March 30, 2022

What Gaffe?

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

 It has been a week since President Biden expressed that entirely congruous yet controversial sentiment at the royal castle in Warsaw before a large gathering including many Ukrainian refugees. The horror so many White House and Foggy Bottom suits and network talking heads have expressed regarding “the gaffe” had little to do with what President Biden said in Warsaw but, instead, that he opined at all. I disagree. Saying what everyone of sound mind is thinking is, quite appropriately, what was called for. Blatant war crimes call for unequivocal condemnation, diplomatic Marquis of Queensbury Rules be damned. Biden’s unscripted pronouncement wasn’t a threat. It was an expression of contempt for contemptible behavior by the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.

President Biden, of course, wasn’t announcing a new US regime-change policy concerning Russia, nor would Putin mistake the President’s words to suggest that he was. Official policy pronouncements aren’t off-the-cuff comments as Biden’s unscripted remarks clearly were. Biden expressed the outrage the civilized world feels watching Putin pursue his Nazi-blitzkrieg-type war against innocent civilians in Ukraine. His message, essentially directed to the people Putin rules, was appropriate, albeit not diplomatically polite. It reflects what every decent human being feels and what every world leader believes but is hesitant to utter. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

The Kremlin responded by calling Biden’s remarks “alarming.” That was also appropriate. The Kremlin should be alarmed. The “alarm” isn’t that the United States is about to try to depose Putin. The alarm is that Putin may become a pariah to his people, a shameful head of state to many millions of depressed Russian citizens. Good! They should be alarmed about that. Putin’s war has served no legitimate interests of the people he rules, including those thousands he has arrested for protesting or the thousands who will be coming home in body bags. Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to block the news of Russian brutality against civilians in Ukraine, the news is beginning to trickle in. Soon, an avalanche of news will come gushing in along with the return home of Russia’s war dead. Once they start learning the truth, many Russian citizens will think, For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

Understand this: Putin’s war isn’t merely causing civilian collateral war damage in Ukraine. Putin is deliberately pounding innocent civilians to produce enough agony and misery to cause Ukraine to sue for peace. Instead, one arm tied behind its collective back, Ukraine is fiercely fighting the Russian invaders. The Ukrainian military is targeting Russian military invaders, and the Russians are targeting civilians, which in Ukraine today means mostly women and children. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

As of last Sunday, it was estimated that nearly 1200 civilians had been killed, 108 of whom were children, all victims of deliberate, indiscriminate Russian shelling and bombing. Of course, the number of those wounded and maimed are a multiple of those killed. Then there are the casualties among the Ukrainian armed forces defending the country against Putin’s invasion. Three weeks ago, about 1500 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action, and undoubtedly many more have been wounded. The toll has to be exponentially greater by now. These are, of course, rolling statistics that grow day by day as Putin’s war continues. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

Concurrently, Putin’s invasion has, so far, imposed costs of over a half-trillion dollars (and counting) on Ukraine. Economic Minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, says that the estimate includes physical damage and losses in trade and other economic activity. Specifically, public infrastructure costs are estimated, so far, to be about $120 billion, while private property losses, including housing, are estimated at $100 billion. Losses suffered by private firms are estimated to be approximately $80 billion. Thus far, Ukraine’s GDP has plummeted by $112 billion in one month of fighting, or by about 55 percent of last year’s entire Ukrainian GDP. Then there’s the matter of lost tax revenue, estimated to be about $48 billion, or, more succinctly, nearly 100% of what was expected to be collected for the entire year. Ukraine also estimates that about $54 billion in expected foreign direct investment will also be lost due to Putin’s savaging of Ukraine. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

Approximately 4 million Ukrainians, constituting nearly 10 percent of the entire Ukrainian population, primarily women and children, have been uprooted and turned into refugees in the past month, and hundreds of thousands of Russians have voted with their passports, visas, and airline tickets against what Putin has made of their country. They have left, and most will never return. They are the brain drain Putin has created that Russia will pay for year after year for decades to come.

