Biden Pleads for Regime Change in Russia

The President commits a Kinsley gaffe.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the Royal Castle, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Warsaw, Poland March 26, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WaPo (“Biden says Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ in forceful speech in Poland“):

President Biden forcefully denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Saturday, casting Moscow’s aggression as “the test of all time” for democracy before ending his sunset speech here by saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said, in an unscripted remark that came at the end of his roughly 30-minute address.

The White House raced to clarify his comment, issuing a statement saying that Biden had not actually meant what he’d said.

“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a White House official said in a statement. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

Even aside from that remark, Biden’s speech in Warsaw — the capstone of a three-day trip to Europe — marked the most defiant and aggressive speech about Russia by an American president since Ronald Reagan, and came as the war between Russia and Ukraine entered its second month.

Biden sought to use his address at the Royal Castle in Poland’s capital to send a clear and unmistakable message to Putin and the world: “Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.”

Biden and his team specifically chose as his backdrop the Royal Castle, which was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt as a monument to Polish history and culture. The building, a White House official said, represents the resilience and the indomitable spirit of the Polish people and provided a natural setting for Biden to deliver a clarion call about the stakes of democracy.

Biden’s off-the-cuff comment about Putin needing to be removed from power came at the climax of his speech, and Biden himself seemed caught up in the force of his rhetoric — riding the wave of his oration right into a nine-word statement his aides had not intended him to utter.

The remark surprised aides, who knew it was not included in his prepared remarks, said a person familiar with the issue who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of a sensitive situation. In the minutes after the speech, administration officials — who have long made a point of not calling for regime change in Russia — scrambled to clarify Biden’s comments.

NYT (“Biden Condemns Putin, Saying He ‘Cannot Remain in Power’“):

President Biden ended three days of diplomacy in Europe on Saturday that brought him within miles of the war in Ukraine, using a speech in Poland to rally American allies for what he said would be a long fight and escalating his personal denunciation of Vladimir V. Putin, saying the Russian leader “cannot remain in power.”

Mr. Biden described the war in sweeping terms, as “a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” He portrayed it as part of a long struggle against authoritarianism, linking it to past uprisings against Soviet domination in Eastern Europe.

[…]

Mr. Biden’s remark, in the closing lines of his speech, was quickly examined for signs of whether it was a considered declaration that the United States sought Mr. Putin’s ouster. Some analysts described it as undermining Mr. Biden’s diplomacy on the trip and potentially giving Mr. Putin grounds to extend the war. Others described it as an off-the-cuff expression of Mr. Biden’s exasperation that Mr. Putin, whom he recently called a “war criminal,” could lead Russia.

WSJ (“Biden Says Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘Cannot Remain in Power’“):

President Biden appeared to call for Vladimir Putin’s ouster in a speech Saturday, saying the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine had ignited a “new battle for freedom” between democracies and autocracies.

[…]

Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, in remarks carried by Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, responded to Mr. Biden: “Such personal insults are narrowing down the window of opportunity for our bilateral relationship under the current [U.S.] administration.”

Mr. Biden has previously called Mr. Putin a “war criminal.” His comment was formalized days later, with the U.S. government accusing Russia of war crimes. Moscow summoned U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan on Monday to hand him a note of protest over Mr. Biden’s comment, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that relations between Moscow and Washington were “on the verge of a rupture.”

Reuters (“Biden says Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ in fiery speech on Ukraine war”):

U.S. President Joe Biden said that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” in Poland Saturday, remarks a White House official said later were meant to prepare the world’s democracies for extended conflict over Ukraine, not back regime change in Russia.

Biden’s comments on Saturday, including a statement earlier in the day calling Putin a “butcher,” were a sharp escalation of the U.S. approach to Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Michael Shear and David Sanger of NYT ask “Was Biden’s barbed remark about Putin a slip or a veiled threat?” Alas, they provide no answer.

On its face, he appeared to be calling for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be ousted for his brutal invasion of Ukraine. But Mr. Biden’s aides quickly insisted that the remark — delivered in front of a castle that served for centuries as a home for Polish monarchs — was not intended as an appeal for regime change.

Whatever his intent, the moment underscored the dual challenges Mr. Biden faced during three extraordinary summit meetings in Belgium and an up-close look at the war’s consequences from Poland: keeping America’s allies united against Mr. Putin, while at the same time avoiding an escalation with Russia, which the president has said could lead to World War III.

