Biden: No reason to worry about Russia's nukes

Biden: No reason to worry about Russia's nukes
Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

If you’re not keeping one eye on Putin’s trigger finger as global economic pressure against Russia continues to rise, you’re probably making a mistake. While I seriously doubt that the Vladimir Putin of as little as ten years ago would ever even consider the possibility of launching a nuke, the increasingly unstable 2022 version of the Russian dictator might not have nearly as much restraint. The possibility of nuclear war was brought up to Joe Biden by a reporter yesterday following a Black History Month event at the White House. Should the country be worried about the prospect? Biden offered a curt reply of “no.” So I guess everything is fine, right? (NY Post)

President Biden said Monday that Americans should not fear Russia’s invasion of Ukraine devolving into a global nuclear war despite Moscow putting its nuclear forces on high alert following harsh US sanctions.

“Should Americans be worried about nuclear war?” a reporter asked the president following a Black History Month event at the White House.

“No,” Biden replied.

Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his military Sunday to move to heightened readiness to launch nuclear weapons because of “aggressive statements” by NATO countries.

I’d like to be that sanguine about this question myself. But at the same time, I’d feel a lot better if the guy telling me not to worry hadn’t historically been so very wrong about so very many things in the foreign policy realm over the years. We don’t seem to be all that close to the point of no return yet, but “yet” may be the operative word.

Yesterday, Allahpundit penned a comprehensive if somewhat depressing analysis of precisely how bad Vladimir Putin’s options are right now. Very nearly the entire world is arrayed against him at this point and the economic damage being inflicted on his country and all of his citizens is mounting. With the exception of a couple of former Soviet satellite nations, even the countries you would expect to take his side are mostly edging away from him and remaining silent, including China. His best-case scenario at this point is a brutal campaign to slaughter huge numbers of Ukrainians (while losing an unanticipated high number of his own troops) leading to a prolonged insurgency. The entire world will continue to condemn and isolate him.

What causes me the most concern is the idea that Putin may indeed feel trapped at this point. If his pride won’t allow him to fully back down but he doesn’t see a clear path forward to the victory he had assumed would be quick and relatively clean, what might he do? Putin will turn 70 this year and there have been persistent rumors that his health is no longer as robust as he likes to project with all of his bare-chested, horse-riding photo ops. And Russia has a long history of removing overly problematic leaders in a much more “direct” way than any American impeachment circus.

If Putin feels like everything is slipping out of his grasp, he might decide to just take his hundreds of billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains and go retire in his oceanside mansion. (Assuming the incoming power structure allows him to.) But is it really inconceivable that he could decide that if he can’t rule Russia (and much of the world) then nobody should? At that point, the nuclear launch button might start looking more appealing to him.

It then becomes a question of whether or not his military commanders will obey him and go ahead with the launch. Surely they realize that Moscow would be a smoking pool of radioactive glass in fairly short order, so perhaps they would refuse and remove him from office. But disobeying Putin has historically been a poor career move and old habits can be hard to break.

I’m not saying nuclear war is on the way. I’m just saying that we need to be very alert and prepare for a worst-case scenario in case everything goes pear-shaped overnight. If the west gets caught by surprise in that fashion it’s going to be our own fault.

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John Sexton 10:40 PM on May 30, 2023