(Feb. 16) As we await news about whether Russia has invaded Ukraine, all Americans should remember the dual wisdom about when politics should stop at the water’s edge and when rallying around the flag is appropriate.

Neither of the above clichés should be absolute guides to political behavior, but both of them should enjoy a sort of presumptive, default status.

Specifically, even for those of us who oppose almost everything President Joe Biden does and who question his conduct of Russia-Ukraine diplomacy so far, it would be inappropriate to criticize him harshly as the Russians invade and as he reacts. If Biden rushes more weaponry to the Ukrainians or seizes worldwide assets of some of the oligarchs who prop up Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship or sabotages the Nord Stream 2 pipeline or conducts a cyberattack that darkens a whole Russian city, he merits an initial public assumption he is acting in the best U.S. interests.

There are times when the nation needs to present a united front — for example, when a nuclear-armed adversary gets aggressive. Biden may be wrong in his reaction, but he should be seen not as some mere partisan opponent in this regard. He is the singular leader of the United States. Patriotism and the practical considerations of national security demand show support. If Putin senses the U.S. is bitterly divided about Biden’s response, he will exploit that division to the expense of our interests.

It bears stressing that this admonition is absolutely not a call for unquestioning, robotic faith in Dear Leader. In some ways, it is an appeal of tone more than substance. Especially if the crisis continues, there is nothing wrong — and indeed, there may be everything right — with thoughtful, measured dissent. Nobody deserves a blank check, and (to mix metaphors) Biden’s leash may deserve to be particularly short considering his history of misjudging almost every foreign policy issue for the full 49 years of his political career.

Still, any eventual criticism should be focused and constructive and not too loud a volume…. [The full column is at this link.]


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