[…]

Several of the administration’s most ardent supporters in the foreign policy world quickly chided the president for seeming to seek Mr. Putin’s removal. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, called it a “bad lapse in discipline that runs risk of extending the scope and duration of the war.”

While American officials still insist their goal is not regime change in Moscow, even the president’s top national security advisers have made clear they want Mr. Putin to emerge strategically weakened.

WaPo’s Tyler Pager and Matt Viser weigh in with “How Biden sparked a global uproar with nine ad-libbed words about Putin.”

During his presidential campaign, President Biden often reminded his audience about the heavy weight that the words of a president can carry.

“The words of a president matter,” he said more than once. “They can move markets. They can send our brave men and women to war. They can bring peace.”

They can also, as Biden discovered on Saturday, spark a global uproar in the middle of a war.

[…]

White House officials were adamant the remark was not a sign of a policy change, but they did concede it was just the latest example of Biden’s penchant for stumbling off message. And like many of his unintended comments, they came at the end of his speech as he ad-libbed and veered from the carefully crafted text on the teleprompter.

“The speech was quite remarkable,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is one of those speeches where the one-liner in many ways drowns out the intent of the speech. Because that’s exactly what people are focusing on.”

Miller said that had the White House not immediately clarified, the comment would have led to a significant shift in policy and signaled to Putin that the United States would attempt to drive him out of office. It is unclear what the full impact of the comment may be in coming days.

“I’m risk averse by nature, especially with a guy who has nuclear weapons,” he said. “But will it have operational consequences? I don’t know.”

It likely signals to Putin what he already suspected about Biden’s true feelings, and it almost certainly will be used as part of Russia’s propaganda.

“I guess you can call this a gaffe from the heart,” Miller said. “If Biden could close his eyes tomorrow and have 10 wishes, one would be there’s a leadership change in Russia.”

But the comment also seemed to provide a window into Biden’s current thinking, and some of the mind-set that the administration has with regard to Putin.

“What it tells me, and worries me, is that the top team is not thinking about plausible war termination,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book “The Art of War in an Age of Peace: U.S. Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint.”

Der Spiegel’s René Pfister frets over “The dangerous regime change game.”

Joe Biden has the special talent of tearing down with his loose mouth what he has previously worked hard to build up. The world can be happy that the Democrat is sitting in the White House in the Ukraine crisis and not Donald Trump, who considers Vladimir Putin to be a genius and who could only be prevented from leading the USA out of NATO with great difficulty .

[…]

Biden spoke as one would wish from an American president: emotional, full of historical references and yet to the point – if Biden had not said the fateful sentence at the end: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

It was a statement that could only be understood as a call for regime change in Moscow . Now it is always desirable when a dictator disappears – especially one with as much blood on his hands as Putin. But Biden is not speaking in private. If his words are meant seriously, a series of complicated questions immediately follow: Can the US still conduct negotiations with a man who is to be ousted from power? Is the US actively supporting a transfer of power in Moscow? How do you ensure that Putin’s successor doesn’t go from bad to worse? Or even worse: that the nuclear power Russiain chaos? And from Putin’s point of view: Isn’t he now more than ever forced to win this war by any means necessary, because otherwise he faces the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi ?

All of these things should be thought through before making such a sweeping statement. But evidently, Biden’s sentence wasn’t planned, it was one of those rhetorical blunders he’s been known for for decades and has gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion. But now it’s not about a failed election campaign slogan, but about war and peace.

This is a classic example of what has become known as the “Kinsley gaffe,” after a 2007 column by Michael Kinsley which is literally illustrated with a photo of Joe Biden.

It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth–or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down. [emphasis mine-jhj]

Journalists enjoy gaffes as a slight taste of human reality at the banquet of artifice where they sup. But a small secret is that journalists don’t mind spin either. A politician’s ability to spin is a measure of his or her professionalism, which journalists respect. Furthermore, spin needs to be interpreted, which is the journalist’s job. If politicians were totally truthful, political journalists would be out of business.

Kinsley wrote that we should judge these gaffes against what we already know about the speaker. In Biden’s case, then as now, he’s “pathologically loquacious. And he babbles.”

We like him for the former and rather wish he’d stop with the latter, particularly when conducting matters of the gravest national security. But it’s who he is and everyone, including Russian decision-makers, should reasonably be expected to adjust for it. Biden has bent over backward to make clear that he isn’t going to use military force against Russia.

