It’s Time for Biden To Speak Clearly on the War in Ukraine

It is well-settled international law that when a distinct section of a country wishes in a large majority to secede, the world recognizes the result.

President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida at Akasaka Palace May 23, 2022.

President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida at Akasaka Palace May 23, 2022.

We must now be close to the point where the American national political press that carried candidate and President Biden all the way down the field and into the electoral end zone are going to have to take some distance, as professional media with any integrity do, and allow this administration to speak for itself and be judged on its performance.

Mr. Biden was allowed to spend almost the entire period between his virtual nomination and election day in the Candidate Protection Program provided for him by the rabidly anti-Trump media. Ninety-five percent of national media coverage was anti-Trump and made no distinction between comment and reporting.

The only occasion when the Democratic nominee sortied from his basement was for the two debates. The palpable partisanship in his favor of the moderator, Chris Wallace, late of CNN’s Zucker Memorial streaming service, and President Trump’s own excessive belligerency, got Mr. Biden through. Mr. Trump won the second debate easily enough, but the fact that Mr. Biden survived the first debate without being struck dumb like Zachariah in the temple was enough to lift him over that hurdle.

Almost every time the president responds directly to a press question on an important matter, it is rarely more than a couple of hours before junior or even anonymous administration officials “clarify” what he said, a process that almost invariably consists of stating something altogether different from what the president in fact did say.

Whatever I think of this or any administration, I always hope that the president of the United States will govern well, serve the nation and the Western alliance, and earn and enjoy the respect that should naturally attach to that great and storied office.

It was in this spirit that I watched the president’s remarks on the weekend with the Japanese Prime Minister at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and was pleased that his delivery was clear, his syntax was unexceptionable, and his answers were straightforward.

Like most viewers and virtually all of the world’s press, I appreciated at once the significance of his statement that the United States would respond militarily in support of Taiwan if it were militarily attacked by the People’s Republic of China.

This seemed not only a logical sequel to the United States  response to the Ukraine conflict, but a carefully thought out and justifiable refinement of the appropriate American and allied attitude in these particular cases where former provinces of countries have seceded from those countries, been recognized as independent, and are threatened by coercive methods of enforced reunification.

It is well-settled international law, and where appropriate the internal law of federal democratic countries also, that when a distinct section of a country wishes in a large majority to secede, and implements a credible and popularly supported method of doing so, the world recognizes the result.

This was the case when Norway separated from Sweden (1905), and the Czechs and Slovaks from each other (1993), and most of the other republics, including Ukraine, from the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation (1991-2).

There has been a good deal of discussion in the last 50 years of the possible secession of mainly French-speaking Québec from a largely English-speaking Canada, and it has been established that if a clearly worded referendum establishes the desire of a Canadian province, including Québec, to secede by a substantial majority of those voting, that wish should be accommodated.

These criteria were not met by the Confederate states in 1860 and 1861, whereby mere votes of the legislatures, supported in several cases by approval in hastily held referenda of somewhat emotionally composed questions, served as justification for secession.

President Lincoln was legally and historically justified and in any case his conduct was ratified by subsequent events, when the South initiated hostilities by attacking the federal installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

There is no doubt that the majority of Ukrainians wish to live in an independent Ukraine, but it is also possible and perhaps probable that a majority of the approximately 17 percent of Ukrainians who are Russian-speaking and ethnic Russians would prefer to live in Russia.

The New York Times has recently adopted the editorial position that I presented here last week that some respect must be shown for the historic legitimate Russian interest in Ukraine but that the wish of the majority of Ukrainians to have their own country as they are heroically demonstrating, is qualitatively indistinguishable from and much more severely provoked than the American ambition for independence in the Revolutionary War.

I only cite the Times because of its influence with the administration. It is time for an end to that war, which can probably only come when it becomes costly enough to the Russians to agree to a resolution of it that respects both Ukraine’s right to independence and the legitimate Russian national interest.

If American assistance is being tailored to produce that outcome and to deny the Russians the ability to continue indefinitely a war that they will conduct by indiscriminate missile attacks on the civilian population of Ukraine for an indefinite period and at no risk to themselves, it will be a valuable contribution to the advance of democracy, of Western civilization, and the furtherance of international law.

It is still not clear that the Biden administration recognizes the need to supply Ukraine with sufficient offensive weapons to meet these conditions for a fair and negotiated peace. As 165 trading countries do not participate in the sanctions against Russia, they are not a serious response to Russian aggression.

And the idea that the endlessly patient masses of that country can be tormented into insurrection by foreigners attacking Mother Russia is historical nonsense. Any reader of Tolstoy knows that, although it is annoying how little recognition there is of how much more advanced Russia would have been if Napoleon had been more successful there.

A few hours after President Biden’s remarks about Taiwan, the Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin, “clarified” that American Taiwan policy was unchanged, correctly confirming that the president expressed continued support for the One China policy agreed by President Richard Nixon and Premier Chou En-lai in Shanghai in 1972.

Secretary Austin said that the United States would rely on the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which specifically states that the United States will supply whatever is necessary for Taiwan to defend itself against hostile attack, which obviously meant from the People’s Republic.

Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state, was undoubtedly accurate when he addressed the World Economic Forum on Sunday by teleconference and advised against making Taiwan the central issue between China and the United States: that question should be allowed to go back to sleep, but that includes the cessation of provocative acts by China violating Taiwanese airspace and pretending that the Formosa Straits are not an international waterway.

Secretary Austin’s “clarification” was a valuable and reasonable precision and can be tenuously fitted into the president’s answer to a question from a CBS journalist in Tokyo. The president, though, has a responsibility, which he has not been meeting, to take the trouble to speak clearly, especially on questions of great international consequence.

His friends, enablers, and handlers in the rabidly partisan press of America have a responsibility to stop joining hands with less eminent administration underlings than the secretary of defense to let the president speak for himself like all of the 44 generally distinguished men who preceded him, and to be judged fairly by his words and his deeds.


One Response

  1. The fraternal twins, ambiguity and uncertainty, and their sibling identical triplets, confusion, delusion, and illusion, define the field of skull-numbing obfuscation called international diplomacy [or, substituting power for alcohol, dipsomania].
    Expect the political pundits and pandits to continue to grumble and bumble until they stumble into a new combination of compromises which in turn will become untenable due to continuing sociopathic leadership.
    In this age of instant inadequate pertinent information, poor-sap citizenry must control their governments; control for mutually favorable trade agreements, for starters.
    Our continuing patience with dolts having only pathetically defective policies will place us as patients in our self-made mental wards.

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