Good Friday Morning! A special Friday morning to anyone who stayed awake to watch one of the worst NFL games in recent memory. Paraphrasing a commentator on Twitter, the Broncos-Colts game was the worst match-up for horses since the invention of the glue factory. Former NFL coach Wade Phillips remarked, “I think both team should consider punting on 1st down.”
That’s the kind of night that it was. And in the middle of all that, news leaked from a fundraiser in NYC where Biden was speaking. Biden has thoughts on our nuclear strategy and Vladimir Putin. I went from a planned newsletter on OPEC+’s oil cuts to trying to figure out what on earth the White House is doing. We’ll get to that below; links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter and become a subscriber at The Dispatch, where I’m a contributor.
[10/03/2022] Food insecurity is a new feature of Biden’s economy – Conservative Institute
[10/07/2022] Biden has only himself to blame for OPEC+ cuts – Conservative Institute
Biden raises specter of nuclear war with Russia.
One of my favorite historical moments to read about in US history is the Cuban Missile Crisis of the Kennedy administration. 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of those events, which occurred from October 16-29, 1962. Outside the WWII and Korean wars, it’s one of the only times we were legitimately on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
The other time we were briefly and absurdly on the brink of nuclear war was October 3, 1979. The infamous 3 am call, which was a topic of discussion in the 2008 Democratic debates:
During the 2008 campaign, Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debated the question: who was best suited to be suddenly awakened at 3 a.m. in the White House to make a tough call in a crisis. The candidates probably meant news of trouble in the Middle East or a terrorist attack in the United States or in a major ally, not an ‘end of the world’ phone call about a major nuclear strike on the United States. In fact at least one such phone call occurred during the Cold War, but it did not go to the President. It went to a national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was awakened on 9 November 1979, to be told that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the combined U.S.–Canada military command–was reporting a Soviet missile attack. Just before Brzezinski was about to call President Carter, the NORAD warning turned out to be a false alarm. It was one of those moments in Cold War history when top officials believed they were facing the ultimate threat. The apparent cause? The routine testing of an overworked computer system.
A computer error could have pushed us to nuclear oblivion if a more trigger-happy person had been in control. Fortunately, patience and a calm head prevented that episode from playing out.
The critical part of 20th Century leadership was that they all profoundly understood WWII and the dangers of nuclear war. We’ve moved beyond that generation now, and it’s showing. I realize that Biden was alive for that era. But there’s a reason he’s never been involved in major foreign policy decisions at any level until now. And Putin is a wild card.
We’re talking nukes because I don’t know what to make of Joe Biden or the White House. Thursday evening, Joe Biden spoke at a closed Democratic fundraiser in New York City. Ed O’Keefe at CBS News gave us the following:
BIDEN tonight: Putin “is not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.”
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.”
“There’s a lot at stake,” @POTUS Biden said at a closed-door DNC fundraiser in NYC tonight, per WH pooler @eschulze
“We’re going to continue to support [Ukraine] but (for) the first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have the direct threat of the use of a nuclear weapon if in fact things continue down the path that they are going. That’s a different deal.”
“We are trying to figure out what is Putin’s off ramp? Where does he get off? Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself in a position that he does not not only lose face but lose significant power within Russia?” – Biden tonight at a @dscc @DNC fundraiser in NYC.
I’ll start by saying I fully expect the White House to “clarify” or “walk-back” these comments. We rarely get a Biden statement in the wild like this without a White House rushing in to play clean-up.
The problem is that no one else will take the clean-up seriously. If you’re Putin, do you believe the clean-up or what the President of the United States is saying? In fairness, Putin has made several escalatory statements regarding nukes:
Russia has hinted several times at the possibility it could unleash weapons of mass destruction in its battle with Ukrainian forces if Putin believes the fate of the country is at risk.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries, and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said in an address last month.
But this brings me back to Biden’s comments. They are remarkably irresponsible and match nothing that any previous leader of any party from WWII through the end of the Cold War ever said out loud.
Forget about 3 am calls — we’re talking about responsible public statements. Biden has elevated the United States to the use of nuclear weapons use over Ukraine. That is categorically insane. I understand answering Putin’s toughness in the region; the United States should warn Russia against using nuclear weapons.
But what Biden has done is legitimize Putin’s bluster. And by talking about off-ramps, he’s encouraged the Russian dictator to demand more to avoid nuclear conflict. Ukraine is winning this conflict to its credit, but nuclear war pushes this in a direction that forces US intervention.
Before Biden’s Thursday comments, I didn’t think Putin was serious about using such weapons. As I wrote in a past CI column, if Putin uses nukes, he’s not doing so to win but to cause mass destruction. The West would be forced to answer in a direct conflict, and the result would be the end of Russia as we know it:
In the past, the threat was a humiliated Russia would resort to using nukes. While Vladimir Putin has used that kind of rhetoric (likely mimicking the fears of some western elites), little has come of it. Throwing caution to the wind on nuclear weapons would mark the end of Russia as a country. I’m not sure China would be on board with that, and the result of that move would allow both the West and China to dismantle Russia and divvy up the spoils.