Other Presidents I’ve voted for have done similar things, it should be noted. Two examples come readily to mind.

Ronald Reagan, for whom I cast my first vote, joked in what he thought was off-air testing ahead of an August 1984 radio broadcast, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” It was mostly laughed off but there are reports that it put Moscow on heightened alert.

His successor, George H.W. Bush, declared in a February 1991 speech toward the end of the first Gulf War, “There’s another way for the bloodshed to stop, and this is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” Intended as a call to action by Baathist leaders, it instead encouraged a Kurdish rebellion that required a second US intervention and the establishment of a no-fly zone that lasted more than a decade. And Bush is widely considered, including by me, a first-rate foreign policy President.

Again, it would be better if Biden hadn’t ad-libbed that line. But saying things he probably shouldn’t when speaking from his heart is who he’s always been.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Lounsbury says:

    This paragraph commits the error of asserting that the other side must understand things like yourself.

    We like him for the former and rather wish he’d stop with the latter, particularly when conducting matters of the gravest national security. But it’s who he is and everyone, including Russian decision-makers, should reasonably be expected to adjust for it. Biden has bent over backward to make clear that he isn’t going to use military force against Russia.

    While you may well expect that, “should reasonably” is a kind of navel gazing mirroring that consistently gets one in trouble in this context.

    Certainly if I were in the Putin circle shoes, I would find this rather alarming, NATO side actors saying “should reasonably” be damned, as for them they can have real doubts about what is deception, what is posturing (the lessons of the 1980s Able Archer should come to mind as to the fallaciousness of a “should reasonably” judgement).

    This was a dangerous and unhelpful slip that certainly will harden the Putin circle.

    Well people are people and things happen, but dangerous and unhelpful.

    1
  2. Mikey says:

    All the parsing and picking and walk-backs and appeals to diplomacy aren’t going to change a thing because the President is 100% correct and everyone on Earth knows it, including Putin himself. There’s no way he gets out of this and remains in power. Not after what his incredible blunder has done to Russia. It will remain a pariah nation as long as he holds office.

    8
  3. Lounsbury says:

    @Mikey: Declarative statements like “no way” are pure emotionalism. Rather like the statements made about Assad since 2011. Cheap moral statements do not make realities. As again Syria reflects (or if one wishes another political flavour, Iran).

    The US Presiden stating this in this fashion is – for non Americans – a threat, not merely your internal politics and self-indulgent moral posturing.

    In the paranoid mindset of Putin and his KGB circle, this will be almost certainly understood as an open threat. Which then ups the stakes of any potential perception of weakness and thus compromise. And by extension ups the stakes for ending combat in the Ukraine, to the cost of real people continuing to die pointlessly.

    Moral outrage from afar is cheap and easy as is Must Be posturing.

    Putin is without doubt a war criminal in the abstract, like Assad, and an amoral monster by reasonable judgement, but that does not change realities.

    1
  4. Mikey says:

    @Lounsbury: It’s not emotionalism, it’s a realistic assessment of the consequences of Putin’s action.

    “for non Americans” Huh. I know plenty of non-Americans. I married a non-American. And surprise, surprise, the opinion of non-Americans isn’t unified either. Even if they believe Biden’s statement was ill-timed, they agree Putin will have to go.

    But hey, thanks for the reply. It’s always good to have a counterpoint.

    6
  5. MarkedMan says:

    Without getting into the “should he have said it?” question, I wonder what the effect will be given that it’s been said? One possible effect is to make the enemy a specific individual (Putin is a monster) rather than a people (We should hold Russians in contempt). I suspect it is more beneficial for eventual Russian reintegration for the consensus to be that Putin is the problem, however simplistic that might be in reality.

    4
  6. Lounsbury says:

    @Mikey: It is emotionalism, as there is no objective basis that leads to a conclusion that “There’s no way he gets out of this and remains in power” as there is ample potential pathways (as demonstrated by Assad) for “getting out of this” [ current war] and remaining in power. It is empty moral posturing.

    @MarkedMan: If Russian security establishment reads it in an American reading. Rather than seeing themselves and their system targetted.

