President Joe Biden’s flipping puts the flapjack cooks at IHOP to shame. Sadly, he’s not flipping delicious pancakes, but America’s strategic positions on sending certain weapons to Ukraine.
Biden’s pattern of initial reluctance to send advanced weapons, followed by a change of heart under pressure from the media and allies, sends a dangerous message to America’s allies and enemies alike that Washington lacks resolve.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Biden has repeatedly stated that the U.S. and its NATO allies would not provide Kyiv with certain weapons, lest it escalate into a direct conflict between NATO and Russia, or even provoke a nuclear war with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yet, time and time again, the president has changed his mind, belatedly agreeing to send Ukraine weapons that may have had a greater impact if he had done so earlier.
In March 2022, Biden said, “The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand—and don’t kid yourself, no matter what you all say—that’s called ‘World War III.’ OK?”
Biden has not yet sent American pilots with American crews, but he has repeatedly escalated U.S. and NATO involvement beyond his previous “red lines.”
Critics, among them Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., have condemned Biden’s “‘drip-drip-drip’ approach” to arming Ukraine as costing the defense “valuable time.”
“This strategy harms American interests by prolonging the war,” Wicker said.
Here is a list of “red lines” Biden appeared to draw for himself, but later crossed:
1. Fighter Jets
On March 8, 2022, the United States rejected an offer from NATO ally Poland to transfer its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets to a U.S. base in Germany en route to Ukraine’s air force to combat Russia’s invasion, Reuters reported. The prospect of transporting aircraft from NATO territory into the war zone “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” the Pentagon said.
Yet in May of this year, Biden told allies that he would support an international coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on Western fighters, clearing the way for Western jets to take the skies over Ukraine.
Russia has maintained air superiority in the meantime, and a Pentagon official reportedly told Ukraine that it would take 18 to 24 months to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16. U.S. officials said they had higher priorities to prepare for Ukraine’s spring offensive than training the pilots.
It remains unclear what difference Polish MiG-29s would have made had Biden approved them in March 2022, but it seems the U.S. and its allies could have equipped Ukraine far better for the war in the air had Biden greenlit air support more than a year earlier than he did.
2. Patriot Air Defense Systems
On March 10, 2022, the Pentagon announced it would not send the Patriot air-defense system to Ukraine.
“There’s no discussion about putting a Patriot battery in Ukraine,” a defense official said, Defense One reported. “In order to do that, you have to put U.S. troops with it to operate it. It is not a system that the Ukrainians are familiar with, and as we have made very clear, there will be no U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine.”
Yet last December, Pentagon officials told CNN that they were finalizing a plan to send Patriot systems to the embattled country. U.S. troops would train Ukrainians to use the missile systems at a U.S. Army base in Germany.
The typical Patriot battery includes a radar set that detects and tracks targets, computers, power-generating equipment, a control station, and up to eight launchers, which can fire four missiles each. A group of 65 Ukrainian soldiers completed their training in March.
3. Multiple Rocket-Launch System
“We’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia,” Biden said on May 30, after a Russian TV host warned that providing Ukraine with a Multiple Launch Rocket System would “cross a red line.”
Yet on the very next day, U.S. officials confirmed that America would send that type of missile system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, to Ukraine.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told CNN that Ukraine would use the weapons only to defend his country’s territory, not to attack Russia.
In mid-January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly ruled out sending U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. “We should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful,” Austin’s policy chief, Colin Kahl, said.
Eleven months after Biden emphasized Russian tanks in his remarks on the Ukraine invasion, his administration finally agreed to send 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The Pentagon approved the first tanks for shipment on Monday.
On Jan. 25, under pressure from NATO partners, such as Germany, who took the position that they would not provide tanks unless the U.S. did, Biden finally agreed to send in the tanks. What about the concerns about maintenance or training? Apparently, they were surmountable after all.
5. Cluster Munitions
Despite Russia’s widespread use of cluster munitions and the fact that the U.S. and other nations were struggling to keep up with Ukraine’s need for artillery shells, in December, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would not provide cluster munitions to Kyiv. “According to our own policy, we have concerns about the use of those kinds of munitions,” he explained.
Apparently, that changed, too. On July 8, the U.S. announced it would now send cluster munitions, and the same John Kirby took to the podium to praise the effectiveness of the munitions. “They’re using them effectively, and they are actually having an impact on Russia’s defensive formations and Russia’s defensive maneuvering,” he said. “I think I can leave it at that.”
Why the Confusion?
“What can explain all this dithering on decisions to send weapons to Ukraine?” Tom Spoehr, director of the Center For National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, asked in comments to The Daily Signal. He attributed the dithering to “an over-fixation on worries about what Russia might do in response.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“Certainly, the administration must be mindful not to push the conflict into World War III, but it is also useful to remember who started the conflict, which party has committed so many war crimes that they are now routine, and nearly nightly uses ballistic and cruise missiles to pound non-military targets in Ukraine, such as hospitals, apartment buildings, and shopping centers,” Spoehr added.
“In the midst of the Civil War battle of the Wilderness facing Gen. Robert E. Lee, General and future President Ulysses S. Grant told one of his subordinates, ‘Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do … . Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.’”
“That might not be bad advice for the White House, either.”
Alex Velez-Green, a senior adviser at Heritage, noted that Biden’s flip-flopping might undermine America’s ability to deter China, its major rival on the world stage.
“America’s priority should be to deter China even as it pushes our NATO allies to do more to defend Europe,” Velez-Green told The Daily Signal. “It’s hard to see how Biden’s decision to send certain weapons to Ukraine after previously ruling them out helps with either of those efforts.”
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