Remember when Joe pledged to stand up to Vlad?

For the second time in six months, the U.S. State Department is warning that it cannot evacuate U.S. citizens in a life-threatening situation driven by the aggressions of a hostile power; Russian cyberattacks could make life for Ukrainian civilians really difficult, really fast; the U.S. might be sending more troops to the Baltic-state members of NATO; and amidst this burgeoning crisis, it’s worth remembering what Joe Biden pledged on the campaign trail about standing up to Vladimir Putin.

U.S. State Department to Americans: Get Out of Ukraine

While most of the country was enjoying the wild ending to the Bills–Chiefs game, an unnamed “senior State Department official” was offering a briefing with a thoroughly depressing sense of déjà vu, explaining that the U.S. was evacuating the family members of American diplomats from Kyiv, Ukraine, and urging all other Americans to leave the country:

First, as you know, we’ve authorized the departure of some U.S. Government employees, while we have ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. Government employees at our embassy in Kyiv. The State Department has also elevated our Travel Advisory for Ukraine to Level Four — Do Not Travel due to the increased threat of Russian military action. I would note that the Travel Advisory was already at Level Four — Do Not Travel due to COVID-19. These decisions were made out of an abundance of caution due to continued Russian efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and this includes our U.S. Government personnel and their dependents, and the security of our facilities overseas.

Why did we make this decision now? Do we believe a Russian invasion is imminent? As President Biden has said, military action by Russia could come at any time. The United States Government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens in such a contingency, so U.S. citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country.

A second senior State Department official, representing the Bureau of Consular Affairs, added that, “Our recommendation to U.S. citizens currently in Ukraine is that they should consider departing now using commercial or privately available transportation options.”

The U.S. has a “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” that makes a traveler’s whereabouts known in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact the traveler in an emergency. When asked how many Americans were in the country, the Bureau of Consular Affairs officer responded, “U.S. citizens aren’t required to register with us, and so it’s not a number that we are able to share because we don’t have a solid number, and it’s not helpful to share estimated numbers with you. So unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to give you a solid number.”

The U.S. has an embassy in Kyiv, but no consulates. The embassy is estimated to have roughly 180 staffers.

This is the second evacuation of a U.S. embassy and declaration that the U.S. cannot guarantee the safety of U.S. citizens in a foreign country in about six months. It is easy to envision a rerun of the post-Afghan-withdrawal debate, where defenders of the administration contend that any American still in the country deserves their fate because they ignored the government’s warnings to leave.

Batten Down the Hatches; Some Serious Cyberwarfare Could Be Coming

No one knows what Vladimir Putin wants to do; many Russian experts think Putin might reconquer the eastern, more-Russian-speaking provinces (oblasts) of Ukraine and call it a day. But Ukraine actually has the second- or third-largest military in Europe, depending on how you count. (Russia’s is the largest, by a wide margin.) Knocking out the Ukrainian command-and-control systems is going to be a high priority for the Russian forces. And if the shooting starts, it won’t be healthy to be standing outside the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense building, the offices of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the National Defense University, or the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. Depending upon the reliability and precision of Russian weapons, it may not be safe to be anywhere in Kyiv.

Another reason it may be unhealthy to be an American — or anyone else — in Kyiv in the not-too-distant future is that the whole country is likely to be hit with Russian cyberattacks, and it is anyone’s guess as to what gets knocked out and for how long.

In 2007, Estonia was the target of a large-scale cyberattack, which most observers blamed on Russia. Estonian targets ranged from online banking and media outlets to government websites and email services.

Shortly thereafter, Russia again employed DDoS attacks during its August 2008 war with Georgia. Although Russia denied responsibility, Georgia was the victim of a largescale cyberattack that corresponded with Russian military actions. Analysts identified 54 potential targets, (e.g., government, financial, and media outlets), including the National Bank of Georgia, which suspended all electronic operations for 12 days.

Russian hackers have knocked out the power in Ukraine several times before. Now picture the power going out, natural gas not flowing to heat homes, bank systems shutting down and ATMs not working, making the entire economy dependent upon cash because credit cards would no longer work. And that’s before Russia goes to work on the air-traffic-control system, the rail system, hospital records and computer systems, pharmacies . . . Chernobyl’s radiation-monitoring system.

All while Russian forces are advancing from the east, and bombs are falling from the sky.

More U.S. Forces Headed to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?

The somewhat good news is that our somnambulant president, who spent his first year in office strutting around and boasting that “America is back!” might just be realizing that he’s about to oversee the second American foreign-policy disaster in six months and is belatedly realizing that Vladimir Putin has no interest in “stability” and will not be deterred by speeches.

After years of tiptoeing around the question of how much military support to provide to Ukraine, for fear of provoking Russia, Biden officials have recently warned that the United States could throw its weight behind a Ukrainian insurgency should Mr. Putin invade Ukraine.

And the deployment of thousands of additional American troops to NATO’s eastern flank, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Biden administration officials said, is exactly the scenario that Mr. Putin has wanted to avoid, as he has seen the western military alliance creep closer and closer to Russia’s own border.

More U.S. troops in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will likely deter any Russian aggression toward those countries. But, based on the current trajectory, that decision will likely be too late for Ukraine — one more country that believed its relationship with the United States would protect it from aggression and learned the hard way that whether this country keeps its promises depends upon the decisions of the commander in chief.

Look back to Joe Biden’s foreign-policy address in July 2019:

We are facing enemies — both without and within — hoping to exploit the fissures in our society, undermine our democracy, break up our alliances, and return us to an international system where might determines right.

The answer to this threat is more openness — not less. More friendships, more cooperation, more alliances. More democracy.

Vladimir Putin wants to tell himself and anyone he can dupe into believing him that the liberal idea is “obsolete” — because he’s afraid of its power.

No army on earth can match — how the Electric Idea of Liberty — passes freely from person to person, jumps borders, transcends languages and cultures — how it can supercharge communities of ordinary citizens into activists and organizers and change agents.

We must once more harness that power and rally the Free World to meet the challenges facing our world today. And it falls to the United States of America to lead the way.

No other nation has the capacity. No other nation is built on that idea – that promise.

And it’s in our self-interest.

We have to champion liberty and democracy. We have to reclaim our credibility.

In retrospect, Biden’s campaign-trail vision for U.S. foreign policy amounted to a whole bunch of pretty words that didn’t mean much. Once in office, Biden flinched on punishing Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He gave up on blocking the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which strengthened Putin’s leverage over Europe. When push comes to shove with Xi Jinping, the Biden administration backs down in the name of “stability.” And the administration keeps letting the Iranians metaphorically urinate on U.S. shoes while it’s inviting them to further negotiations about their nuclear program.

And of course, we saw how Afghanistan turned out. After ISIS killed 13 American servicemen, Biden stood before the country and pledged, “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this — we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

ISIS has yet to pay any price. Those were just words on a teleprompter; they didn’t really mean anything.

And Vladimir Putin was watching.

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