Anyone who follows the news even in a cursory fashion has probably heard about President Biden’s response to what Ben Aris has referred to as a “journalist trap” from George Stephanopoulos during an interview released earlier this week. Stephanopoulos asked Biden if he thought Putin was a killer. Biden said, “Mmhmm. Yes, I do.” The exchange is in the below video:
Needless to say, this – along with the announcement that US intelligence believes that Russia interfered in the 2020 election and more sanctions may consequently be on the way – didn’t go down well in Russia. Moscow has recalled its ambassador from Washington for “consultations.” According to the Wall Street Journal:
A statement by the Russian foreign ministry said the most important thing for Moscow was to identify ways to rectify the relationship, blaming Washington for bringing relations between the two countries to “a blind alley.”
Furthermore, Putin has commented directly on Biden’s remark, suggesting that Biden was engaging in psychological projection. According to an RT report:
Speaking on Thursday, Putin suggested that Biden may be projecting, noting that evaluating other countries “is like looking in a mirror.”
“When I was a kid, when we were arguing with each other in the playground, we used to say, ‘Whatever you say [about others] is what you are yourself,’” Putin added.
Putin also reportedly said he wished Biden “good health.”
“I’ve just thought of this now,” Putin told a Russian state television reporter. “I want to propose to President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it basically live, as it’s called. Without any delays and directly in an open, direct discussion. It seems to me that would be interesting for the people of Russia and for the people of the United States.”
Some are interpreting this as Putin’s way of implying that Biden doesn’t have the cognitive ability to engage in an intellectual exchange with him.
I agree that it is highly unlikely that Biden will agree to this, especially considering the fact that Biden or his handlers are not even willing to subject him to questions from a lapdog DC press corps. The U.S. president has not given a press conference in which he has taken questions since he took office.
I’ll make a couple of points that are just based on thinking aloud more than anything else.
The first is that Biden has a history of not using discretion and running his mouth off. An example is when he bragged at a think tank years ago that he’d gotten Ukraine’s prosecutor fired by using a major financial package as leverage over the Ukrainian government. There were also numerous examples of him saying insulting and/or just off-the-wall things to people during his presidential campaign. If, in fact, this could be characterized as a “journalist trap” as Aris suggested, then Biden is the perfect target for a journalist to pull this on.
Beginning Thursday, the Moscow Summit is looking to see Russia and the United States trying to sell the interim government peace proposal to both the Afghan government and the Taliban. This summit is the biggest event in awhile in trying to get the peace process revived.
It’s not Russia’s first bid at having influence on post-war Afghanistan. It is, however, the first time the US has acknowledged such a summit as a real thing, and participated in it. Both the US and Russia seem to be united in their proposal.
There was also the renewal of the New START Treaty as soon as Biden took office. Renewal of that treaty may seem like a no-brainer to any rational person, but rationality when it comes to policy vis-a-vis Russia has been in very short supply in DC in recent years. As someone who has been in national politics for decades, Biden may be thinking that in order to have the space to even accomplish these minimal steps that involve cooperation with Moscow, he will need to placate the hawks that pervade Washington. To do this, he may feel he needs to keep the ugly rhetoric toward Putin at maximum volume.
This is not new. During the Kennedy administration, even though the president wanted to tamp down the Cold War with Khrushchev, Kennedy had to throw a bone to the hardliners once in a while. Those bones did not always come cheap and sometimes they caused serious problems with the Kremlin.
So what do you readers think? Am I wishful thinking about what Biden may be up to? Does Biden even still have the cognitive ability to think strategically like this? Feel free to give your opinions on this in the comments.