On the menu today: President Biden appears to spill a major U.S. national-security secret — and contradict his own national-security adviser — by telling reporters that U.S. troops are training Ukrainian soldiers in Poland. Meanwhile, peace negotiators get poisoned and Russian tanks drive through the most radioactive areas near the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear-power plant, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust. Insert the Fred Thompson memes here.
Did the President Spill a National-Security Secret?
The headline on yesterday’s Jolt: “Biden’s Ad-Libbing Gets More Dangerous.” Apparently, the president took that as a dare.
President Joe Biden appeared to reveal that the U.S. is training Ukrainian forces in Poland — stating for the first time since the war began that American troops are actively teaching Ukrainians to fight and kill Russians.
That’s not what Biden said Monday. After delivering remarks about the White House’s new budget request, Biden answered a reporter’s question about comments he made when meeting the 82nd Airborne in Poland, in which he implied American forces would be going to Ukraine. Biden denied that’s what he meant, adding: “We’re talking about helping train the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland.”
Pressed again, Biden said, “I was referring to being with, and talking with, the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland.”
It’s possible Biden meant to say “American” when he said “Ukrainian” on the second instance, or he exaggerated the extent to which American soldiers advise the Ukrainian forces on how to use the security assistance the administration has provided.
It’s right there in the White House transcript. As the president would say, “Come on, man!”
The U.S. has trained Ukrainian troops for a long time, going all the way back to 1993. The U.S. Seventh Army Training Command oversaw the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine mission at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center, in Ukraine near the Polish border, until February. “Task Force Gator” — the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat team from the Florida Army National Guard — was the last group to train Ukrainian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. When the war appeared imminent, U.S. European Command moved Task Force Gator to Grafenwoehr, Germany. On March 13, the Russians bombed the Yavoriv Combat Training Center, killing 35 people.
The last Facebook post from the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine was February 9, about the formation of a recreational sports league among the troops stationed there.
The war has been going on for 33 days. In the entirety of that time, no one from the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department, the White House National Security Council, or any other federal-government agency has publicly mentioned U.S. training of Ukrainian troops on Polish soil. (This is separate from American volunteers, and private groups of American veterans going over into Ukraine and helping or training the Ukrainians.) When the war began, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told House lawmakers that “the Biden administration is considering ways to train Ukrainian forces remotely if the Russians seize control of Ukraine.”
In fact, six days ago, national-security adviser Jake Sullivan specifically denied that such training was taking place:
On the question of U.S. troops, we do not have U.S. troops currently training Ukrainians. We do not have U.S. troops on the territory of Ukraine. We do, of course, have U.S. troops defending NATO territory, providing reassurance to our Allies, deterring Russian aggression.
And, of course, the United States is playing a key role not just in the direct provision of military equipment to Ukraine but in the facilitation of military equipment provided by many of our Allies as well.
There is a good reason for the U.S. to either halt instructing Ukrainian soldiers once the war started or to want to keep it secret. The Russians have already sent strong signals indicating that they think NATO sending weapons to the Ukrainians makes the alliance a combatant; undoubtedly, Putin and the Russian military would interpret the Pentagon training Ukrainians to kill Russians during a shooting war as another strong argument to treat the U.S. as a belligerent in the conflict.
And Biden just blurts it out.
The reality is that we have to live with Mr. Biden for three more years as President. And please stop writing letters imploring us to demand that Mr. Biden resign. Do you really want Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office? She was chosen as a bow to identity politics to unite the Democratic Party in the election campaign, not for her ability to fill the President’s shoes. In the last 14 months she has failed to demonstrate even the minimum knowledge or capacity for the job. We are fated to make the best of the President we have.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board — or you, or me — calling for Biden to resign is not going to get Biden to resign, and they are correct that the prospect of “President Kamala Harris” does not look like the answer to our problems.
Back in August, after Biden’s erratic behavior during the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, I wrote that something was wrong with the president and got a lot of grief for writing that. About a month later, under oath before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, both said they had recommended that President Biden maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. When asked specifically about this recommendation by George Stephanopoulos, Biden answered that, “No one said that to me that I can recall.” I pointed out that it is possible that the septuagenarian Biden genuinely does not remember what his military advisers recommended a few months ago, on one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency.
