An Inconsequential Photo-Op of a Summit

POLITICS & POLICY
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Reuters)

On the menu today: a skeptical look at what, if anything, actually changed after President Biden met with Vladimir Putin in Geneva; Democrats might finally be making their peace with voter-identification requirements; Kyle Smith reads the Hunter Biden memoir; and some unexpected good news on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Biden’s Pointless Summit

President Biden said of his meeting with Russian Vladimir Putin in Switzerland, “I did what I came to do.” Which was what, exactly?

The joint statement out of the meeting emphasized the mutual desire for “strategic stability.” Stability means maintaining the status quo, and right now, the status quo is good for Vladimir Putin. His regime is more oppressive than ever, and Alexei Navalny is rotting in a prison cell. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has a green light to finish, making Germany and central Europe even more dependent upon Russia for its energy needs and reducing the leverage of Ukraine. Russian hackers disrupt American life with near impunity. Russian forces still own Crimea. Putin’s little buddy, Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, just effectively hijacked another country’s plane when it crossed over its airspace to silence a political critic. The Russian Navy is conducting large-scale exercises near Hawaii. Russia is selling Iran advanced satellite equipment with military applications and moving long-range bombers into Syria.

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And while I think the electoral consequences of Russia’s 2016 Facebook advertising and disinformation efforts are (often intentionally) overstated, not too long ago, the Democratic Party saw them as a key part of the crime of the century and Putin as ranking among history’s greatest monsters. So what, exactly, is the United States and the Biden administration doing to reduce the leverage Putin’s regime has over the rest of the world?

Chris Cillizza says Biden communicated to Putin that “the adults are back in charge.” That’s nice, I guess, but that’s really setting the bar low.

Frida Ghitis of CNN contends that, “By meeting with Putin, and letting him showcase his signature evasive style, Biden was able to use the Russian president as a prop — a show-and-tell for his campaign to demonstrate that authoritarianism is a malign force.” Is that what happened? We needed a Biden-Putin summit to demonstrate to the world that authoritarianism is a malign force? I kind of figured the malign intentions of authoritarians would be illustrated by all of the invasions, the wink-and-a-nod acceptance of cyberattacks and hacking, and the “crackdown on dissenting voices, with new, politically motivated prosecutions and raids on the homes and offices of political and civic activists and organizations.”

“Authoritarians are malign” is a pretty good way of summarizing the entire 20th century in three words. I’m not sure we needed a Biden-Putin grip-and-grin to communicate that, and Biden choosing to call Putin “bright,” “tough,” and a “worthy adversary” doesn’t really clarify the moral distinction all that well.

You don’t have to look too hard to find some slightly more skeptical assessments of the intensely covered summit in Geneva.

Matthew Chance and Luke McGee of CNN write that Putin got what he wanted out of the summit:

The optics of the summit were almost tailored to suit Putin’s domestic needs. The meetings were requested by the US, which as far as the Kremlin is concerned, confirms that Putin is a leader of similar stature to the US President.

“This is exactly what the Kremlin wants. To talk to the US as equals and in such a way that the other side does not demand a change of position as a condition of dialogue,” says Oleg Ignatov, Crisis Group’s senior Russia analyst based in Moscow . . .

Of course, Wednesday’s events also play into a longer narrative that has taken hold over the past decade: the West, no matter how hard it talks on Russia, has been largely incapable of reining in Putin and his allies. In the eyes of Putin’s opponents, there have been insufficient repercussions for a man who poisons political opponents, meddles in other countries’ elections, supports the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in bombing his own country, and annexed foreign territory.

Alexander Vindman — you probably remember him from the first Trump impeachment — writes in the New York Times today:

Biden’s statements will no doubt play well in the U.S. media for a short time, but the visual of Mr. Putin shaking hands with Mr. Biden will probably be replayed ad nauseam on Russia’s state media for weeks and months, particularly in advance of September parliamentary elections.

The clear problem here is that Russia is coming away with a public relations win while the U.S. has little to show from the summit in terms of tangible improvements to national security. Mr. Putin has once again been elevated to the world stage in a face-off against the world’s pre-eminent superpower in a well-rehearsed and tiresome script that burnishes his credentials as a world leader.

