The geopolitical problem of Biden's gaffes

Big words fly. Joe Bidenduring an election fundraising event in San Francisco on Wednesday, he defined Vladimir Putin a “crazy son of a bitch”. Furthermore, it is not the first time that the current American president has expressed himself in this way. In January 2022 he branded the Fox News correspondent, Peter Doocy, like a “stupid son of a bitch”, only to later apologize. It was also 2018 when Biden he said that in 2015, as vice president of the United States, he used the expression “son of a bitch” during a heated conversation with the then Ukrainian head of state, Petro Poroshenko. “I'll be leaving here in six hours. If the prosecutor isn't fired, you won't get the money.' Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” he said Bidenreferring to his pressure on Poroshenkoto torpedo the then Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin.

Now, the crux of the matter is only one. If an international leader says something, anything, it is assumed that this something makes political and geopolitical sense. Even the most controversial statement should fit within a strategic logic. In other words, an international leader – especially if at the head of a superpower – cannot afford extemporaneous declarations. When, for example, the crisis between the United States and North Korea occurred in 2017, big words flew between Donald Trump And Kim Jong Un: however it later emerged that that verbal escalation was (although paradoxically) aimed at an attempt at détente. Regardless of how one might feel about détente with Pyongyang, there was still a political sense, agreeable or otherwise, behind that exchange of insults.

Coming then to the words spoken on Wednesday by Biden on Putinthe question is not so much one of diplomatic etiquette nor whether the Russian president feels offended or not (in this case, even more so after the death of Alexei Navalny, we would get over it). No, the point is another. Those words Biden did he say them in a strategic context – that is, pursuing some concrete geopolitical objective – or was it yet another gaffe, due to his lack of clarity? Warning: this is not a question of goat's wool. In the first case, the American president would have every right to pursue his own geopolitical strategies. The fear, however, is that we are faced with the second scenario. Oh yes, why what Biden has problems with clarity has now also been put in black and white in the special prosecutor's investigative report, Robert Hur. Furthermore, similar incidents have already occurred. Just one example. Last November, after meeting Xi Jinping in California, Biden he called him a “dictator”. Now, there is no question here that the Chinese leader is a dictator: he certainly is. The point, however, is political: saying those words in the midst of détente (such as the one the Biden administration is pursuing with Beijing) risks turning out to be a boomerang. The danger is that of being perceived on the outside as irresolute and contradictory: an element that could push your enemies to become even more brazen.

Unfortunately to strengthen the hypothesis that the words of Biden on Putin whether they were extemporaneous is also recent history. In March 2021, the current American president agreed in calling the Russian leader a “killer”. Nonetheless, in May of that year he gave him an immense gift, lifting the sanctions that the Trump administration had imposed on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline: a gas pipeline to which Biden he finally gave the OK two months later, effectively giving in so much to Putin as for Angela Merkel. In other words, in the space of a few months, the current occupant of the White House went from calling the Tsar a murderer to granting him a controversial gas pipeline that was strongly opposed by both Poland and Ukraine.

And then the problem is only Wednesday Biden used those words. The real problem is that those words were probably said just to be said, without a geopolitical strategy and, perhaps, in one of the not rare moments of lack of clarity of the same Biden. In the geopolitical field, you don't do things just to do them. Everything, even the smallest and seemingly insignificant statements, must have a logic and, above all, must be considered on the basis of how they may be perceived by one's international adversaries. The risk, otherwise, is to appear weak, confused and to cripple one's ability to deter. The risk, ultimately, is that the words spoken by Biden on Wednesday, rather than a jab, may paradoxically turn out to be an involuntary assist to the Kremlin.