JERUSALEM – You can’t make this stuff up.
Okay, you can.
I do, every time I write a political thriller.
But then it happens in real life – and it’s ugly.
I get it. All politicians make mistakes. It’s the way of the world.
As the Bible tells us, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19, ESV).
But in 32 years of living and working in Washington or covering American politics, I’ve never seen anyone make as many verbal blunders as President Joe Biden.
They would be fun if they weren’t so painful, and harmful.
This is not a back-bencher congressman, after all.
We’re talking about the president of the United States.
The leader of the free world.
At a time when the freedom of the free world is under direct assault and invasion by the czar of the Kremlin.
Here’s the latest.
On Saturday, during a widely-praised speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, Biden called for a regime change in Russia.
Twenty-four hours later, Biden said he hadn’t called for a regime change in Russia.
Or, at least, he didn’t mean it.
And yet again, American credibility took another serious hit when it could least afford it.
WHAT DID BIDEN ACTUALLY SAY ON SATURDAY?
Here is what he said, according to the official White House transcript.
- “Be not afraid.”
- “We will stand with you.”
- “A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty.”
- “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. We will have a different future — a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.”
Then, Biden – who earlier in the day had called Putin “a butcher” – said this:
- “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Biden was right.
Putin is a wicked, evil, destructive man. He purposefully invades innocent, peaceful countries to devour them. He purposefully targets innocent, peaceful civilians to murder them. He must not remain in power. Someway, somehow, he and those officials and advisors who think like he does must be removed from power in Russia for the world to be safer.
Overall, therefore, Biden’s speech was pretty good. It got glowing reviews throughout Europe and even among many in Washington.
If I hadn’t been sick in bed with a fever all weekend, I would have written a positive article about it myself.
But in less than 24 hours, Biden had botched it.
WHAT DID BIDEN SAY ON SUNDAY?
Coming out of church on Sunday evening, Biden was asked by reporters if he was really calling for Vladimir Putin to be removed from power.
“No,” Biden told them.
How could Biden’s remarks on Saturday be interpreted any other way?
His advisors moved quickly to “walk back” Biden’s regime change language.
“Walk back” – that’s Washington talk for aides who tell you that their bosses didn’t really mean what everyone heard them just say.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken told reporters here in Jerusalem on Sunday that Biden was not calling for the removal of Putin.
“I think the President, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” said Blinken. “As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter.”
REPUBLICANS ARE MAKING THEIR OWN MISTAKES
Yet rather than calling Biden out for flip-flopping, at least two Republicans criticized Biden for calling for Putin to be removed in the first place.
A Reuters article on Monday noted that Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Biden’s initial remarks a “horrendous gaffe” and said he wished the president would have stayed on script.
“Most people who don't deal in the lane of foreign relations don’t realize those nine words that he uttered would cause the kind of eruption that they did,” Risch said on CNN.
Reuters also cited Senator Rob Portman, who also serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who criticized Biden’s initial call for regime change.
“It plays into the hands of the Russian propagandists and plays into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” Portman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “So it was a mistake.”
Biden tells the truth about Putin, then 24 hours later gets weak in the knees and pretends it never happened.
Two high-ranking Republicans have a chance to praise Biden’s truth-telling about a wicked dictator – and criticize Biden for showing weakness and flip-flopping – but instead show weakness themselves.
Where’s Ronald Reagan when you need him?
Can you imagine Reagan calling the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” and then 24 hours later saying, “well, not evil, exactly, just not so good?"
Can you imagine Reagan standing in front of the Berlin Wall and saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and then 24 hours later saying, “or at least make some minor modifications”?
Of course not.
Leaders lead with courage and conviction.
They don’t equivocate.
They don’t back down.
Oh, how the free world could use real leaders today.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the president and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.