For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

No people have suffered from the ravages of war more than the Russian people. Russian leadership, or more aptly put, the chronic poor judgment of Russian leadership throughout much of Russia’s history, has visited an immense toll on the people of Russia and their neighbors for generation after generation, century after century—from Ivan the terrible, the first Russian Czar from 1547 to 1584, to Vladimir Putin today. Russian political scientist Vladimir Gelman wrote in a recent article in Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs, “Practically all analysts and observers of Russia today, regardless of their political leanings, tend to agree about the country’s poor quality of governance.” That has been a chronic reality in Russia throughout history as it is today.

Last January, retired Russian General Leonid Ivashov stated that invading Ukraine would be pointless and extremely dangerous. He predicted that such a war would kill thousands and result in Russians and Ukrainians being enemies for life. It would risk war with NATO and threaten the very existence of the Russian Federation. He was reached by phone last week, and he said he stood by what he had said in January. “I do not disavow it,” General Ivashov said. Vladimir Putin, it seems, is determined to make a prophet of General Ivashov.

For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

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16 responses to “What Gaffe?”

  1. Lillian Burns Burns says:

    Very informative. Enjoyed reading the truth.

  2. N Burrows says:

    Thank you for the enlightening article! I wish everyone would read it!! Maybe our country would begin to see trump for what he is. Is that too far a stretch? Thank you again for restoring my hope for the future. ☺️

  3. Paul Lubar says:

    “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”
    Michael Kinsley

  4. T. Mariacher says:

    You nailed it !

  5. Rosemarie says:

    Right on.
    We do need a statesman in office.

  6. Steve says:

    Another well done evaluation of the situation in Ukraine.

  7. Frank Berman says:

    Very informative and factual. Can the Ukrainians win? If not, given the extraordinary effort of the Ukrainians and the damage they are doing to Russia’ military, is this the time for the West to go all in to beat and get rid of Putin and that very overrated military? The question is not rhetorical. I really don’t know the answer.

  8. LWY says:

    If that is how Biden feels, then as the leader of the free world and a country with the strongest military, what should he do about it? Is he doing enough to help Ukraine? Is he doing anything to get rid of Putin? History repeats itself. Have we learned our lessons from 1939 when Hitler invaded
    Poland and Czechoslovakia? How is this any different?

  9. Chuck anderson says:

    Thanks for the directness of your essay regarding President Biden saying what needed to be said regarding Putin, one of ‘the former guy’s favorite despots.

  10. Ben Rinkey says:

    Great column Hal. I find myself asking the same questions as Frank & LWY. Let’s get Ukraine some fighter jets to help in their valiant struggle, immediately.

  11. Judy says:

    Totally agree “this man cannot remain in power”! My fear is our President is not doing enough… “quickly” enough to end this war…. Give Ukraine what it needs … NOW Vs waiting for someone Else to do something and more innocents are killed …

  12. Mike says:


    I really wish I knew you before the Trump era. I say this because your columns since the passing of your partner and the election of Trump, have lacked a balanced, or even semi-objective perspective about what is really happening here in America.

    With respect to this week’s column, calling for regime change is not something that most foreign policy experts would condone – especially when you are unwilling to to do the things that would make that desire (a.k.a. regime change) a reality. Russia knows they are holding a “trump card” – for those of you who like to play card games. As the CEO of BASF acknowledged this week, if Russia withholds their oil and natural gas, Germany, France and other Wester European nations will experience a depression.

    Putin knows that he has nothing to worry about with Biden in the White House. Biden is all bark and no bite! So while calling for regime change may be a great thing in your eyes, I think that most of the leaders of those countries that depend on Russian energy for their survival have a different perspective.

    That said, if Biden’s call for regime change were the only “gaffe” last week, it might be easier to overlook his other gaffes. Specifically, did you miss the part about telling our troops on his trip to Poland, that they’d be able to witness what was happening in the Ukraine. Or the gaffe about Putin’s use of chemical weapons and the fact that it would be met with a reciprocal response.

