Here we go again. President Joe Biden’s aides get notoriously nervous whenever their boss is turned loose to answer questions from the press on his own. The reason for this was made obvious yet again while Biden was taking questions from reporters following an appearance in Tokyo with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Given the recent headlines about China holding military drills and practicing beach landings near Taiwan, a reporter asked him if the United States would “get involved militarily to defend Taiwan” if the Chinese invaded. Biden seemingly didn’t miss a beat before simply saying, “yes.” It’s true that he appeared to contradict that answer a while later, but an administration spokesperson was once again rushed out to “clarify” the President’s answer.

The question came up in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons,” a reporter asked. “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden responded.

An unnamed White House official quickly spoke to NBC News, saying, “As the President said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

I suppose the official was referring to the comment Biden added after saying “yes.” He said, “that’s the commitment we made.” Except, of course, getting “militarily involved” is the exact opposite of the commitment we made under our longstanding, ambiguous policy regarding Taiwan. I suppose if we’re being generous we could infer that supplying Taiwan with weapons and ensuring they have a means of defending themselves might be construed as being “militarily involved,” but that’s clearly not what the reporter was asking. We’ve been supplying Taiwan with military equipment for decades.

Just to confuse matters even further, later in the same press conference, Biden turned around and said he was looking at lifting some sanctions on China. Biden said he was weighing cutting tariffs on Chinese goods while increasing calls on OPEC to raise oil production as he grappled with a politically damaging wave of inflation.

“I am considering it. We did not impose any of those tariffs. They were imposed by the last administration and they’re under consideration,” Biden said on reducing tariffs on China.

Xi Jinping’s head must be spinning at this point. One moment Biden seems to suggest that we will go to war with him in defense of Taiwan and minutes later he’s talking about removing the Trump-era sanctions on the Chinese. Perhaps as a rule of thumb, everyone could just remind themselves that if you don’t like an answer that Joe Biden gives, just wait around for a little while because you’ll get a different one.

We’re already teetering on the brink of a shooting war with Russia if that situation isn’t handled carefully, and that’s bad enough. In concert with our allies, we could almost certainly beat the Russians, though the entire world will pay an awful price if the conflict literally goes nuclear. But could we beat the combined forces of Russia and China, likely tossing in North Korea and Iran for good measure? Now we’re talking about an actual world war. Hopefully, historians will have the opportunity to look back at this moment a few years down the road and figure out exactly how we arrived where we currently are.

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