Why Today's Austin-Milley Press Conference Convinces Me That Joe Biden Wants Conflict With Russia in Ukraine

Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

On Friday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark “White Rage” Milley held a press conference about the “crisis” in Ukraine. If you’ve watched these two dips***s in action, you know that sending them out, separately or as a pair, has the potential to make just about any situation more interesting.

As this comes on the heels of a disputed “readout” of a phone call between Joey SoftServe and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky that seemed to show Biden chomping at the bit to go to war –better “prepare for impact,” he told them–and deliberately inflating the nature of the Russian threat (Controversy Over Report: Biden Called Zelensky and Said ‘Brace’ for Invasion and #ReleaseTheTranscript Trends After CNN Starts Deleting Damaging Reports on Joe Biden’s Ukraine Call) and a news conference by Zelensky earlier on Friday (Zelensky Rebukes Biden, Saying He Knows More About Threat to Ukraine) that tried to show that someone sane was still involved in NATO’s Ukraine response even if that person was not Biden, a rational observer would be excused from asking “wtf are they thinking?” Unfortunately, they did not fail to deliver.

Below is the entire briefing. Unfortunately, no transcript is available at this writing, so I’ll use quotes from the mainstream press.

 

Via PBS:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a news briefing Friday that there was still “time and space for diplomacy” with Russia over Ukraine.

Austin said Friday the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border has reached the point where President Vladimir Putin now has a complete range of military options, including actions short of a full-scale invasion.

“While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability,” Austin told a Pentagon news conference.

Austin said Putin could use any portion of his force of an estimated 100,000 troops to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to launch “coercive acts or provocative political acts” like the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine. He urged Putin to de-escalate the tensions.

Austin spoke alongside Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Russian forces near Ukraine include not only ground troops and naval and air forces but also cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as special operations forces. He urged Putin to choose a diplomatic path over conflict.

“If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it will not be cost free, in terms of casualties and other significant effects,” Milley said.

From CBS:

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley briefed reporters at the Pentagon on Friday amid Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine’s border. Austin said “conflict is not inevitable” and that there’s still time for diplomacy.

For the past several months, Russia has been building forces in the western parts of Russia near Ukraine and in Belarus, north of Ukraine. The U.S. along with its NATO allies has called on Russia to deescalate the tensions and warned of consequences if Russia launches another incursion.

There are no plans to send U.S. troops to Ukraine, but the U.S. has put 8,500 U.S. troops from stateside bases on heightened alert to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe. The vast majority of those 8,500 troops would support the NATO Response Force if activated by the alliance.

From CNN:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “horrific” for the country and would result in “significant” casualties as he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to choose a diplomatic path instead.

“Given the type of forces that are arrayed … if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties,” Milley said at a Pentagon press briefing Friday. “You can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads, and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible. And it’s not necessary. And we think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here.”

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed reporters Friday on the US military’s preparations ahead of a possible Russian invasion with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, which prompted Austin this week to put 8,500 US troops on alert for possible deployment to support NATO in Eastern Europe.

Milley spoke of Ukraine’s geography, noting that when its “high water table” freezes, “it makes it for optimal conditions for cross-country tract and wheeled vehicle maneuver.”

“There are many people and highly dense population centers throughout Ukraine. And if war were to break out on a scale and scope that is possible, the civilian population will suffer immensely,” he said.

Milley’s remarks stand in contrast to the message coming from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelesnky spoke to US President Joe Biden by phone Thursday, where the two leaders disagreed on the urgency of the threat Russia poses, and Zelensky reiterated his view speaking in Ukraine Friday that the rhetoric risks causing panic and destabilizing his country’s economy.

When the dichotomy between what Austin and Milley are saying to the world, and the message Ukraine President Zelensky wants to send is so different that even CNN notices, well, there is a real problem.

This is my favorite clip.

I don’t know about you, but a demand to “stand down” followed up by nebulous assertions of NATO’s military strength sounds a lot more like a challenge than an invitation to walk away. It’s the type of invitation that gets your ass beat with a pool cue outside some dive bar in downtown Phenix City, Alabama.

In fact, when we look at this press conference in the context of the anonymous “read out” we all saw yesterday from the “anonymous” Ukrainian official, you can’t but notice how similar the tone is here to that taken by Biden in the now disavowed version of his call to Zelensky.

So, we have a request from the President of Ukraine, the guy with his nads firmly gripped by Vladimir Putin’s personal set of vise-grips, to back off the rhetoric and not inflame the situation. How does anything said by Austin or Milley fit in with that goal? In fact, the press conference gives all indications that Biden wants something else. Everything said by Austin and Milley was calculated to close off Russian options and not leave Vladimir Putin any way out of Ukraine, short of a public climb down.

Indeed, to a great extent, those 130,000 troops Putin has deployed on the periphery of Ukraine are very much like Chekov’s Pistol. That is, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” Those troops are a show of force IF Putin can extract concessions of some visible sort from Ukraine and/or show NATO to be toothless. If he has to send them back to barracks with nothing gained, he becomes a loser in a political system that treats losers in a very rough manner.

I don’t know what Biden and his brain trust were after with this press conference, but one can’t escape the feeling that the last thing they want is a non-violent conclusion to the confrontation in Ukraine and to violate Rahm Emanuel’s maxim about never letting a perfectly good crisis go to waste. I think I’d even go as far as to say that we should hope it was all intentional because if it wasn’t, we are really screwed.