Biden’s response to the intelligence leak is about more than just the actual breach

He’s earned plaudits for how well he’s handled the war in Ukraine. It has required careful cultivation of US allies

Eric Garcia
Thursday 13 April 2023 22:53 BST
<p>President Joe Biden speaks during a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle</p>

President Joe Biden speaks during a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle

President Joe Biden made his first comments about the recent leak of Pentagon documents that detailed US and Nato aid to Ukraine.

On Thursday, authorities arrested Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guard member for the leak. Specifically, the documents also detail how the United States monitors its allies when they interact with China and Russia, which has led to officials denying the allegations from the leaked records.

In addition, some officials have sought to mitigate the damage. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin contacted his South Korean counterpart since the documents revealed how the US spied on its ally and also showed its hesitancy in sending munitions to Ukraine to aid in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on the nation.

The president said he’s “concerned that it happened, but there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.” Similarly, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre urged social media companies to “avoid facilitating the circulation of material detrimental to public safety and national security.”

Meanwhile, Mr Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have reached out to their counterparts in Ukraine and said it would not have any effect on its plans for its offensive that is set to happen in the spring against Russia.

At this point, the president has no real other option but to say that nothing is of great consequence. On one end, he has to say that the US practices detailed in the leaks do not reveal anything particularly damning and that the US complied with the law. Similarly, the Biden administration has to reassure its allies that there are no hard feelings and that none of the revelations were too embarrassing toward them.

All of this matters because, as my colleague Andrew Feinberg reported earlier this year, Mr Biden has deftly balanced US relationships with Nato, Ukraine and its other international allies both ahead of Russia’s invasion and since then. That has required delicate tending to plenty of fragile relationships and striking the right tone between showing resolve against Mr Putin while not sounding too bellicose. This came on the heels of the United States’s disastrous exit from Afghanistan, which led to unease amoung American allies, and the long overhang that came after US intelligence incorrectly concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

He has not always perfected the balance, as was the case when he said last year shortly after the war began that “This man cannot remain in power” in reference to Mr Putin. But he has still earned widespread praised even from some more establishment line Republicans.

And it’s not just his international allies that Mr Biden needs to placate. Mr Biden also must present a front of competence as Republicans who control the House of Representatives look to find any potential hole in his governance as a pretext for zealous questioning. Mr Biden campaigned largely on being a competent foil to the chaotic years of his predecessor Donald Trump. Any hint that he is slipping would immediately puncture that image.

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