Both comments captured advisers, they appeared nowhere in his scripted remarks and went far beyond the official government position. His remark about genocide happened inside an ethanol processing plant in Iowa that stood on top of a stage covered in straw.
“We will let the lawyers decide internationally whether it is qualified or not,” he said on the asphalt of Des Moines International Airport as he got ready to board Air Force One, “but it certainly seems that way to me. . “
The dynamics have sometimes created tensions for a president whose response to the conflict has at times been deeply emotional, and whose decades of experience in international relations – at the lower levels of senator and vice president – help inform his thinking.
His comment on genocide raised concerns among some officials that he was ahead of the administration’s legal process and it could be seen as putting pressure on those officials who are currently working to make an official decision, according to people is familiar with the answer. Just a week before he spoke, Biden’s top national security official said conditions had not been met to call it a genocide, and the State Department has not yet said whether it has found evidence to change that stance.
While watching scenes of atrocities popping up over the past week, Biden had privately suggested they could be evidence of genocide, according to the person familiar with the matter. Yet it had not been made official by his administration when he called it a genocide in public.
It was the latest example of Biden’s long-standing political features of equal talk and empathy being tested in his new, high-profile role. His allies and advisers say these characteristics serve as a clarifying force for a mostly united Western alliance. And Biden has privately said that there is little time to waste on calling Putin’s actions what they clearly are.
But some have questioned his impulses, wondering if a more disciplined approach could work better.
After saying in Iowa that it was “clearer and clearer” that the genocide was taking place in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern that the escalating language could hamper attempts to negotiate a solution to the violence.
“I will continue to try, as much as I can, to stop this war and rebuild peace. I am not sure that an escalation of rhetoric serves that cause,” Macron said. He had similarly warned of escalation following Biden’s comment in Warsaw that Putin should no longer be in power.
Other world leaders welcomed Biden’s openness. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he believed it was “absolutely true that more and more people” are using the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Still, the Canadian leader stopped accusing the Kremlin of committing genocide.
The bite comes out in front of the rest of its administration
“There are certain legal obligations that come with a formal decision on genocide,” Victoria Nuland, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, told CNN the day after Biden’s remarks.
Yet the White House was careful not to trivialize the words as merely the pondering of a private citizen.
“He is the president and we are here to implement his views,” said press secretary Jen Psaki. “I think we should not misunderstand who he is and where he stands on the totem pole, which is at the top.”
In the end, Biden’s comment on the genocide is not expected to bring about any immediate change in US policy toward Ukraine, prompting some to wonder what the benefit of saying it was.
“For me, the biggest question is, what purpose does it serve? We can have a philosophical, legal debate about whether what the Russians have done to date is technically genocide. They have clearly committed a number of acts that fall under “But then the question is, why talk about it that way? Does it make it easier to end the war?” said Richard Haass, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
“I have to be honest with you, I do not see the benefit of doing this, and do not get me wrong, that is not what the Russians are doing,” Haass continued. “It’s not like it’s not terrible things. My question now is, how does it serve the American strategic and political purpose? And I have to be honest with you, I can not see how it does.”
In the end, Biden’s remark was rooted in the same place as his determination that Putin could not remain in power: the destructive emotions of the conflict, which have unfolded in hard-to-see images of atrocities and suffering. Biden himself has lamented that his ability to testify about the suffering of Ukraine as president is limited by the burdensome but necessary features of the job.
“We will not send the president to Ukraine”
When he planned his visit to Poland last month, Biden’s team examined the possibility of crossing the border to visit Ukraine, which would send an important signal of support. President Volodymyr Zelensky had urged Biden to visit Kiev again and again in a phone call before Russia’s invasion and had continued to publicly urge Western leaders to take the trip.
White House officials, discussing the prospect of Biden slipping into Ukraine, weighed both the U.S. footprint such a visit would require – including military and Secret Service assets, along with an entourage of aides and the press – as well. as what Ukrainian resources would be. required.
“They will not let me, understandably, I think, cross the border and look at what is going on in Ukraine,” he said.
As a senator and vice president, Biden was a regular visitor to US war zones, including on secret, dark-at-night tours – a fact he mentioned when he met troops inside a stadium in Poland.
“I have been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan about 40 times,” he recalled.
But unlike a stop in Iraq or Afghanistan where U.S. bases and personnel could help secure airspace, Ukraine is not a U.S. war zone, and Biden has consistently refused to send U.S. troops into the country itself.
As Russian troops withdrew from the area around Ukraine, a stream of Western leaders reached into the country. First was the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who stopped to see scenes of atrocities in the city of Bucha before traveling on to Kiev.
When he saw from Washington, Biden could not help but long to go himself. Since taking office, he has long maintained that it is far preferable to meet leaders face-to-face rather than talk on the phone, and last month’s last month’s NATO summit in Brussels was his idea. As a politician, his strength has always been in human interaction with ordinary people.
Yet even the logistics of the British leader’s visit – which included planes, trains and helicopters – would prove impossible for an American leader.
Since returning from Europe, Biden has used his public appearances to focus exclusively on domestic issues, and to scale up his travels around the country to highlight economic progress, while his approval ratings continue to decline. Helpers say kitchen table problems are a priority and his schedule reflects that.
Biden said this week that he was still deciding whether to send a high-ranking US official to Ukraine. When he jokingly asked a journalist if they were ready to go, they shot back: “Are you?”
“Yes,” said Biden.
“He’s ready, he’s ready for anything. The man likes fast cars, some airmen, he’s ready to go to Ukraine,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday in an interview with Pod Save America.
Still, she was aware that there was no prospect of such a trip becoming a reality: “We are not sending the president to Ukraine,” she said.