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"The Adults in the Room" are Always the Most Colossal Screwups
There was a recurring theme during the presidency of Donald Trump that went something like this: Trump’s most impetuous and destructive instincts — particularly in the realm of foreign policy — were being nobly restrained by the so-called “Adults in the Room.” Thank heavens! These impressive “adults,” a cadre of seasoned military men serving in Trump’s administration, included James Mattis (Defense Secretary), H.R. McMaster (National Security Advisor), and John Kelly (Chief of Staff). Their presence in the halls of power was supposed to be taken as a profound relief: whether you feared Trump would conspire with Vladimir Putin to collapse “the rules-based international order” — likely because you heard that phrase intoned on some Think Tank webcast — or simply believed that Trump was nuts, you could rest assured that the fate of the Republic would be protected by this crew of Serious Adults watching gamely over Trump’s shoulder. If any crazy ideas got into his head, such as withdrawing US military personnel from overseas deployments or forging a diplomatic accord with Russia, they’d spring boldly into action and put a stop to it.
In August 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s “top national-security advisers,” namely Mattis and McMaster, were “searching for a way to overcome the commander-in-chief’s reluctance to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan.” Ultimately, the two honored “adults” were successful — they finagled Trump into ordering yet another totally useless “surge” of US troops, which accomplished nothing other than additional death, destruction, waste of taxpayer money, and prolongation of a war that was fundamentally hopeless. An outcome that surprised nobody except perhaps Mattis and McMaster themselves. Still, these same “adults” were cheered once more when they maneuvered to undercut Trump’s fantasy of removing troops from Syria, another successful stymieing effort on their part. Profound gratitude was showered on this valiant assemblage of “adults” for having been “in the room” to stop Trump from doing anything reasonable.
The “adults in the room” mentality would subsequently take on an electoral personification in the 2020 candidacy of Joe Biden. After four years of Trump’s reckless and volatile tweets, Biden solemnly pledged to “restore honor and decency to the White House.” He assured a weary electorate that under his tutelage, Americans could once again be confident that their Commander-in-Chief would conduct himself with care and rigor on the world stage. The immense foreign policy expertise Biden garnered over his multi-decade career made him perfectly suited to such a weighty task. With all the chaos left in Trump’s wake, “the next president will face the enormous responsibility of picking up the pieces of America’s foreign policy,” Biden regularly declared on the campaign trail.
Well, in the past few days, Biden has faced his biggest test yet on this score. And behold the result: giant new “pieces” of foreign policy carnage splattered all over the place, thanks to a series of Biden remarks that are far more insane — and far more consequential in their insanity — than anything Trump ever managed to blurt out.
It all started on Friday, after Biden departed what had been officially designated an “Extraordinary” summit of NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium. I was in Brussels myself and tried to cover the summit, but was rejected by unknown functionaries associated with the NATO Press Accreditation office — a very formidable outfit.
“Sorry, we have limited capacity,” the nameless NATO email address had written to me. (They won’t tell you who they are, and there’s no phone number to call.) Unfortunately, the brand new, gleaming 2.7 million square foot NATO headquarters opened in 2018 was simply not big enough to accommodate my presence. Such a shame. A couple of soldiers even kicked me out of the Belgian Ministry of Defense and made me delete a photo I’d taken on my phone, on the ground that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of a “military base,” despite the “base” being a roadside security booth in a nondescript office park. Meanwhile, journalists bestowed with the honor of attending the Extraordinary Summit included Cecilia Vega of ABC News, who took the opportunity to boldly challenge Biden on whether he was “too quick to rule out” launching World War III.
Striding triumphantly from Brussels, Biden headed to Rzeszow, Poland — a city near the Ukraine border I’d just visited and written about. It’s a place absolutely crawling with profiteers and spooks, i.e. the kind of people who look at a large-scale warzone and see a lucrative business opportunity. So it was a fitting venue for Biden, long a cherished ally of many military-industrial ventures; hence his tour of a new US military installation erected on his orders to facilitate the largest arms-funneling operation in Europe since the 1940s.
As he bantered with the troops, Biden exhibited a kind of lassitude that would be understandable for any 79-year-old with jet lag. Understandable, but perhaps a bit worrisome when that 79-year-old happens to be President of the United States.
Biden remarked on the emotional scenes unfolding in Ukraine: “You’re gonna see when you’re there, and some of you have been there... you’re gonna see women, young people, standing in front of a damn tank.” Hold on a second — are active duty US military “gonna see” these sights in Ukraine, because Biden is soon deploying them to Ukraine? How else would they see “women” and/or “young people” standing in front of a “damn tank”? There had already been plenty of US military “advisors” inside Ukraine pre-invasion, but we were told they’d been extricated. Was Biden saying that US troops were not in fact extricated from Ukraine, and more are on the way? Or was he just mumbling something that bears no relation to reality, which would not be a vastly more comforting explanation under the circumstances?
Bad as it was, Biden’s garbled allusion to the potential of US “boots on the ground” in Ukraine paled in comparison to the whammy he delivered in a speech the following day in Warsaw. This was not some off-the-cuff gab session, but a structured, formal address. And he capped it off with the following threat, aimed squarely at Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” There was nothing ambiguous about Biden’s statement — it was a call for regime change in Russia, as even CNN reported:
That the Biden Administration was pursuing a policy of regime change in Russia is something that could’ve been inferred even before Biden’s latest outburst. Bloomberg published a column this week reporting that an Administration “official” was caught ranting at a private event that “the only end game now is the end of the Putin regime.” The strategy being employed to achieve this objective reportedly entails “bleeding Russia dry” through a combination of sanctions designed to destroy their economy, plus continued efforts to maximize the number of Russians killed on the battlefield.
This means any feigned concern that US Government officials express for the humanitarian suffering of Ukrainians is pure bunk, since they’re actively working to exacerbate and prolong the war, rather than end it, out of some blinkered geopolitical crusade to topple the Russian government. Bloomberg author Niall Ferguson reasonably observes that this would explain “the lack of any diplomatic effort by the US to secure a cease-fire.” If the US wanted to end the war, the number one thing you’d expect its top government officials to do is encourage cease-fire negotiations, but the US is doing the opposite. The country’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, has not even attempted to contact his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, since the invasion began, according to the Washington Post.
So, mounting evidence had already demonstrated that the US is undertaking yet another one of its infamous regime change initiatives, which have historically gone super well. But for Biden to proclaim it publicly, during the most dramatic portion of a “legacy-defining” speech in a foreign capital, removed any remaining doubt. Spinners and lackeys subsequently tried to claim that Biden’s remark doesn’t constitute “official US policy,” but that makes zero sense. For better or worse (usually worse) the president has an enormous amount of unilateral authority to craft and articulate US foreign policy. That’s why he’s elected: in theory, he’s the one who makes the policy. Biden notably did not stutter when he issued his call for regime change. It was an unusually lucid moment, and therefore a manifestly purposeful one. As was the choice of venue in Poland, which as I discovered on my recent visit is brimming with desire to eliminate the contemporary Russian state by whatever means necessary.
To recap: in the span of approximately 24 hours, Biden managed to declare that US troops were headed to Ukraine — an action he previously said would instigate World War III — and that the US was officially pursuing a policy of regime change against Putin. But at least he was an “adult” inside these Polish “rooms.” Hopefully someone can find the time to ask Biden who will secure Russia’s nuclear arsenal — the largest in the world — once his dream of regime change is carried out. Perhaps the “adults” will handle it.