Not five minutes after I pushed “send” on last week’s column, “Stirrings,” news of our president’s presence in Ukraine floated across my screen. Actually, it was more like three minutes, close enough to make me think of writing about it instead. But the meaning of Biden’s trip to Kyiv was just stirring, so I sat back and watched in awe.

No other American president has ever gone into a war zone where we had no troops to protect him. He wasn’t flown in on Air Force One guarded by a bevvy of F-15s, dropped down by a helicopter or escorted by a horde of tanks. He took the train, which in Ukraine has been kept running by a bevvy of hard-working railroad repair workers after each bombing takes out lengths of track because it’s the most efficient means of moving people in that country. Their publicly-owned railroad has safely evacuated more people than all the cars and buses combined.

One news item reminded us that he was not the first national leader to pay his respects to President Zelensky since the Kremlin invaded his country. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson popped in several months after the war began. The Russians weren’t bombing Kyiv at that moment, however, or threatening to escalate in the face of the one-year anniversary of their failure to take Ukraine’s capitol city. That Joe Biden, our President, decided to risk this trip now in order to signal to the world Vladimir Putin’s real position – in essence, to call the bully by his real name—took my breath away.

It was another kind of diplomacy, I think, a kind we don’t often put in that category. “Leadership” is what some writers named it, while some on the rabid fringe of the political right called it a kind of treason (what do they call January 6, 2021, I wonder?) But now, a week after the fact, when most op/ed folks have turned their attention to the next rocks being thrown in the water, I still find myself watching the rings of waves emanating from this one.

The photos of Biden and Zelensky walking the streets of Kyiv, talking together, visiting soldiers, laying a wreath outside a still-standing cathedral, the elder pledging support to the younger, saying the U.S. is with Ukraine – being a real big brother rather than a controlling one—made me proud of our position in the world for the first time in a long time. With his feet, with his body, Joe Biden negotiated with the doubt in my heart that’s been there since Vietnam and neutralized it. He convinced me that we can still do good things with our power and wealth, even though I know our arms manufacturers and dealers are singing hosanas.

Another new alliance that emerged in me from Biden’s visit was with the Russian people themselves. An early op/ed piece by Eliot Cohen in the Atlantic declared “Biden Just Destroyed Putin’s Last Hope,” which made me realize that the real war is Putin against the world, including his own citizens. “Russia has cycled through a series of theories of victory in Ukraine,” Cohen wrote, “—that Kyiv’s leaders would flee, that Ukraine’s population would not fight, that its army would be crumpled up by a sudden blitz or by grinding assaults. It has been reduced to one last hope: that Vladimir Putin’s will is stronger than Joe Biden’s. And Biden just said, by deed as well as word, ‘Oh no it’s not.’”

By politically undermining Putin’s supposed strength, Biden isolated the rogue autocrat and widened the crack between the Kremlin and Russian citizens, even though their ability to express their dissatisfaction is muted by state terrorism and repression. In my mind Putin no longer leads his country: he’s decimating it along with his attempt to destroy Ukraine. By essentially calling a spade a spade, Biden has accomplished what other diplomats haven’t even tried.

“Statesmanship” is perhaps a better word than “diplomacy,” and it has been used in the media. Going toe-to-toe on the world stage, in the name of international freedom as well as the Ukrainian’s national sovereignty, was a bold and courageous move on the part of our current president. I’m willing to bet that even if this turns out to be his only term, the lesson he’s just taught us will be remembered and honored for a long time.

Trudy Wischemann is a former Republican who writes. You can send her your stories of shock and wonder c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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