The famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once wrote that you should always make it appear that an avenue of retreat is open to an encircled enemy to prevent them from fighting to the death with the courage of despair.  The Biden administration and western European leadership need to give Putin a dignified off-ramp, or it could get uglier in Ukraine, and nobody wants what could happen.

As a thought experiment, imagine that the West paints Russia’s leader into a corner, and he says, “To Hell with it, and detonates a nuke on Ukrainian soil.”

What would America and Europe do? The EU is already looking for Biden to lead, and we haven’t seen much other than an attempt at economic warfare that affects citizens of Russia but has done very little to slow down Putin.  President Biden’s foreign policy in the run-up to the invasion was to not do anything to upset Putin further and make non-specific threats of sanctions that Russia did not take seriously, precisely because they were left to the imagination.

The off-ramp, or lack of one, is the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about.

Biden has made several missteps with regard to Putin, and his offhanded comments have had his White House handlers and press secretary scrambling to fix in the headlines of the New York Times, a White House favorite.

Why Biden’s off-script remarks about Putin are so dangerous

Joe Biden
Former Vice President Biden (now President) speaking with attendees at the Clark County Democratic Party’s 2020 Kick-Off to Caucus Gala at the Tropicana Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of AmericaCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Over the past week, US President Joe Biden has made a series of unscripted remarks that have upped the temperature of US-Russia relations to near boiling point.

However, his ad-libbed line at the end of what was billed as a “major speech” in Poland on Saturday – seemingly calling for President Vladimir Putin to be removed from power – may have landed the hardest.

In his speech to a crowd of assembled Polish government officials and dignitaries at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the US president once again warned that the world was in the midst of an era-defining conflict between democracies and autocracies.

He pledged that Nato would defend “every inch” of its member states’ soil. He also promised continued support to Ukraine, although he noted that the US military would not engage with Russian forces there.

It was a confrontational but measured speech – well in line with what US officials, from Secretary of State Antony Blinken on down, have been saying for months.

Then, right before the “thank yous” and “goodbyes,” Mr. Biden added of his Russian counterpart: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” –From the BBC

The White House seems to have finally realized that Putin, while powerful and dangerous, is a known quantity. Biden needs to think long and hard before he starts threatening to chop off heads in an offhanded Trumpian fashion. It didn’t work so well with Saddam in Iraq or Libya with Muammar al-Gaddafi, where I lost my best friend, Glen Doherty (Navy SEAL/CIA GRS KIA).

Both were epic failures of American foreign policy.

Back to the Russian leader…

This is realistically his first major foreign policy misstep, and it’s going to leave a mark.

I’ve heard the rumors that his inner circle of military leaders purposely led him astray and want to see him out of power by forcing a blunder in Ukraine.

That Russia’s elite are scheming to have, him assassinated.

I find the first hard to believe, the second scenario gets more likely by the day, but the one issue is who replaces this modern-day Stalin?

Something to think about because it takes a certain type of leader, a strong one, to lead in Russia.

Putin underestimated the global polarization around his Ukraine invasion, its charismatic leader, Zelinsky, and the fighting spirit of free Ukrainians.

Then the world brought cancel culture to Russia, and its people are paying for it the most. Stranded tourists with no access to banking services, no more freedom of movement, and many are refugees without status.

So how do we end Putin’s Game of Thrones?

The Biden administration needs to start leading from the front, for starters. America and Europe have to meet with Zelensky to find an acceptable set of terms for his country. America needs to stop soft-pedaling and broker an off-ramp for Putin. One that saves face for the Russian leader before he shoves all in with his chips in and goes nuclear.

Because nobody wins in that scenario, not even China.