Did the US and NATO land on the correct policy in the end? Probably, for reasons Allahpundit laid out last night, but that’s not the only value in play when leading the Free World in its biggest crisis since the Cold War. Even at that, the Pentagon’s explanation of their risk-benefit calculation has generated bipartisan blowback on Capitol Hill:
Dem & GOP Sens blasting the admin for not supporting the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine.
Romney: “I believe there is a sentiment that we are fearful about what Putin might do & what he might consider as an escalation. It is time for him to he fearful of what we might do.”
— Kylie Atwood (@kylieatwood) March 10, 2022
Regardless of whether one thinks that the jet transfer was a risk worth taking, the criticism coming from Romney and Senate Democrats speaks to another issue — strategic leadership. We’ve covered the lack of strategic thinking from the Biden administration in a number of different contexts, from oil prices to the embrace of Iran over the Sunnis and even on domestic policies like the supply chain crisis. Now Politico presents a tick-tock of the Ukraine-jets decision that all but puts Joe Biden’s lack of strategic thinking in stunning Technicolor.
It paints a picture of a leader so adrift that the last argument wins:
Officials in Kyiv, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a weekend Zoom call with US lawmakers, have pressed hard to acquire European fighter jets, claiming the enhanced airpower would help them inflict further damage on Russian forces. Videos posted to social media during the two weeks of fighting have shown the invading army massed in large, slow columns bottlenecked on roads, where Ukrainian-operated Turkish drones and ground troops with Javelin missiles have turned hundreds of Russian vehicles into burning husks.
But skeptics inside the Biden administration pushed back on the idea of green-lighting the transfer of Poland’s MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine, and President Joe Biden sided with those skeptics, three US officials said.
Sounds decisive, no? Er… no. As Politico reports, the initial idea got shot down, then revived under popular pressure in Washington and Europe. “That’s when things started getting weird,” Politico’s team writes. Weird isn’t the correct word, however — the correct term is “incompetent.”
Biden administration officials came up with the idea of the three-way swap that Poland enthusiastically embraced for multiple reasons, likely among them that they would have access to upgraded fighters in exchange. The idea had such thorough buy-in at the White House that Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered an explicit and public “green light” on Face the Nation four days ago:
Poland has a “green light” to send its warplanes, he said. “In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”
“We’re in very active discussions with them about that,” he added.
Having made the offer publicly, Poland moved forward on its plan to conduct its swap publicly, too. In the meantime, however, Biden got an earful from the Pentagon and scotched the plan:
Five US officials said there was a general agreement within the administration that Washington should work with Warsaw to support Ukraine. But staffers from the Pentagon and intelligence community opposed the three-way plan, namely because they feared the move would drag NATO — and thus the US — into a direct confrontation with Russia. Additionally, the Pentagon voiced concerns that the F-16s required to backfill Poland would need extensive downgrading so as to not potentially compromise highly classified avionics systems installed on those planes.
Biden, per three US officials, agreed with the Pentagon and intelligence view, in part over concerns that Russia would see America openly helping NATO send fighter jets into Ukraine as an escalation.
Shouldn’t that discussion have taken place before sending Blinken out to make the offer in public? A strategic move like this would normally require an all-hands discussion, not the least of which purpose would be to discuss preparations for a variety of reactions. Instead, it appears that Biden changed his mind whenever anyone new stepped into the room.
Now his aides want to blame Poland for their “surprise” embrace of the offer Blinken made on national television by offering them directly back to Blinken:
“To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us that they planned to give these planes to us,” Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of State for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. “I was in a meeting where I ought to have known about that just before I came. So I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles.”
How can it have been a surprise move by Poland on Tuesday when Blinken explicitly offered on Sunday to replace the jets it would send to Ukraine? Did the White House even talk with Poland about the parameters of the deal that Blinken suggested, or did he just shoot his mouth off and fail to follow up? If the White House was surprised that Poland took Blinken and Biden seriously, they can rest easy on that point. We can certainly bet that our European allies won’t make that mistake again.
It’s bad enough when Biden’s lack of strategic thinking impacts our domestic policy. It’s catastrophic to national security in a serious crisis, and it will get people killed. Our enemies are watching this unfold and know that they’re playing chess with a president and administration that struggles to keep up in checkers.
And one has to wonder whether that calculation has already had an impact:
Time to start asking if the reversal on Poland giving Ukraine the MiGs, after Secretary Blinken gave it the “green light” Sunday, is because Russia demanded they be pulled during negotiations on Iran. https://t.co/j1Bk6Njhku
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) March 10, 2022
That is, of course, yet another reason why we shouldn’t be negotiating with Iran and Russia in the first place.