Talking Points

Biden's PR stunt with Putin

Despite all the breathless speculation, not much of consequence appeared to happen at the much-anticipated Geneva summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The joint presidential statement released by the two countries after the fact claimed no major breakthroughs and merely restated uncontroversial arms control principles: "Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

Meanwhile, the biggest news from Biden's own press conference was his losing his temper at a CNN White House reporter. The subsequent meditations on media negativity did not sound like the words of a man who had a great deal of diplomatic progress to boast about.

For Biden, the summit was at least immediately intended for domestic political consumption. He spoke a great deal about his demands of the Russian leader: that interference in our elections stop, that cyberattacks end, that human rights be protected and dissidents allowed to live, or there would be unspecified "consequences."

While there were no corresponding claims that Putin had agreed to or even given meaningful concessions on any of this, the message was clear: Biden was saying that he, unlike former President Donald Trump, stood up to Putin. Americans of all political stripes generally like it when their president gets tough with foreign despots, provided a minimum of blood and treasure is expended in the process. Democrats in particular remain justifiably angry at Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Many of them think that interference was even worse than the evidence says and that Trump's role in it was greater than former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team was able to prove. 

Thankfully, Moscow — while still illiberal, nuclear-armed, and extremely dangerous — is much weaker than it was during the Cold War. The threats post-Soviet Russia pose are real but do not require a new one.