As the last full week of February draws to a close, it’s possible that looking at the big picture, the White House concluded and sustained the single most disastrous week in American foreign policy of the 21st century, surpassed perhaps only by the week leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
On Monday, February 20th, President Biden suddenly appeared in Kyiv to bear hug with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and promise $500 million in ammunition support for the war. Biden said the purpose of his trip to the war zone was to “reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment” to Ukraine.
Ahead of his secret trip, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had communicated the President’s trip to Moscow for “de-confliction purposes”. The only time the US security establishment will bother itself about deconfliction in Ukraine evidently is to ensure Biden’s safe passage through the war he has done everything else in his power to continue.
The optics were horrible just 4 days short of the war’s 1-year anniversary. In the most delicate security situation in modern American history, where the slightest miscalculation could lead to a nuclear war between NATO and Russia, an 80-year-old Joe Biden walks the streets of Kyiv for a photo op, just three weeks after former-Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennet revealed that the US “blocked” Ukraine-Russia peace talks in Istanbul, prolonging Kievan suffering for months, perhaps years to come.
On Tuesday, February 21st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow was suspending its participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia.
Under the Trump Administration, most of America’s nuclear arms control agreements with Russia were ended. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had already been ended under President Bush Jr. before his Republican successor Trump pulled out of the Treaty on Open Skies and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The former allowed each nation to fly surveillance craft above each other’s nuclear sites to mutually ensure accountability for deployed and stockpiled weapons, while the latter banned the deployment of missiles with a range of 500-2,000 kilometers, which were considered the most provocative, and which NATO has already deployed by the hundreds aboard Arleigh Burke-class warships in the Mediterranean Sea.
Trump had intended to let the New START Treaty expire, but Biden extended it upon taking office. New START is, or was, probably the most important of the four. It barred each nation from having more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads across their arsenal of ICBMs, submarines, and strategic bombers.
Biden disagreed on the campaign trail with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the arms control agreements, but didn’t renegotiate, or offer to renegotiate a single one.
Unless there is backchannel communication between the Kremlin and the White House at the moment, there is now no limiting factor on the numbers, placement, manufacturing, or varieties of nuclear weapons in the US and Russian militaries. This is a level of national security nudity that hasn’t been seen for two generations.
America and the Soviet Union escaped the Cold War despite a solid dozen absolutely terrifying false alarms or malfunctions. Only four years ago, Hawai’ian citizens’ phones flashed an alert that missiles were in the air and that they should seek shelter. Former Democratic Rep. from Hawai’i Tulsi Gabbard, explained succinctly that moment in a recent radio interview, saying “there is no shelter, there’s nowhere to go [for any of us]”.
On Wednesday, February 22nd, another American politician visited Kyiv—the influential Rep. Michael McCaul (R – TX), the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and told reporters he “sensed” a shift in Washington towards “getting the artillery and the planes in”. He added, referring to the deadly and effective F-16, that “in any event, we can start training the pilots right now, so they’re ready”.
Biden specifically said that if tanks and planes driven by Americans are rolling into Ukraine “that’s called World War III”. Well, there aren’t American pilots in the fighting, but there are many high-ranking politicians who control the number and sale of those vehicles, and they are rolling into Kyiv, saying whatever they feel like.
At the onset of the war, the Biden Administration and NATO officials were wary of giving Kyiv firepower that could reach into Russia or Crimea. Gradually, weapon systems that were considered too provocative have been handed over, and there’s no reason to suspect that if another year of war goes by fighter jets will remain off the table.