    It is possible they will see a path to simply get rid of Putin, but given the American history in this context of ideologically rerunning WW II for every conflict (yes they are too, thus indeed reinforcing the potential reading), as like Iraq, they have an ample basis to understand this more broadly reading and understanding, and orienting them to rally round the person/system.

  7. Mikey says:

    @Lounsbury: I’m not saying the West should somehow remove him (assuming it would even be possible, which I don’t). I’m saying the damage he’s done to Russia is so tremendous that internal forces will work to remove him from power. Those who have long benefited from his holding power are now seeing their wealth bled away and Russia’s standing in the world destroyed. They will want to restore both and they will not see it as possible while Putin remains in office.

    I think I’m right about this, but even if I’m eventually proven wrong it’s a reasonable position to take.

    3
  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Mikey:

    I’m saying the damage he’s done to Russia is so tremendous that internal forces will work to remove him from power.

    Unfortunately I don’t think the world works that way. I can think of a dozen dictators who have brought their countries to ruin but died in power as rich old men.

    1
  9. Mikey says:

    @MarkedMan: And I can think of a few who haven’t.

    That all being said, and with a nod to @Lounsbury, I’ll modify my original comment to say “I don’t believe there’s any way he gets out of this and remains in power.”

    1
  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Way to go Joe! Give ’em Hell!

    3
  11. Kingdaddy says:

    I’m just happy we’ve returned to the assumption that the President’s words matter, instead of just suffering whatever diarrhetic burblings came out of TGS’s mouth.

    12
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    I savor those rare moments when a politician just blurts out the truth. Putin must go if Russia is to rejoin the world. Putin must go if Europe is to feel safe. Putin must go if any justice is to be achieved. The only acceptable end to this war is complete Russian withdrawal, reparations and Putin’s head on a pole mounted on the Kremlin wall.

    Call me a giddy optimist but this simple declaration may help motivated Russians of the military or intelligence persuasion see a vision of the future. Gaffe? Meh, maybe, maybe not. In the Civil War there was a lot of criticism of the idea of unconditional surrender, but in the end we got unconditional surrender. In WW2 the same criticism, the same result.

    Ukraine and its allies should not allow a face-saving exit for Putin. He should get nothing, and he should never be accepted back into the drawing room of decent society. The quickest and perhaps best way for Russia to crawl out of this hole and save their economy is by liquidating Putin. They can remove Putin and find a future with the West, or they can keep Putin and embrace a future for Russia as the tail on the Chinese dog. Prosperity or subservience, that’s the choice for Russia, there is no longer an option to form its own sphere of influence.

    5
  13. drj says:

    Unhelpful comment, but essentially no big deal.

    For years now, Putin has believed that the West is seeking to topple him through a color revolution. In that sense, nothing has now changed.

    Regardless, the US is openly supplying billions in arms to Ukraine to fight a war that has turned into an existential threat to Russia’s leadership. It’s hard to see how, practically speaking, Biden’s words complicate matters further.

    2
  14. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: ” Gaffe? Meh, maybe, maybe not.”

    With you on this one. As soon as the words were out of Biden’s mouth the entire Church of the Savvy rushed to agree with each other that Biden had accidentally misspoken and what will happen because of that.

    But it’s quite possible that this was both intentional and planned. Putin keeps raising the stakes in his rhetoric — now the entire west wants to destroy Russia the same way they’re destroying JK Rowling, for instance. Biden may be sending a message that — unlike the last administration — he and America are not going to be Putin’s whipping boy.

    3
  15. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kingdaddy:..TGS
    I usually wait to ask as maybe someone else will inquire first. No one ever does. Apparently I am the only one in the dark.
    TGS?

  16. drj says:

    But it’s quite possible that this was both intentional and planned.

    Nah, in that case there would be no need to walk it back.

  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It would be a mistake on the part of the West to assume that simply removing Putin would reduce the threat to Europe. Putinism, if that is how we want to call how Russians’ believe that it is their destiny to restore dominion over the areas that comprised the USSR and even more the 18th & 19th century Russian Empire is prevalent throughout the Russian leadership class and is reflected in the Russian street as well.

    Putin needs to go, but his successor will continue to be a danger.

    2
  18. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: And the return to Americans seeing everything as WWII no matter the complete unfitness of the example.

  19. DK says:

    Saying the quiet part out loud.

  20. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    I don’t know, either.

