Joe Biden’s Gaffes Are a Liability

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For years, President Joe Biden has downplayed his tendency to misspeak, dubbing himself the “gaffe machine,” as if this is an endearing trait rather than a problematic one. But this weekend, we were reminded that Biden’s ad-libbing is a real liability — especially in the middle of a foreign crisis.

Speaking in Poland on Saturday, Biden went off-script and ended his speech with a declaration that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin needs to be deposed. “For God’s sake,” he said, “this man cannot remain in power.”

Just moments later, the White House walked back Biden’s statement in an attempt to make it seem like Biden had not said what he just plainly said.

“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued the clean-up effort during a press conference in Jerusalem, saying, “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. As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter. In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”

But the damage was already done. With just nine words, Biden undermined the United States’s own policy of nonintervention in regard to the Russia-Ukraine crisis and suggested that we might actually be willing to get involved in a direct way. The Kremlin, which has long argued that the U.S. and its allies in NATO are plotting a revolution in Russia, vowed to monitor Biden’s actions carefully and called his comments “alarming.” And ultimately, the entire point of Biden’s speech, that the West should remain unified in economic and diplomatic opposition to Russian aggression, was lost due to concerns that Biden had just endorsed offing Putin.

There is no question that the world would be better off if Putin really were removed from office. But for the president of the U.S. to suggest openly that the U.S. would support such a thing is irresponsible, and everyone, including Biden, knows it: “The words of a president matter,” he said during the 2020 campaign. “They can move markets. They can send our brave men and women to war. They can bring peace.”

They can also escalate a high-risk crisis with a nuclear power. And yet, here we are.

Thankfully, Biden’s foolishness has not halted negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, as some feared it might. But the very fact that it might have is proof that the president’s habit of veering off-track and saying whatever comes into his head is one that must be checked.

Presidential improvisation didn’t work out well during the Trump administration, and it’s not working out any better now. And just like former President Donald Trump, Biden’s inability, or outright refusal, to choose his words carefully reeks of a lack of discipline and prudence that makes it difficult for anyone to take him seriously. Is that really the kind of president Biden wants to be?