U.S. President Joe Biden’s ABC interview on March 17 predictably sparked an uproar. When asked by George Stephanopoulos if he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a killer, Biden responded, “M-hmm, I do.”
The affirmative reply to the question has caused an international crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Cold War; it goes well beyond politics and into the realm of rhetoric employed by the United States when the Soviet Union was seen as an unforgiving—and unforgivable—enemy.
Biden has been irritated by Putin’s relations with former U.S. President Donald Trump, and by the possibility that Russian sources were responsible for revealing the dubious business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine. This is likely why he also told Stephanopoulos that Putin has “no soul.”
Putting aside geopolitical analyses of the affair—perceived in Moscow and elsewhere as an “attack on all of Russia”—wasn’t it Biden who vowed to signal to the world that his aim was always to seek dialogue, including that aimed at reaching a new agreement with the Iranian ayatollahs?
Implying that someone is a cold-blooded killer, whoever that person may be, rightly or wrongly, is to embrace an aggressive attitude and adopt language reserved for the most heinous characters on the global stage. Such words often come from terrorists and dictators.
Take North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, for instance. In 2017, he called Trump a “lunatic,” and issued an identical threat to that which Biden has made to Putin: that he “would pay dearly.”
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is another example. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, he referred to then-U.S. President George W. Bush as “the Devil,” and said that the hall where Bush had spoken the day before “still smells of sulfur today.”
Then there’s former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who in 2013 declared Jews and Israel to be “children of dogs and monkeys.”
The mullahs in Tehran and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah have depicted Israel as a “cancer to be eradicated,” and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it a “wild dog of the West.”
Similar inflammatory rhetoric is voiced in Europe, as well. In an online editorial, pro-Catalonian independence politician Quim Torra described Spaniards as “beasts, scavengers, vipers, hyenas,” who have a “little bump in their DNA chain.”
Such verbal aggression may be rampant, but the president of the United States should think twice before engaging in it, unless he wants to be considered a warmonger. Today, many people are saying that his assault on Putin could lead to a catastrophe.
Either Biden has decided to drop the mask he has worn since the outset of his presidential campaign to reveal his true face, or he is unable to resist taking revenge on Putin, who Democrats believed interfered with the election on Trump’s behalf.
Whatever the case, his remarks are encouraging the world’s wolves to feel free to howl their rancor in a similar fashion. And wasn’t this exactly what Biden accused Trump of doing?
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.