Biden stuck the landing. But there was a slight stumble on his way off the floor.
After delivering the most powerful address to a global audience by an American president in decades, Joe just couldn’t help being Joe. His off-script closing sentence upstaged his text, and muddied what had to that point been a paragon of unambiguous clarity.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Face palms in the White House, followed by clacking keyboards.
Unforced error, followed by State Department ‘Splainin’.
“What the president was trying to say was…” That’s never a good thing, especially in a crisis in which a misunderstanding or misinterpretation could lead to swift escalation.
Look, I’m not personally offended. First, I don’t get “offended.” Beyond that, Putin is a murderous butcher and he cannot remain in power if we are to have peace in Eastern Europe. But after righteously dissecting Putin from a podium in Warsaw, Biden unnecessarily and ham-handedly gave Putin a way to rally and distract the Russian people.
“Regime change.” Perhaps you recall it’s a term that has regularly been problematic in America’s global relations.
The White House and State Department, at warp speed, issued statements saying that’s not what the president meant. But it is what he said, or at least it could be opportunistically re-cast as what he said. And that’s exactly what Putin and his Kremlin cronies are already doing.
That’s sloppy. And imprecise. And at a moment when the world can ill afford sloppy imprecision.
Putin will now add “self-defense” to his long and absurd list of pretexts for waging his criminal war.
Until that compulsive ad lib, Biden had done a masterful job of avoiding giving Putin a way to cast this as a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia.
There’s a reason we call a script a script, Joe. Stick to it.