What Russian sanctions mean for Joe Biden’s presidency

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Joe Biden is a product of the Cold War era. With Russian tanks rolling through Ukraine, that fact is starting to look less like a relic and more like a reward after five decades in Washington.

Elected to the Senate during Leonid Brezhnev’s era as leader of the Soviet Union, Biden spent much of his career in Washington hanging out on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, escalation in seniority and eventually becoming his best democrat. By the time he was in his second term, Biden was in talks with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping over Soviet nuclear weapons and later in Moscow to discuss the same weapons with the Kremlin. What Biden lacked in the book’s intelligence on foreign policy, he made up for in his restlessness and broad smile. “There’s an old Chinese saying: Better to walk 10,000 miles than read 10,000 books,” Biden would say to say frequently during his 2020 presidential campaign. And voters, after four years of Donald Trump’s isolationist approach to foreign policy, were ready to buy what Biden was selling.
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In recent months, this turmoil and a Rolodex built over decades have served Biden and his team well as they coordinated one of the most unified sanctions packages against Russia in the story. And as Biden heads to the Capitol tonight for his first State of the Union address, his familiarity with foreign affairs will certainly be on full display during a speech that, in typical years, is as much about the agenda as national than that abroad.

Biden returns to the Hill facing many political issues at home. Polls To display Biden underwater — more disapproving of his job performance than approving — and a public deeply pessimistic about the direction of the country. His numbers are at a new low for his first term and his coalition building work for sanction Russia, at least for now, pays him no political dividend. Its national Build Back Better plan remains station in the Senate, previous attempts to overhaul the police seem dead for the rest of this year, and a climate package seems to be contraction quickly. Even her nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first black woman to the Supreme Court did not generate much sizzle in the polls.

So Biden is expected to exemplify his essential presidential skill in tonight’s speech, which will be with members of Congress in the bedroom but none of the typical guests watching from the upstairs gallery. . Biden’s deeply personal touch in negotiations may not have succeeded in convincing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to board his domestic agenda, but it did land foreign allies behind a unified set of sanctions against Moscow, including against some people in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. .

The hunt for sanctions has not been easy. Congress failed to finish work on a sanctions package before the invasion, leaving it to the administration to pursue one of its own. While some congressional lawmakers urged Biden to impose sanctions himself to deter Putin from invading Ukraine, Biden resisted calls and ignored experts, telling his team that preemptive sanctions would only provoke more the Russian president. Instead, Biden rearranged US forces in Europe must have NATO members’ backs – a move that has prompted other nations to follow. And the quick clip of downgrading intelligence on Putin’s strategy was meant to be a slight push to Russia, the spy equivalent of a parent telling a child, I see what you are doing.

But right off the screen, Biden’s team built a scaffolding of punishments which effectively cut off Russia’s access to a ton of Western capital once Putin advanced into Ukraine. A large number of the sanctions the architects of Biden’s team were 2014 veterans series of moves imposed after the invasion of Crimea by Russia, which had little real effect on Putin Strategies. This time Biden wants to go harder and with a coalition that could prevent Putin from accessing dollars, pounds, euros or yen.

Americans tend to rally around its wartime presidents. It hasn’t happened yet, but the non-stop media coverage is impossible to miss. And, in the age of social media, images purporting to be Russian targeting of civilians – and the willingness of Ukrainian civilians to fight back – have spread the story of Ukrainian resilience and Russian belligerence better than any propaganda from the soviet era.

To be sure, there are still plenty of risks that Biden’s sanctions scheme will go awry. US forces are not fighting in Ukraine, but their technology and their dollars are committed. Putin has shown he is more than willing to launch cyberattacks against the United States. And don’t discount Putin’s appetite for vicarious revenge; just ask Hillary Clinton about her flight emails in retaliation for his tougher line against Moscow as Secretary of State.

Democrats are also bracing for the economic blow at home. Inflation has already become a campaign issue, as TIME’s Abby Vesoulis writes in A nice story on how it plays out in an Iowa House race. And Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world is all but guaranteed and will lead to soaring energy costs as its oil and gas become increasingly valuable, particularly for its European customers. Add to that the funding costs of restarting those Cold War efforts and the deficit hawks may have their day. (Bashing Biden, of course, would force those same hawks to ignore the tax cuts and outsized spending that came under Trump.)

Finally, the sanctions do not bear fruit immediately. It takes time for the sanctions to have teeth, and study after study at found their usefulness is limit. Sanctions are a tool but not a solution, despite their rapid expansion. (A Treasury Department review last year, the number of sanctions on the books increased tenfold between 2000 and 2021, with more than 9,400 groups or individuals facing sanctions; few would say the world is a safer place as a result.)

Yet Biden knows how to tell a story. He doesn’t channel Irish poets for fun; he does it because it works with his mobs. For Biden, who is seeking to restore public confidence in his competence argument, returning to the USSR may be a one-way ticket to a second act. And with Congress increasingly unable to act on much else this year, looking back at how it helped restore America’s role in the world may prove wise for Biden in the future. speech tonight, especially if Washington is not going to let him adopt major domestic policies before the halfway point.

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