It is surprising to see how an important part symbols play in our lives. We learn how to read stories through them, we can celebrate or mourn observing them, we can even choose the movie for the evening, based on the number in the little circle and other pictograms right next to them. It is even more startling to see that symbols are not to be left out even when it’s wartime.
US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Ukrainian capital Kyiv a bare day earlier than Russian premier Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian parliament, practically, address to the nation. (Delivered on a podium a good 20 meters away from the first row of attendees. But that might be another thing to ponder about.) Biden arrived by train and according to news agencies’ reports, he was taken around the city in an unmarked white SUV. Then he delivered a speech echoing the only echoable thing: the US will support Ukraine as long and as much as it needs.
Undoubtedly an almost shocking, very tough move from the man whose health – at least his mental health – is questioned by the American far-right. He should have been frail, comfortably letting his people spread the word about the near-unconditional support for President Zelensky’s country and its countrymen. But not this time.
This might have been the most patriotic Biden has ever been, appearing in the city not one year ago sieged by the Russian military in order to tell the aggressor off.
Joe Biden was hailed by fellow politicians and social media users and it is true that going to a non-belligerent country to deliver a speech – even if Russia was given a heads-up –, it naturally had to be kept a secret. Afterwards Biden was bathing in attention. And it is true that the speech was something President Volodimir Zelensky and make no mistake, Ukrainian troops on the battlefield needed much. News did not really get out – even staffers were surprised how long it took to leak – but it had a cost which not many will see behind the confetti and the fanfare.
Let’s put it this way: the kettle was left on and it was an empty echo.
The kettle was left on because Biden seemingly was in such a haste and on such a level of secrecy that not even those parts of federal administration were notified that would have been able to make decisions prior, or even boost the move. Naturally, not the precise time should have been published but the intent to go there would have been a good thing to linger around in the heads of the international public and the diplomatic partners of the United States.
Jane Hartley, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was sort of starstruck as well when asked about the move in a podium talk at POLITICO UK’s event on the day of Biden’s visit. „You can see how closely they can keep a secret” – she was forced to say chuckling on the podium. It was past tense by then, Ambassador Hartley could’ve easily told she had known of the trip. (And maybe other branches both in the US administration and the UK Government knew, with being Five Eyes and in the ever-special relationship.) Still, if (and really: if) this was organized in a very quick manner, with maximum secrecy then most of the administration had to endure situations maybe even more embarrassing than Jane Hartley’s awkward answer. And this might have taken a toll on the way of things in diplomacy but maybe in domestic politics as well.
What is even more of a problem is that Biden got all patriotic and heroic for another country many Americans – and not just those who don’t wake and sleep with international news – just simply do not care that much about. Echoing patriotic phrases in a country “somewhere in Eastern Europe” (like most American movies tend to see anything East to Austria or Germany) as Democrat really does not find its home with undecided voters.
They might see Ukraine’s support as a given but they surely do not listen to long speeches far away from the country they themselves would like to get ahead in. Empty echoes do not win elections.