  21. charon says:

    I posted some stuff on this in the Forum thread today. It is not just Putin any more than Germany was just Hitler. Remember, the plot to assassinate Hitler was by officers who felt Hitler was screwing up the Wehrmacht’s prospects for success. Russia will still be a big problem whether Putin or someone else is running the show.

    The relevant links:

    https://twitter.com/SlavaMalamud/status/1506607284683788288

    https://theconversation.com/holy-wars-how-a-cathedral-of-guns-and-glory-symbolizes-putins-russia-176786

  22. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..TGS
    I checked WkiP. Could not find anything that would fit the context.

  23. charon says:

    @charon: @Sleeping Dog:

    This link:

    https://tec.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/aleksandr-dugins-foundations-geopolitics

    A very long read, a small part:

    (Book by guy often called “Putin’s brain.”)

    In 1991-1992, Prokhanov and Dugin attempted to form an alliance between certain leaders of the European New Right and several department heads and professors at the Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The first issue of Elementy in 1992 published the transcript of an April 1992 roundtable, held on the premises of the academy, which included Lieutenant General Nikolai Klokotov, head of the academy’s strategy department; Lieutenant General Nikolai Pishchev, deputy head of the same department; Major General Vladislav Iminov, head of the academy’s department of military history; Alain de Benoist, “the leader of the European New Right”; and Jean Lalou, another New Right spokesman. 12

    The commander of the General Staff Academy, General Igor’ Rodionov, was reported to be “particularly well-disposed toward Dugin,” and Dugin’s ideas evidently continued to enjoy his support once he became Russian Defense Minister in 1996-1997. 13 It may be significant that Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics was written during the time that Rodionov was serving as defense minister. 14

    The General Staff Academy and GRU’s interest in geopolitics and Eurasianism reached back some forty years. “Beginning in the 1950s,” Francoise Thorn remarked, “Soviet strategists like General Shtemenko and Admiral Gorshkov were inspired by Eurasianist thinking.” 15 As for Dugin, he singled out Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, a Soviet military chief of staff in the early 1980s, as “an outstanding geopolitician, strategist, and Eurasian.” 16

    The Geopolitics of Dugin’s 1997 Book

    Dugin’s militant views on geopolitics, as expressed in his 1997 “textbook,” presumably will strike Western readers as both crude and mad, representing a slight improvement over the ravings of Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii. Although Dugin’s ideas and prescriptions are indeed extreme, dangerous, and repellent, it should be emphasized that they are very much in the tradition of the writings of interwar fascists and adherents of the European Nouvelle Droite. Historically speaking, fascist thought more than once has resulted in explosive expansionism. It should be noted that Dugin does not focus primarily on military means as a way of achieving Russian dominance over Eurasia; rather, he advocates a fairly sophisticated program of subversion, destabilization, and disinformation spearheaded by the Russian special services, supported by a tough, hard-headed use of Russia’s gas, oil, and natural resource riches to pressure and bully other countries into bending to Russia’s will. Dugin apparently does not fear war in the least, but he would prefer to achieve his geopolitical goals without resorting to it.

    Drawing on the extensive twentieth-century literature on geopolitics–and especially on the interwar German school of Karl Haushofer–Dugin posits a primordial, dualistic conflict between “Atlanticism” (seafaring states and civilizations, such as the United States and Britain) and “Eurasianism” (land- based states and civilizations, such as Eurasia-Russia). 43 As Wayne Allensworth noted, once one penetrates below the surface of Dugin’s seemingly rational and scholarly language in Foundations of Geopolitics, one realizes that “Dugin’s geopolitics are mystical and occult in nature, the shape of world civilizations and the clashing vectors of historical development being portrayed as shaped by unseen spiritual forces beyond man’s comprehension.” 44 In Dugin’s treatise, as Allensworth underscores, the author has appropriated almost wholesale “the idea” of Belgian geopolitician Jean Thiriart, who “recognized the Russified Soviet Union as the final bastion of civilization in a Europe overrun by rootless American consumerism.” Thiriart earlier had advocated the formation of a new “Holy Alliance” of the USSR and Europe aimed at constructing a “Euro-Soviet Empire,” which would stretch from Vladivostok to Dublin and would also need to expand to the south, “since it required a port on the Indian Ocean.” 45

    Dugin emphasizes that the current Russian Federation, which appeared in 1991 from under the rubble of the USSR, is not a full-fledged state, but rather “a transitional formation in the broad and dynamic global geopolitical process” (183). The new states that have come into existence in the space of the former Soviet Union also do not, with the sole exception of Armenia, possess any markings of authentic statehood (187). Instead they represent artificial, ephemeral political constructs.

