Americans woke up on Monday morning to the news of a surprise visit to Ukraine, by the President of the United States.
Press outlets swooned as Joe Biden was seen walking around the streets of Kyiv with Volodymyr Zelensky, the latter donning his signature olive drab. There were even air raid sirens blaring in the background to really make the scene pop.
Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy ignore air raid sirens and go for a stroll in central Kyivpic.twitter.com/R8vZQG6UBA
— Business Ukraine mag (@Biz_Ukraine_Mag) February 20, 2023
I’m sort of in the middle on Ukraine aid, believing that some investment in diminishing Russia’s military by proxy is a net positive (but I want less overall and a lot more accountability). What I’m affirmatively against, though, is being gaslit, and this entire visit is pure gaslighting.
There is no Secret Service protocol that allows the president to be left strolling out in the open during an actual air raid. Those sirens were clearly turned on with no actual threat in the area in order to make Biden look tough and courageous. The fact that Zelensky would participate in such a stunt, effectively interfering in US politics, is disappointing. Never mind that all that money he’s getting isn’t coming from Biden. It’s coming from the US Congress via the taxpayers who remain an afterthought in all this pomp and circumstance.
Besides, while mainstream media outlets gladly took the bait, praising Biden as “brave” for surviving a supposed air raid, I’m not so sure the optics of this do either Biden or Ukraine any favors. There is actually a war going on in the Eastern portions of Ukraine, but the seriousness of that is undermined by having Biden and Zelensky take a sightseeing tour. It’s hard to simultaneously make the case that Ukraine is on the brink of destruction while a US president walks around town as if nothing is going on. Ironically, I actually think this trip by Biden hurts Zelensky’s cause because it feeds domestic divisions back in the United States.
That leads me to the second controversy that has sprouted from this, which is that Biden somehow had time to fly to Ukraine but hasn’t been able to travel 290 miles to visit East Palestine, OH, which is currently in the midst of a major ecological disaster. Again, perception matters, and the perception this puts off is that the president is far more concerned about rebuilding Ukraine than he is about helping American citizens who have found themselves with poisoned groundwater. And to be sure, Biden has made plenty of trips inside the US in the past for far less nationally relevant issues. In this case, it sure seems like he just doesn’t care about Americans in red states.
With that said, does anyone really think performances like this are scaring our adversaries?
Biden phones in his conversational speech with Zelensky for the press by reading his remarks from a cue card. pic.twitter.com/Jr51Rw46P7
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) February 20, 2023
These kinds of welcoming sit-downs are supposed to be full of off-the-cuff niceties, and typically, they don’t involve notes. Biden has to read from a cue card the entire time, though, which again underscores how scripted this entire thing is. Those predisposed to love this stuff are going to love it (and the headlines are already blaring with how amazing this trip is), but I think a lot of Americans see it and feel left behind.