With his whirlwind visit to Washington, Volodymyr Zelensky cemented his bromance with Joe Biden. Even as MAGA Republicans have been sniping at Ukraine — Donald Trump, Jr. derided Zelensky on Wednesday as an “ungrateful welfare queen” — Biden declared that he will support Ukraine “as long as it takes.”
Welcoming his Ukrainian counterpart to the White House, he went out of his way to depict support for Ukraine as bipartisan and unflinching. Like Herman Melville in his novel White-Jacket, Biden believes that “we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.”
The Russian invasion and Ukrainian defiance are the making of Joe Biden’s presidency. Biden may well go down in history as the man who finally drove the stake through the heart of the Russian empire. Nothing makes him look more like a resolute leader than to stand next to, and back, the man being likened to a modern Winston Churchill.
Today was Biden’s chance to play Harry S. Truman at the outset of the Cold War, with Zelensky as Churchill, when he warned the West in 1946 at Fulton, Missouri in his iron curtain speech about Stalin’s perfidy and the Soviet threat. Zelensky delivered essentially the same message about Stalin’s current admirer in the Kremlin. Putin is ravenous for geopolitical conquests. His appetite can never be satisfied, no matter what Emmanuel Macron or Olaf Scholz may bleat about.
Americans have always liked hawkish leaders — Truman, Kennedy and Reagan — rather than the squishes — Ford and Carter — and Biden hawkishness could hardly be more pronounced. He channeled the language of the Cold War on Wednesday, saying “light will always prevail over darkness.”
Biden made palpable his revulsion for Putin and his targeting of hospitals and orphanages when he shook his head in disgust. Republicans may not realize it, but he is stealing their lunch money. Once upon a time conservatives regularly dinged Democratic presidents as too soft in dealing with America’s adversaries. Biden’s muscle-flexing on Ukraine is also allowing him to efface memories of the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, which House Republicans are intent on investigating.
For his part, Zelensky went out of his way to show that he is indeed grateful for the eleemosynary aid that America and its allies are showering upon Kyiv. He thanked Congress for “bipartisan support,” singling out the Patriot missile systems now headed to Ukraine as the only way to stop Russia — the “terrorist country” — from meting out further destruction upon his beleaguered country.
The truth is that Zelensky’s sudden visit was an inspired move. It came at a critical moment. The blunt fact is that the GOP is in danger of going wobbly on Ukraine. Ever since Donald Trump came on the scene in 2016 with his rodomontade about “America First,” the GOP has been flirting with the dismal sentiments that percolated on the eve of World War Two, when Republicans viewed the British empire, not Nazi Germany, as the true threat to world peace. Similarly, Republican ninnies are purveying the delusional belief that it is Ukraine, not Russia, that is the problem. For now, the querulous notes being sounded by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Trump fils are receiving pushback from the older wing of the party. Indeed, as Zelensky was winging his way to Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went out of his way to emphasize that saving Ukraine was his paramount objective.
Zelensky’s visit is remarkable not for anything he has said. Instead, his very presence is a standing rebuke to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who was convinced that he could overrun Ukraine in a few days and establish a new satrapy before embarking on fresh conquests elsewhere. He was wrong. Now it is Russia, not Ukraine, that faces the danger of cracking up over the next year.
The most pregnant moment of the Biden-Zelensky news conference came when a Ukrainian journalist prefaced his query by thanking America for continuing to stand staunchly by Ukraine. “We will,” Biden said. Earlier in the day, Putin said that there were “no limits” to Russia’s support for a war it is bound to win. Biden knows better.
The conventional wisdom that the war will descend into a prolonged stalemate could not be more mistaken. There is no cogent reason to get the collywobbles about what Putin may or may not do in coming months. Russia lacks the industrial capacity and willpower to sustain the battle much longer. How long until Biden reciprocates Zelensky’s visit and travels to a triumphant Kyiv?