Why doesn’t Biden lead instead of appearing to play follow the European leader?

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The world sees that Russia is engaged in war crimes. U.S. President Joe Biden continues to insist that at this point in time, the accusation cannot be made.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 7, 2022.

OTTAWA—American President Joe Biden is a political survivor. But that comes with its own challenges.

As a member of Congress, he was able to work both sides of the aisle and build bi-partisan legislation.

But in the world of war there are no bi-partisans. And that is the problem he is facing as European leaders push the envelope while Biden keeps trying to find compromise.

The world sees that Russia is engaged in war crimes. Biden continues to insist that at this point in time, the accusation cannot be made.

Perhaps the deadliest political moment was the American offer to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee the Ukrainian capital. His retort will go down in history. “The fight is here; I need anti-tank ammo, not a ride.”

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is well-known for bombast, in this instance, bombast works.

A psychopathic bully like Vladimir Putin will only respond to force. The notion that soft words are a path to peace rings hollow.

While the Ukrainian people literally fight for their lives, the American president seems strangely detached.

He still has a chance to turn it around, but it better happen quickly. While Russian bombs are targeting childcare centres and hospitals, it is time for NATO to declare and enforce a no-fly zone over the Ukraine.

Of course, this will be viewed as an act of war by Putin, but he is banking on the fact that his opponents will be afraid to unleash his ire with a direct act inside Ukrainian borders.

But it will push him back and stem the bleeding that is currently happening inside the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

An opportunity to push Putin back will also allow time for international financial sanctions to bite deeper into his pocket and those of his friends and allies.

Only a week ago, the German government said no to offering more weapons and closing down SWIFT to Russian banks.

In a stunning reversal, the Germans are leading the charge in ways to frustrate Putin’s war.

That response was prompted by public horror at what was happening in the Ukraine. And as more pictures of maimed and murdered women and children emerge, the international horror will only mount.

So why doesn’t Biden lead the charge instead of appearing to play follow the European leader?

In the same way that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a peacemaker by nature, Biden’s first instinct is to find a diplomatic way out.

Putin keeps saying that he is ready for a diplomatic solution, but actions speak louder than words.

In Canada, the war cabinet is looking very strong. With the Ukrainian roots of the deputy prime minister, it is obvious to all that Chrystia Freeland is personally invested in saving her family’s homeland.

As finance minister, she also has the tools to cut off the money supply to the murderers. Freeland has been working incessantly to bring her European partners onside for deeper and stronger financial sanctions.

Defence Minister Anita Anand has also risen to the occasion, appearing composed and knowledgeable on the military deployment and arms procurement process for the effort.

With Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly rounding out the triumvirate, it is the first time in Canadian history that three women have led an international war effort on behalf of our country. These women are also potential successors to the prime minister. Despite that internal competition, they all appear to be working well in tandem.

The huge Ukrainian diaspora in Canada is also politically important for the government.

Canada boasts the largest community of Ukrainians outside the Ukraine. Their high level of political involvement makes them very important to any party that hopes to form government.

In the Greater Toronto Area, Ukrainians can make the difference in several ridings in west Toronto, Mississauga, and Hamilton.

Likewise, Winnipeg and Edmonton have strong Ukrainian ties and the community is not only working to promote government action but many are returning to Ukraine to join the battle for the homeland.

The world of sport is also stepping up to the plate, with international federations cancelling events in Russia and tossing their teams from global competition.

The world is definitely ahead of the NATO politicians.

But that gives Biden the chance to follow his finely honed political instincts and build back some political support.

The more Putin is isolated, the easier it will be for NATO to provide real support to the Ukrainian people.

The no-fly zone is the only way to stop this insanity.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.