Biden: On second thought, you should get out of Ukraine while you can

Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

Yesterday, I took the rare opportunity to praise the Biden administration on Uncle Joe’s order to prepare for an orderly withdrawal of Americans from Ukraine. Troops from the 82nd Airborne would be staged on the borders of Romania and Poland to assist Americans leaving the country and potentially even cross into Ukraine to help them if needed. Granted, the announcement was provided to reporters on background by “a senior defense official and a U.S. official,” but they wouldn’t say something like that without Biden signing off on it, right?

I clearly spoke too soon. As if sensing the danger of doing something right, Biden told NBC News’ Lester Holt pretty much the exact opposite of what the anonymous officials had said only the day before. He first advised all Americans in the country to flee for their lives while they can. Then, when asked if there is a scenario where American troops might go in to assist some of them in getting out of the country, Biden said, “There’s not.”

“American citizens should leave now,” Biden said in an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt.

“It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly.”

Holt asked Biden what scenario could prompt him to send troops to rescue Americans fleeing the country. Biden replied: “There’s not. That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.”

“We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been,” he added.

If you find yourself experiencing a sinking feeling of déjà vu this morning you’re not alone. This is starting to sound eerily reminiscent of the runup to the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. The military appears to have formulated a plan for the orderly withdrawal of Americans from Ukraine to friendly neighboring nations and was moving troops around to be prepared for most possible eventualities. Then the Commander-in-Chief goes on NBC News and declares that there is no way that such a plan will be put into effect.

So what’s really going on behind the scenes here? Are Biden’s handlers (both military and on his staff) just making decisions at that high of a level and not bothering to tell him? Or was he already briefed on this information and simply forgot? Neither possibility paints a very comforting picture.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Emmanuel Macron bouncing back and forth between Moscow and Kyiv like a ping pong ball, claiming that he’s close to talking Putin down off the ledge. Russia is now at least suggesting that there are some large-scale military “exercises” scheduled, after which Putin’s troops will return to their normal permanent base stations. If that’s the case, then there’s no need to evacuate our people and the entire affair will turn out to have been a waste of time.

But what Vladimir Putin says and what he actually does are often two different things. If he proceeds to cook up some sort of pretense to proceed with an invasion and his troops start moving in, we have to be ready to get people out of Ukraine. It sounds like our military has a good grip on the situation, but their boss is totally out of the loop. In less than 24 hours I’ve gone from starting to get comfortable with Joe Biden’s handling of the ongoing tensions on the Ukrainian border to feeling as if we don’t even have anyone in charge.