Lots of people (including me, sometimes) complain about the Democratic Party’s or Democratic politicians’ messaging skills. Well, Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine is powerful messaging for a domestic and international audience. In The Daily Beast, David Rothkopf gives his take on how it will land with several audiences.
On the most obvious level, the visit was meant to convey support for and respect to Ukraine and communicate the strength of the U.S. commitment to allied leaders who might wonder what our bizarro-world House circus means for support in the long run.
Rothkopf notes the visit also signals what a high priority Ukraine is for the U.S. so that opponents like China understand the risk entailed in ramping up assistance to Putin.
It’s also a message for Putin, Trump and their supporters, which have considerable overlap:
To Vladimir Putin, it was Biden’s way of saying, “I am here in Kyiv and you are not. You not only did not take Kyiv in days as some predicted, but your attack was rebuffed. Your army suffered a humiliating defeat from which it has not recovered…”
NATO, recently adrift and doubted by other U.S. political leaders, was stronger than ever, on the verge of expanding. America’s international leadership, recently in doubt, was once again beyond doubting.
In sending this message, Biden pointedly evoked without mentioning his name yet another American president in a visit to the Eastern edges of Europe: Donald Trump during his 2018 Helsinki meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Biden went to Europe to send Putin a message of American and allied strength. Trump went to grovel before Putin. Biden stood up for American values and our allies. Trump said he trusted Putin more than America’s own intelligence and law enforcement services. Biden embodied America’s strength. Trump illustrated and represented our greatest weakness.
Rothkopf says Trump’s gross, subservient behavior in Helsinki probably “encouraged Putin to undertake his ill-fated, hugely costly, profoundly ill-considered invasion last February.”
I find that more convincing than theories from guys like John Mearsheimer,* who blame the U.S. and E.U. for enticing Ukraine and other former Eastern bloc nations with visions of life in a Western-style democracy, as if those sovereign countries have no agency.
Anyhoo — messaging! It’s good!
*Speaking of Mearsheimer, he was once absolutely pantsed on this topic by the incomparable Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker. As I said when Mr. Chotiner interviewed Alan Dershowitz about being “cancelled” by Martha’s Vineyard, in the unlikely event I ever see the name “Isaac Chotiner” appear as an incoming call, I will throw the phone into the river, change my name and flee the country.