The past week hasn’t been all bluster; the Pentagon’s assistance to Ukraine is now up to $150 million in “counter-artillery radars, counter-unmanned aerial systems, secure communications gear, electronic warfare and military medical evacuation equipment, and training and equipment to improve the operational safety and capacity of Ukrainian Air Force bases.”

But if you’re a true foe of Putin, the worry now is that the Biden approach to Russia in the coming years will be a lot like what we’ve seen from his approach to China: something that sounds a lot tougher than what came before, but that mostly amounts to cosmetic changes and keeps in place a status quo that strengthens the autocrats. The Editors note that the vaguely worded communiques out of the G-7, NATO, and U.S.-E.U. summits offer a lot of tough talk but little commitment to any concrete changes.

I would note that for eight years, Barack Obama and his top advisers had convinced themselves that Vladimir Putin was growing more belligerent and aggressive because Russia was growing weaker, not stronger. In his final press conference as president, Obama confidently asserted, “The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate.” At this point, would anyone outside of the most diehard Obama supporter dispute that this thinking was spectacularly naïve? Russia is innovative enough to be completing international gas pipelines while Americans are forced to wait in gas lines because of unrestrained Russian hackers.

Obama insisted his policies worked well in containing Russia — even when preparing to welcome Donald Trump to the White House and reaffirming that Russia hacked the DNC, and that Russian troops occupied Crimea and even as Russia’s ally Assad stood atop a mountain of corpses. Obama blindly insisted that his policies had succeeded because they were his policies, and his ego wouldn’t allow him to admit that his scoffing, shallow, smug, “The 80s called, they want their foreign policy back” attitude had completely underestimated Russia.

Biden’s prickly, whiny comments after the summit — “Look, to be a good reporter, you got to be negative. You got to have a negative view of life — okay? — it seems to me, the way you all — you never ask a positive question” – suggests that Biden may well continue the Obama pattern of insisting his approach is working in the face of grim counter-evidence.

BREAKING: Voter ID Might No Longer Be Racist If Democrats Get Other Stuff They Want

I noted that the Joe Manchin compromise proposal on election reforms includes “require voter ID with allowable alternatives (utility bill, etc.) to prove identity to vote.”

Over at Slate, Richard Hasen says that Democrats should leap at the chance to pass this compromise legislation. Some of us will find it fascinating if so many Democrats, insisting that requiring government-issued identification or some other proof of residence is racist, “Jim Crow 2.0,” xenophobic, oppressive, and harmful in every conceivable way, suddenly becomes acceptable overnight.

Another Jaw-Dropping Story Which the National Media Just Aren’t That Interested in

Our Kyle Smith reads Hunter Biden’s memoir so that you don’t have to:

From what Biden tells us, in the three years before his father announced his presidential candidacy, he spent night after night crawling into the worst neighborhoods in America hundreds of times, probably thousands of times, dealing with the worst characters, flush with money and willing to do almost anything for the next hit. Advantage was taken by certain fellows whose specialty it is to separate crack fiends from their money.

The book sounds like a series of spectacular inadvertent confessions that his critics are completely correct: “In his glove compartment, in case he got in trouble, Biden carried his dead brother’s attorney general of Delaware badge and also the business card of a Secret Service agent. My gosh, why would those jerks at Fox, or anyone else, think Hunter exploited his family connections?”

ADDENDUM: Some surprising and pleasant news, as the average daily rate of COVID-19 vaccinations is starting to climb again. The seven-day daily average has increased from 938,000 on June 5 to 1.17 million yesterday. Allahpundit suspects this partially reflects school years ending and more teenagers getting over to the local drug store to get the jab.

I thought of a few more possible ideas to boost vaccination in the coming weeks:

  • Announce that the vaccine is organic, vegan, dairy-free, lactose-free, Atkins-friendly, pesticide-free, and that they’ve finally unveiled the delicious new Diet Cherry Pfizer.
  • Start a rumor that the vaccines are running out. As soon as the news reported about potential gas shortages, everyone rushed out to fill their tanks.
  • Announce that COVID-19 vaccination is free, but “only for a limited time.”

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