Does Biden remember what he’s told in briefings that is supposed to be kept secret?
This is consequential. We can shrug it off when Biden keeps telling not-quite-true stories about riding 2 million miles on Amtrak; we’re all used to this man telling long, meandering, self-aggrandizing stories that are no more than distant cousins to reality. But the stakes in this conflict are far too high for Biden’s tired, habitual, “Let’s take it outside, Jack, I’m the toughest son-of-a-gun on the mean streets of Wilmington, just ask Corn Pop” schtick.
This is now part of a pattern in the crisis in Ukraine:
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”
Speaking to the 82nd Airborne, about the Ukrainians, Biden declared, “Look at how they’re stepping up. And you’re going to see when you’re there.”
Henry Olsen writes that, “There are two possible ways to explain Biden’s gaffes. The first is that he is not really running the show and that statements from his aides are a more accurate reflection of U.S. policy. The second is that he is running the show, but that he lacks the filter needed to keep private thoughts private.”
I would say that Biden’s off-the-cuff bellicosity was ruining any chance at a negotiated settlement to the invasion, but I think we should recognize that Putin still doesn’t seem all that interested in a negotiated peace:
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv earlier this month, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Abramovich, Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov and another negotiator developed symptoms following the March 3 meeting in Kyiv that included red eyes, constant and painful tearing, and peeling skin on their faces and hands, the people said. Mr. Abramovich has shuttled between Moscow, Belarus and other negotiating venues since Russia invaded Ukraine.
When you’re poisoning the peace-deal negotiator, I don’t think you’re all that interested in a peace deal.
Meanwhile, forget nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; the Russian military seems too reckless and irresponsible to be trusted with conventional weapons:
As Putin’s troops drove through the disaster site without radiation protection, they kicked up clouds of radioactive dust, workers at the site said.
Two sources said soldiers in the convoy had no protection from the site’s radiation and another branded it “suicidal”.
As they rampaged through they kicked radioactive dust that they would have inhaled, leaving radiation inside their body.
The Russian convoy drove the most contaminated spot of the site, with one of the employees saying: “A big convoy of military vehicles drove along a road right behind our facility and this road goes past the Red Forest.
“The convoy kicked up a big column of dust. Many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels.”
Sometimes, the Russian army looks like a group of heavily armed ignorant teenagers.
ADDENDUM: For the past day, it’s almost been mandatory to have a strong opinion about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. Yesterday on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I had a rare, mild disagreement. For what it’s worth, Will Smith shouldn’t have lost his cool and reacted the way he did, and I think Phil Klein makes the most persuasive indictment of Smith possible — that no matter how offended he was by Rock’s joke, or outraged he was on his wife’s behalf, when you’re one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, part of the price of fame is hearing people make jokes about you or your wife that you don’t like. This was the Oscars, not a bar, and if you can’t deal with someone cracking a joke about your wife, don’t show up for the ceremony.
With that said, Rock no doubt thought he was offering garden-variety mockery of Jada Pinkett Smith for her haircut, and she — and, a moment later, Will Smith — believed that the joke was about her alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss. Jada Pinkett Smith first revealed her alopecia diagnosis in 2018, but it is easy to believe that Rock had never heard about it.
Then again, if you mock a man’s wife’s appearance in his presence, you’re effectively signing a waiver for whatever comes next. Some men will laugh it off. Some men will get in your face and scream at you. And some men will flip out and seek to beat the snot out of you. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and, well, you know the rest. If you don’t want to run the risk of dealing with a furious and potentially unhinged husband, don’t make fun of his wife unless you’re absolutely certain he’s going to be cool with it.
Is it too pro-Will Smith to contend that the lesson of all this is that maybe you shouldn’t mock someone, particularly a woman, who’s bald unless you know why? Making fun of someone’s appearance or bad haircut is very, very different than mocking someone fighting a disease.