If Putin does that, it’s the end of Russia as we know it. The West would retaliate, likely with Chinese support, and divide Russia up as spoils. If Putin starts pushing in that direction, I’d even expect his inner cabinet or a coup to form to stop him. That’s a red line, and everyone knows the consequences.
The United States has allegedly sent warnings to Putin against using nuclear weapons. I have little doubt that they’ve made the consequences of bringing out nuclear weapons abundantly clear to Putin. Engaging in conventional warfare is one thing. Crossing the red line of nukes is quite another.
There’s a viable scenario where you could talk the Chinese into siding with the US over nukes. If you offered them the ability to retake land they lost to Russia in prior centuries, they’d likely take it. The way Biden is playing this scenario, it’s allowing China to stay on Russia’s side as a way to keep the US occupied.
Where things have shifted is the line of the battlefield. You may have seen stories of how Putin has annexed lands in Ukraine, declaring them Russian land. The goal is to say that any attack on those lands constitutes an attack on Russia, granting them the ability to use nuclear deterrence against Ukraine/western forces.
It’s a madman’s ploy, meant to drive an end to hostilities through sheer threat and manipulation. The US is incentivized to prevent this conduct. Here’s why: if a nation simply has to annex land and declare it off-limits or risk nuclear war, they’ll take that tactic instead of direct conflict.
China could take that path with Taiwan (and likely is working towards that). Noah Rothman observed in Commentary, “The world is watching to see if Putin is forced back behind the red line he has crossed in Ukraine. If he isn’t, many a land-hungry potentate will follow his lead.”
How do we prevent nuclear war? Again, I don’t think it’s imminent, but I find Biden’s words alarming. Whatever the White House does to try and calm those words down, Putin will take Biden as gospel and ignore the clean-up. There’s likely a deal to get struck where you give Putin those annexed lands, declare peace in Ukraine, and de-escalate.
That ideal scenario would allow global markets and supply chains a chance to calm down. Ukraine doesn’t want this option — they’re pushing to drive Russia out entirely. And it doesn’t take much to understand their point of view here. The problem is that the United States has a higher duty to prevent global war, nuclear conflict, and prolonged engagement that wrecks the global economy.
We’re supposed to be the adults in the room. While having Russia weakened like this benefits the United States, we can’t let them get to a place where the use of nuclear weapons is a viable option. And with Biden bizarrely validating Putin’s threats, likely doing nothing more than trying to show off to Democrats, he’s weakened America’s position.
At some point, diplomacy has to take over, and a deal gets struck with all the people involved. If that’s not possible, keeping the conflict between Ukraine and Russia confined to conventional warfare is the only other option.
But what makes me nervous, and why I’m covering this episode this week, is US leadership. I don’t trust Biden in these situations. Neither Biden nor anyone in his administration has shown the leadership capacity to deal with a nuclear conflict. Biden is a pathological blowhard who has never been known for substance in any profound way.
My 2021 theme for Biden is that he was the President who wasn’t there. That’s changed over time, as he’s increasingly showing up and sowing chaos – Afghanistan, inflation, OPEC+ negotiations, and more. One of my first points in this piece is what makes things impossible to judge: I know the White House will “clarify” Biden’s statements.
Stephen L. Miller made a point that I’d seen too: every time Biden makes a significant statement, the White House staff rushes in to “clarify” or “fix” a Biden statement. Nothing he says will stick; it can get immediately contradicted by the White House. Did Biden assert the pandemic was over? That was wrong. Did he make a moderate/conservative policy statement? The White House is here to tell you they’re focused on progressive victories.
At the end of it all, you’re left questioning who is really the President. If nothing Biden says is operative, then who is calling the shots? Congressional Republicans have always suggested Ronald Klain, the Chief of Staff. But more likely, the White House is a series of factions vying for control at any time.
It’s how I know this statement from Biden won’t sit alone. The White House will “clarify” it eventually. But in a nuclear conflict, you can’t have multiple factions try to run the show. And watching everything play out with this White House, my concern is that they’re more focused on controlling the White House than achieving a successful resolution to the war in Ukraine and avoiding nuclear conflict.
Poor leadership is always worrisome. That’s especially true when the chain of leadership is unclear.
Links of the week
Iran’s Crippled Economy Sustains Protests After Religious Police Lit Flame: The country’s middle class is shrinking for the first time in decades amid U.S. sanctions, corruption and economic mismanagement – WSJ
Media Lying About Climate And Hurricanes: It’s time to state the obvious. – Michael Shellenberger
Welcome to the Consequences of Your Actions, Democrats – Jim Geraghty, National Review
China Is Expanding Its Energy Footprint In The Middle East – OilPrice.com
Senate Dems face brutal 2024 map with at least eight undecided incumbents: Of the 33 Senate seats up for election next term, 23 are held by Democrats. That makes for a tough cycle — and it gets even harder if incumbents choose not to run. – Politico
A Week in the Life, Or How the News Unfolds – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
How reporting on gender changes is bad – Jesse Singal
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!