For those who want to hear a more detailed explanation of why the United States should push back against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the potential costs of doing so — the President’s State of the Union Address Joe Biden may have left some with lingering questions.
Still, the 62-minute speech gave the president the chance to outline why he thinks Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s actions should be curtailed, and showed an otherwise deeply partisan US government strongly united on that front. .
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has certainly hijacked some of the President’s planned agenda for his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The address, which has been in the works for months, was initially expected to focus on its national initiatives, the economy and the cost of living. The invasion required a few quick edits to shine a spotlight on events in Europe that grabbed the headlines.
Yet he still occupied only a fraction of the address, with most of the speech still devoted to national concerns.
“I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t delve into the situation in Ukraine,” said Michael Allen, an associate professor of history and an expert on American political and diplomatic history at Northwestern University.
“It’s kind of like a 10-minute addendum that was kind of put on top,” Allen said. “I felt like the Ukrainian remarks were relatively measured and brief. And really, even though they led the speech, they weren’t really the focal point of the speech.”
Plea to help Ukraine
Earlier this week, John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute, wrote that Biden should explain why, with so many problems at home, Americans should care about events in the US. ‘foreigner. countries thousands of miles away and why efforts to help Ukraine are important.
“The president must do everything he can to convince as many Americans as possible that these issues are critical to the American cause at home and abroad,” Hudak wrote.
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Instead, in his speech on Tuesday, Biden spoke more broadly about the danger of leaving dictators who “don’t pay the price for their aggression,” arguing that these dictators cause “more chaos” and that “the cost to America and the world keeps growing”. .”
Biden outlined some of the sanctions imposed by the West, including cutting off some of Russia’s biggest banks from the international financial system and preventing Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian ruble.
However, there were few new measures, except the announcement that the United States would close its airspace to all Russian flights and that it would assemble a task force to seize the luxury assets of Russian oligarchs.
The cost of penalties
Biden also did not ask Congress for additional funds to help Ukraine. But he again stressed that the United States would not risk the lives of its own soldiers by engaging in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and that it would only defend its NATO allies in the event that “Putin decides to continue to move west”.
He suggested that leveling sanctions on Russia could come at a cost to Americans, but provided few details, only that the international community agreed to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world to mitigate the rise. gas prices.
By contrast, Canada’s Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was more blunt when she noted on Tuesday that sanctions against Russia could cause “collateral damage to Canada.”
Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University in DC, said Biden adopted a more comforting tone.
“He was reassuring. ‘It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.’ He didn’t ask for sacrifice. He didn’t paint a bleak picture of the times to come,” Cornfield said.
Allen agreed that Biden was not keen to point out that it would be a long and costly fight.
“He made a few brief noises to that effect, but it wasn’t something he wanted to point out for pretty obvious reasons,” Allen said.
“I don’t think he’s doing himself a favor by trying to press this issue.”
Perhaps the most significant part of the speech regarding Ukraine was the optics of a series of bipartisan standing ovations. That, Hudak said, in a Brookings Institute podcast after the speech, “signaled not ‘just a united America,’ but a united American government, something on a level we haven’t seen in a while.” .
Yet that bipartisan momentum quickly dissipated as Biden turned to his domestic agenda, one that emphasized “Buy American,” an issue that has become a major irritant for Ottawa.
Since taking office, Biden has said investments in American businesses will ensure a strong recovery from the pandemic and position the United States to fend off China and its faster growing economy.
“When we use taxpayer dollars to rebuild America, we’ll do it by buying American. Buy American. Support American jobs… Every administration says they will, but we actually do,” Biden said. , prompting the Democratic members to chant “USA, USA”.
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Biden pledged to “buy Americans to ensure that everything from the deck of an aircraft carrier to the steel in highway guardrails is made in America from start to finish. Everything. Everything. “
Democratic strategist Kevin Walling said he’s not surprised Biden decided to focus so much on the issue.
“I think he (Biden) has taken a lot of attack from conservatives…especially on manufacturing, job loss, things like that. So it’s very good policy.”
Overall, Walling said he thinks Biden delivered. a “powerful rhetoric” and one of the very few times a union state “focused on international issues from the outset”.
“And I think that’s where the president was strongest.”