion of the German Nation.
Not to learn from its own recent wars must be put down as another category of American exceptionalism. The day Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, with an imperious wave of the hand asked Bashar al Assad to “get out of the way”, the telecast coincided with my column on Syria. Reversals in Afghanistan and Iraq after decades of occupation should have taught the Americans a lesson. If war aims could not be achieved by full fledged occupation, how would cross border terrorism oust Assad? True, Syria like Iraq and Libya, has been destroyed, but Assad still rules the country. If Assad cannot be ousted by a proxy war, can Russia’s formidable war machine be neutralized by one?
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)
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Photo Credit: Official Website – Kremlin