    The ethnic Russian people, in contrast, are seen as “the bearers of a unique civilization.” 47 Russians are a messianic people, possessing “universal, pan-human significance” (189). The Russian people, Dugin insists, can serve only as the core ethnos of a vast empire: “[T]he Russian people (i.e. Russia) never made its goal the creation of a mono-ethnic, racially uniform state” (190). Such a distorted view represents “the Atlanticist line masking itself as ‘Russian nationalism'” (213)

  24. becca says:

    @Mister Bluster: I’m betting a typo for TFG.

    1
  25. Just nutha says:

    @CSK: I thought he just mistyped TFG. Easy to do. Especially on a fone.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Sleeping Dog: @charon:
    Yes, Russia has always been a pain in the ass. No, it does not have to remain a pain in the ass. It could, theoretically at least, become a normal-ish country.

    @Lounsbury:
    Examples of US maximalist war demands and the success thereof:
    US vs. Mexico 1848
    US vs. Confederacy 1865
    US vs. Lakota and other tribes 19th century, various
    US vs. Spain 1898
    US vs. Japan 1945
    US et al vs. Germany et al 1945

    Examples of US acting with limited objectives and losing:
    1812, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq.

    Set out to score a draw and you may lose more often than when you are determined to win.

    3
  27. charon says:

    People familiar with Russia seem to think, in many cases, the likelihood of Putin’s removal is pretty slim. So, if that is the predicate for easing sanctions, in effect seeking Putin removal is a pretext to do the necessary – keep the sanctions on for a real long time.

  28. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It could, theoretically at least, become a normal-ish country.

    Opinions on the likelihood of this, or the ease of producing this vary.

    1
  29. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    US vs. Confederacy 1865

    Not my idea of a huge success, post war treatment of the defeated party was clearly a cock-up. viz Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan etc. etc. etc.

    3
  30. Sleeping Dog says:

    @charon:

    I’ve seen discussion of Dugan’s ideas and yes they are scary.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It could be a normal country and that would be wonderful, but there isn’t much evidence that there is an alternative leadership waiting in the wings.

    Along the lines of Dugan.

    Putin Is Just Following the Manual
    A utopian Russian novel predicted Putin’s war plan.

    An expansive Russia is pretty much baked into the cultural identity and has been since Peter the Great.

    1
  31. Gustopher says:

    The sanctions are clearly aimed at regime change — and are devastating the Russian economy enough that they will likely force regime change. Russia would like to be a first world nation, but that requires access to the rest of the world.

    That’s the pressure we’ve been putting on Putin. We can’t force the Russian army out of Ukraine, but we can crush the Russian economy enough that a few people who have gotten very wealthy under the current system get frustrated at not being able to access that wealth, and the masses are impoverished and answer the age old question “are you better off now than you were five years ago?” with a resounding “no”. And that sets the stage for regime change. It will happen sooner or later. That’s our lever.

    Putin can break up the west’s commitment to the sanctions by pulling out of Ukraine. It’s a path to remaining in power.

    With that as the background, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing for Biden to have said Putin cannot remain in power.

    1. It says what everyone knows.

    2. It adds a new, personal metric of success for Putin — remain in power to spite Joe Biden. If Putin is motivated by spite (many people are), it allows him to savor frustrating Biden’s plans to remove him, even as he is angry about having to abandon Ukraine.

    Anyway, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just saying what is known by all sides.

    2
  32. Kathy says:

    Biden’s not wrong, though who knows what kind of creature would follow Mad Vlad. Chavez was terrible for Venezuela, but Maduro’s been much worse.

    Biden can’t do much about it, though. Nukes aside, effecting regime change in the Russian Empire would Make Afghanistan and Iraq look like a short, pleasant like in comparison.

  33. JohnSF says:

    It may have been a mistake to say it out loud.
    But as a policy it’s been plain since the invasion began (and should have been even before that):
    There can be no route back from Cold War 2 with Putin in power.

    And further: the departure of Putin is necessary but not sufficient.

    As long as the “realist” concept of machtpolitik combines with the various ideologies of Great Russia and authoritarian politics into a neo-falangist revanchism, and that strain dominates in the Russian state, Russia is too dangerous to have normal relations with.

