Facing Russia, the United States hampered by its own red lines

Joe Biden during a speech on Ukraine at the White House on March 16.  He is flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left), Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.

The world’s leading military power has become wary, even allergic, to the idea of ​​any outside operation. Such is the paradox of America, confirmed by the war in Ukraine. The Russian invasion has certainly tightened the ranks of the Atlantic Alliance, as Joe Biden’s visit to Brussels on Thursday 24 March should illustrate. American manpower in Europe has increased from 80,000 to 100,000 soldiers. But NATO does not envisage any posture other than defensive, beyond the delivery of arms to the Ukrainians, to avoid an extension of the conflict.

Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration rejects any suggestion of withdrawal or indifference, arguing for its leading role in international mobilization to sanction Russia and help kyiv. However, this paradox of constrained power, largely fueled by the disastrous military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, is an important factor in the continuation of the war in Ukraine.

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The United States has long wondered about the tension between its strategic interests and its universal vocation as leader of the Western bloc. At the end of November 1995, Bill Clinton delivered a solemn address at the White House, which resonates strongly today, to justify his country’s military participation in the implementation of the Dayton agreements. Just concluded between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia, they were to put an end to a three and a half year war in the heart of Europe, marked by 100,000 deaths. America had long refused to get involved, for fear of getting bogged down. On that November day, Bill Clinton attempted a complex synthesis. “America cannot and should not be the policeman of the world. We cannot stop all wars all the time, but we can stop some. » In September 2013, justifying his refusal to sanction the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, Barack Obama used exactly this formula: “America is not the policeman of the world. »

Retired role

kyiv is far from Washington, which sets up China on the horizon of its foreign policy. For the moment, Ukraine monopolizes the attention of the American media and the allies. His martyrdom mobilizes the administration and moves the ranks of Congress. The White House finds itself under multiple, sometimes contradictory pressures, between the price at the pump and that of inaction. How to project force, without using it? Aware of this challenge, Joe Biden is investing. He will participate Thursday in the extraordinary summit of NATO, that of the leaders of the G7 countries and finally that of the European Union. “Eat your cereal, eat your spinach”, warned Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the White House, about this extraordinary diplomatic day. Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and the expansion of Western sanctions will be at the heart of the discussions. The next day, Friday, Joe Biden will travel to Poland, where he will notably meet the American soldiers positioned there.

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