Earlier this month, I wrote about the weirdness of the Biden administration’s seemingly blasé attitude toward Ukraine’s security, given the President’s long record of support (including military aid) for its independence from an expansionist Russia, and especially given the determination of the entire Democratic party to impeach Donald Trump largely because his allegedly blasé attitude toward Ukraine security treasonously endangered America’s own security.
Today I can report that the situation has grown even weirder – and in the process, raised major questions about the administration’s view of smooth alliance relations as a top foreign policy priority, and about its adults-in-the-room reputation itself for foreign policy competence itself.
As explained in my March 17 post, the issue at hand is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, That’s a natural gas transport project that the Trump administration opposed because it threatened to, among other problems, increase Europe’s energy dependence on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, provide this aggressive autocrat with a big new source of revenue and therefore of funds for his military, and ace Ukraine itself out of natural gas earnings, thereby weakening its economy and ultimately its ability to defend itself.
So why is Nord Stream 2 being built? Two main reasons. First, lots of big German (and other European) companies have been involved in its financing and nearly finished construction, and will profit from its operation. (See here and here for good summaries.) Further, the German government is obliged to cover the multi-billion dollar losses that would result from cancellation. Second, Chancellor Angela Merkel;s government views the project as a means of keeping Germany, and Europe in general, economically engaged, influential, and therefore at peace with Russia.
The Germans also say they need the new gas because of its plans to de-nuclearize and de-carbonize its economy. Berlin also has the option of filling the looming energy supply gap by purchasing more gas from the United States than at present. But Germany seems more impressed by the fact that higher transport costs make the U.S. product more expensive than Moscow’s.
You’d think, therefore, that Germany would be facing heavy pressure to cancel the pipeline from the Biden administration and especially from the impeachment enthusiasts in the Democrats’ Congressional ranks – like California’s Adam Schiff, the lead House manager for the first Trump impeachment trial, who described Ukraine’s sovereignty and safety as nothing less than a vital interest of the United States.
Not a peep about Nord Stream has been heard from Schiff or from other Trump impeachment hard-liners, like California Democratic Congress Member Eric Swalwell – confirming suspicions that their main concerns all along during both the Trump-Russia collusion and impeachment dramas were somehow ousting Trump for purely partisan or possibly simply deranged reasons, not safeguarding America’s security or democracy.
But Mr. Biden’s stance is more puzzling and disturbing – the latter since Presidents matter so much more than individual legislators. As my earlier post noted, his administration has seemed more relaxed about Nord Stream even though it, too, has claimed to harbor major concerns about Ukraine’s fate.
In fact, as recently as a few days ago, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken declared that “President (Joe) Biden has been very clear, he believes the pipeline is a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the United States, ultimately it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals, It has the potential to undermine the interests of Ukraine, Poland and a number of close partners and allies.”
Yet just this morning, when asked whether Washington could (and by extension, actually would) do anything to stop Nord Stream 2, Blinken “Well, ultimately that is up to those who are trying to build the pipeline and complete it. We just wanted to make sure that our … opposition to the pipeline was well understood.”
In other words, “La de dah.”
Such quick and complete turnabouts by America’s top diplomat are disturbing in and of themselves, but the real problems with the Biden Nord Stream stance go far beyond the impotence claimed (and therefore advertised) by Blinken.
After all, avoiding a showdown with Germany on the pipeline would be understandable and even smart if Mr. Biden really didn’t view Ukraine’s security, and/or Russia’s aims and power, as terribly important in the first place, or if (as I offered as a possibility in my previous post), this decision reflected some broader administration conclusion that relations with Russia should be improved in order to outflank the stronger and more dangerous Chinese.
But not only is the President a strong believer in deterring Russian designs on Europe. He recently seemed to go out of his way to antagonize Putin by calling him a “killer.”
So the most reasonable conclusion to draw is that, at least for now, Mr. Biden is so determined to keep America’s wealthiest European ally happy that he’s given it a veto on a matter he himself has deemed a major U.S. interest. Worse, he seems indifferent to Trump’s (correct) complaint that Germany evidently has no problem with enriching Moscow while continuing to rely on the U.S. military to defend it from Russia. This doesn’t necessarily leave the President guilty of carrying out an “America Last” foreign policy. But it makes you wonder how far he’ll drift from from putting America First.