Biden’s foreign policy dilemma in Ukraine prompts media scrutiny reminiscent of Afghanistan

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President Biden has attracted more media scrutiny with his administration’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, marking the second major foreign policy dilemma of his presidency.

The White House is dealing with media pressure as they take steps to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. After withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and leaving many Americans behind, the media was very critical of Biden as he originally promised to keep troops on the ground until every American had left.  

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden leave after they voted at the Carvel State Office Building, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden leave after they voted at the Carvel State Office Building, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(Associated Press )

Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center said that some of the pushback from the press on the crisis in Ukraine was “because the press saw how badly the White House bungled Afghanistan.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper noted comments from Ukraine’s foreign minister, in which he said he wanted the world to hit Russia with all of its economic power. “These sanctions are not that,” Tapper said, asking former director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the world needed to do more and if the sanctions Biden announced were going to stop Putin. 

“Probably not, I think what he’s trying to do is tit-for-tat here,” Clapper said. “That first tranche was designed for a specific set of circumstances … they’re making the assumption of Russian claim to all of Donbas, not just the parts nominally controlled by the rebels.”    

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Tapper noted that Clapper was the director when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. “Putin clearly is a lot more emboldened than he was 8 years ago,” Clapper said. Tapper asked if he thought the Obama administration should have imposed stricter sanctions and Clapper said that he wish that they had.  

Tapper also asked Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba if he wanted more sanctions “as soon as possible.”

“We want every instrument available to be used in order to stop Putin,” Kuleba said. “If the price of saving a country is…the harsher sanctions possible, then we should go for the harshest sanctions possible.”

On a Feb. 22 episode of CNN’s “New Day,” co-host Brianna Keilar questioned principal deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer about the administration’s choice to describe this as “the beginning of an invasion” rather than a full-blown invasion. 

Finer first said he didn’t know how to be more clear and that it was “the beginning of an invasion.” 

“Well, you could just call it an invasion,” Keilar said. The host also played some footage of different members of the Biden administration defining “invasion” and how they planned to respond. 

“For the third or fourth time, I am calling it an invasion,” Finer replied. “We are taking a severe response, including sanctions on Russia that we’ll be rolling out in a matter of hours… And we will have additional sanction steps to announce in response to this Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Keilar insisted that Democrats were lacking clarity in some of their comments about the situation in Ukraine. 

Biden announced sanctions on Tuesday and said that it was the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

President Biden listens to a reporters' question after delivering remarks on the November jobs report, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden listens to a reporters’ question after delivering remarks on the November jobs report, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During a Feb. 22 press briefing with White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh, several reporters asked questions that put a critical spotlight on the administration’s messaging on sanctions.

“Initially, the president was signaling if there is an invasion or a further invasion that the sanctions would come full stop, one swoop,” one reporter said. “Now we’re seeing, sort of, more of a tit-for-tat approach.” 

Singh said that it was “Just the beginning. This was the beginning of an invasion; this is just the beginning of our response.” 

“No one should think that it’s our goal to max out on sanctions. Sanctions are not an end to themselves,” Singh said. “They serve a higher purpose. And that purpose is to deter and prevent.They’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv. They’re meant to prevent large-scale human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties in a conflict.” 

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ABC News’ Cecilia Vega asked what it was going to take to directly target Putin. “Why not do that today?”

She followed up by saying, “the EU President said today ‘this is the most dangerous moment in European security in a generation.’ So if not today, when? What?” Singh said that the administration “mounted a significant response” and that they could escalate a further response. 

Another reporter said that the sanctions did not deter Putin or Russia’s actions in recent days, asking, “What gives you any confidence that the remaining sanctions that haven’t been imposed yet can deter or prevent a further Russian invasion and aggression in Ukraine?”  

Singh repeated that it was only day one. 

“And President Putin has choices to make; we have choices to make. Our job is to manage risks and to impose consequences for a further escalation of this conflict by President Putin,” he said. 

Vladimir President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. 

Vladimir President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. 
(Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

But it hasn’t all been tough analysis on the White House. Some media pundits have blamed former President Donald Trump for the current crisis.

“The problem of Ukraine being unfortified goes back several years and much of the fault lies in the Trump Administration,” The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum said on MSNBC Wednesday.

And while Biden was ripped on Twitter for walking away from the podium after his Ukraine speech on Tuesday, he did find some sympathy in the media.

“ABC’s David Muir rationalized Biden not taking questions, noting, it was ‘likely given the gravity of the moment the world is now facing,’” Ganior told Fox News Digital. Biden did not take questions Tuesday after announcing sanctions. Biden also did not take questions in August 2021 when the administration was dealing with the crisis in Afghanistan. 

CNN’s Kasie Hunt also became one of the seemingly few who did defend Biden after his walkout Wednesday.

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Other media were accused of giving Biden a pass on domestic issues in light of the overseas turmoil, such as CBS News, which suggested on Twitter that the Ukraine crisis can explain the economic one.

“The U.S. economy has been hit with increased gas prices, inflation, and supply-chain issues due to the Ukraine crisis,” the tweet read. 

“Inflation has been a major issue in this country since early last summer, and the Russian buildup only began three months ago, so of course Americans are feeling what they’re feeling because of Putin’s aggression,” Fox News contributor Joe Concha told Fox News Digital. 

“This is all an effort to shield the president and this administration from responsibility around our current economic state regarding inflation and gas prices and supply chain (which also predate Russia-Ukraine),” he continued. 

Concha was among many who hammered the piece, with Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., asking Twitter to label it as “misinformation.”

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