President Biden made a stealthy, but stirring visit to Ukraine’s capital city in February, greeting the war-torn nation’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and touring Kyiv on foot as air raid sirens blared in the distance. It was a brilliant piece of statecraft, a blunt rebuke to Russia’s Putin and a timely reminder that the American presidency – in competent hands – is the world’s most powerful diplomatic tool.
The visit should galvanize public opinion domestically on the grave dangers of the Ukraine war and the imperative of blocking and repulsing Russia’s aggression in the region. While some GOP extremists in Congress have sought to sow doubts about the US role in backing and financing Ukraine’s defense, Biden’s rousing response was a pitch-perfect rejoinder that has drawn praise even from across the aisle. In this era of pitched partisan entrenchment, that’s quite the feat.
On Tuesday, in front of some 30,000 people in Warsaw, the president offered his own assessment of the war and its implications for freedom and democracy worldwide.
“One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I've just come from a visit to Kyiv, and I can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall, and most important, it stands free.”
He added: "When Russia invaded, it was not just Ukraine being tested. The whole world faced a test for the ages. Europe was being tested. America was being tested. NATO was being tested.
“And the questions we faced were as simple as they were profound: Would we respond, or would we look the other way? Would we be strong, or would we be weak? Would we, all of our allies, be united or divided? One year later, we know the answer. We did respond, we would be strong, we would be united, and the world would not look the other way."
Biden lacerated Putin and Russia for their prosecution of the war, alleging that Russians have “committed depravities, crimes against humanity,” and “used rape as a weapon of war.” But at the same time, he sent a clear message that the US and our European allies “do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not plotting to attack Russia,” he said. “This war was never a necessity. It’s a tragedy. President Putin chose this war.”
It was – to date – our president’s finest hour in what has already been an impressive tenure in office. It may be too much to hope that Biden’s triumphant trip might galvanize all Americans to back up a commander-in-chief who has so effectively rallied the western world to Ukraine’s side. But perhaps members of his own party, at the very least, will see in their standard bearer a leader to admire and support.
Those who like to make sport of the president’s speech-making and mannerisms by insinuating that he is somehow not up to his job, were dealt a large dose of reality this week. His bold visit— including a grueling, clandestine 20-hour round-trip train ride through a war zone and an eloquent, historic address a day later – exposes those critiques for what they are: an ageist slander against a good man who’ll one day be regarded as a truly great president.