    A Cold War aimed at it’s containment, and economic degradation, over years to decades is required.
    Ending in what was, unfortunately, NOT done at the collapse of the Soviet Union, for all the ridiculous protestations of various Russian and other commentators:
    Humiliation.

    2
  34. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    And further: the departure of Putin is necessary but not sufficient.

    Germany really, really wants Russian gas.

    A kinder, gentler dictator selected from the oligarchs, who leaves the velvet glove on the iron fist is likely to cause the EU to split on the harshest sanctions. And at that point, we will have a choice between ineffective obstinance and naive optimism.

  35. charon says:

    So – here is another idea on where Russia is headed:

    https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1507820717127000064

    The best benchmark for Russian collapse isn’t Yugoslavia or Austro Hungary. It’s a fall of Spanish Colonial Empire with all of its creoles vs peninsulares divisions. Russia is much more of a Latin American country politics, economy, culture wise than many think.

    Sanctions won’t make Putin back off. They won’t make Russian people rebel. That’d be a collective action of a huge scale which isn’t gonna happen. They will undermine Russian military efforts and incentivize a much smaller scale, easier to do collective action – local separatism

    Russia won’t fall because of collective morally justified action. It’s cohesion will be broken by its own officials aiming to avoid catastrophe in their own region. That will be a de facto economic separatism, political one will come much later

    In discussing the collapse of Russia and rise of separatist states on its ruins, many focus on ethnic conflicts and identity politics. That’s not completely wrong. I’ll argue however that the main drivers of collapse will be geographic and socio economic

  36. charon says:

    @JohnSF:

    And further: the departure of Putin is necessary but not sufficient.

    A Cold War aimed at it’s containment, and economic degradation, over years to decades is required.

    What various eastern Europeans – people intimately familiar with Russia – keep saying, or at least implying. Also, Putin’s excellent adventure in Ukraine needs to end with a clear cut loss for Russia, no off ramp bullshit, no face saving bullshit.

  37. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Germany really, really wants Russian gas.

    Gas is pretty fungible, unlike crude oil, it’s a pretty standardized commodity.

    Problem is gearing up alternate source LNG plants, transportation facilities etc., will take some time.

  38. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    A kinder, gentler dictator selected from the oligarchs, who leaves the velvet glove on the iron fist is likely to cause the EU to split on the harshest sanctions. And at that point, we will have a choice between ineffective obstinance and naive optimism.

    That depends how alarmed people get by Russia’s behavior and how sustained the alarm lasts.

  39. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    In the short term.
    If Putin offers a peace acceptable to Ukraine, there will be significant pressures within Germany toward re-normalisation on order to continue gas flow at lower prices.

    However, the German establishment are not all utter fools.
    And remaining dependent on Russian hydrocarbons, so long as Putin or similar thinking leadership rules in Moscow, would be folly.
    It is plain that strategic dependency on an unreformed Russia is an unacceptable risk.

    Such dependency cannot be switched off immediately; but it can be and will be.

    Unless Putin escalates in Ukraine, Germany won’t readily stop the imports.

    But Cold War 2 is going to be a matter of years or decades, not days or weeks or months.

    Indeed, at less than current price levels it may be cheaper to synthesise methane using other electricity sources. (Hard figures on costs of mega-scale syngas production are remarkably difficult to discover)
    If that is the price of avoiding strategic dependence on Russia, it may be a price well worth paying, as it would also be a massive step towards net-zero.

  40. JohnSF says:

    @charon:

    …various eastern Europeans…

    Yes: the Poles< Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are all very hard nosed on this point.
    Also the Finns.
    Not been able yet to get a good read on Romania or Bulgaria.
    Hungary divided: Orban is trying to "grandmothers footsteps" back to cosiness with Vova, while not offending other EU too much.
    Especially Poland, which has shielded Orban from the ire of the westerners for years, but is now very much fed up with his antics.
    Interesting what the elections on April 3 will show.
    Orban's Fidesz still in the lead IIRC, but only by about 5%.

  41. JohnMcC says:

    One possible complication unmentioned above is the problem of maintaining a huge number of allies. As a war aim, turning Mr Putin out might not be popular everywhere.

    1
  42. Argon says:

    As if Putin hadn’t worked toward ‘regime change’ in the US…