    Can you possibly rationalize these “gaffes.”

    Let’s face it Hal, your animus towards Trump has impaired your ability to think and write objectively. Were it not impaired, surely we would be seeing some acknowledgement about the disastrous policies being pursued by the Biden Administration. But as a long time reader of your columns, you consistently overlook any substantive matter about the impact of these disastrous policies.

    I have an idea for you. How about next week, you devote some time to discussing the implications of the Hunter Biden Laptop fiasco – an event that even the New Your Times is acknowledging is a pretty serious issue. I mean Hal, if the NYT says it is something we should pay attention to, perhaps you’ll find it within you to see if the potential corruption exposed through the e-mail correspondence might even be as serious as the January 6th fiasco you love to write about.

    Have a nice week

  13. BLB says:

    As I have stated previously in this forum, I agree with Frank, LWY, and Judy. We need action from this administration NOW!
    Also, I totally agree with Mike. Having read your “Eden” Trilogy, Hal, I know that you are a very talented author and historian. However, failing to acknowledge the failings of this administration and to continue to support and elevate what 60% of the population is seeing as a disaster of immense proportion in just 18 months does not shine well on you.
    I agree that Putin needs to go…..and shouldn’t remain in power. But if this administration truly believes that, we should act NOW. The USA should be dictating the rules and not waiting for Putin to call the shots.
    I think our country is in serious trouble. Biden advisors/cabinet/Dems in Congress are out of touch and clinging to uninformed ideas about the economy and our national defense…and climate change. Whoever is advising Biden needs to reach out to former Democrat AND Republican economists and strategists to turn this ship around from the Far Left. We will be lucky to survive until the next election.

  14. Hal, I appreciate your discussing these very important hot button topics that allow us as your loyal readers to think about and respond. I do think that your last reader really nailed it and preempted much of what I also wanted to say. Certainly, everyone wants Putin gone from the center stage of this fiasco in Ukraine. However, let’s look at it in a more nuanced way. It’s foolish wishful thinking that he will be removed because of anyone’s wishes. Certainly, Biden’s ill-timed remarks about Putin being deposed and his intemperate imprecations calling Putin a war criminal were a serious gaffe, especially when articulated by the President of the United States that may have long-term implications. The words almost certainly foreclose any meaningful future negotiation between Biden and Putin. Furthermore, it likely hardens the resolve of Putin and the support of the Russian people for this war because of insults aimed at their country and their still esteemed leader. Recent polls show that greater than 50% of the Russian people support Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Imagine the anger many Russians might feel upon hearing these words from their arch enemy the USA. Deposing Putin can be done in one of two ways. By hard power, that is depending on our military might to remove, him but by so doing thereby risk a nuclear war. Or by soft power through moving the hearts and minds of the Russian people at large. The likelihood of his Kremlin sycophants removing him is near zero.
    Our only hope is that through the airwaves, social media, and other such covert techniques to influence the populace will the Russian people see the unjust war being waged against Ukraine and the tragedy of the wonton loss of lives be they Ukrainian or Russian.
    The intemperate verbal lashing by our President against their leader will only harden their resolve and certainly will not influence them in the way we hope with a positive change in their hearts and minds.
    Hal, may I also respectfully suggest you write about the upcoming completion of the Iranian nuclear talks chaired by Russia and championed by Biden. This obviously is another issue of great importance and with a strong divergence of opinion between liberals and conservatives.

  15. Nancy says:

    Gaffe, according to the dictionary is a diplomatic blunder. All justifications aside, Biden’s record of blunders when he goes “off script” is decades long. His scripted remarks should convey in a disciplined manner what he really means and intends to say, if they did, he wouldn’t have any reason to go “off script.” It makes me wonder, why the need for blunder, unless it’s someone else writing his scripts!!

  16. Paul Conway says:

    We want national sovereignty for Ukraine yet we won’t allow the same to Iran. I don’t understand

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