What Biden could have said:
My fellow Americans, 90 years ago a madman in Europe threatened to destroy the world if Europe did not give him a piece of Czechoslovakia. So Europe capitulated, and gave Adolf Hitler that piece of Czechoslovakia. But then he wanted all of Czechoslovakia, as well as Austria and Poland. After that, he wanted the rest of Europe. The United States and allies around the world went to war to stop that madman, and decades of peace and prosperity have followed.
A great historian once said, if we don’t learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat them. Today, another madman is threatening to destroy the world if he doesn’t get a piece of Ukraine. The world gave him Crimea in eastern Ukraine, but now Vladimir Putin wants all of Ukraine. And then he will want Latvia, Estonia and Albania, and Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and half of Germany. He seems to think that he can recreate the Soviet Union, or Russia of the czars. He cannot. Time has moved on. And if he doesn’t move with it, history will leave him and Russia behind.
But Mr. Putin has not gotten the message of history yet. Instead, he has activated his nuclear arsenal and threatens a global catastrophe if he doesn’t get his way. If the world does not give him Ukraine, he says he will destroy us all.
So we will now be clear. First, the United States does not abide authoritarian government here at home, and it does not abide authoritarian governments attacking sovereign states abroad.
We went to war 90 years ago to prevent a madman from imposing his violent, authoritarian rule over Europe. The United States supports the will of people in every country to choose the government they want. Putin is not giving Ukraine that choice.
This unprovoked attack on Ukraine is partly the fault of the previous American administration. It gave Mr. Putin the impression that the United States is weak and that it will not act to prevent naked aggression against a peaceful, sovereign state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States economy is the strongest in the world, and we are using it to support the people of Ukraine, so they can determine their own future. It is up to them, not Russia, to choose their future.
The United States military is unequaled in the world. We choose when and where to engage for the greatest possible effect. We and our European allies warn Mr. Putin that he does not want to invite our combined military force into the Eastern European theatre to act on Ukraine’s behalf. The leader of Russia may also have forgotten that no state has ever acted on a nuclear threat, thanks to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is one third the size of the United States. So what the Russian leader is telling us is that he is willing to risk nuclear warfare, and to sacrifice all of Russia to get Ukraine. That kind of thinking is illogical, and it can only make sense to a madman.
In the card game of poker, a player without the winning cards may pretend that he has them anyway. We call that a bluff. We are confident that Mr. Putin is bluffing, and he does not hold the winning cards.
So I now urge all world leaders who support self-determination for every country, to warn the Russian leader that he must cease his country’s aggressive actions, and pull all Russian and Russian proxy forces out of Ukraine. Otherwise, he and his country will face immediate and severe, global diplomatic and economic consequences.
The Russian leader has said that economic sanctions against Russia are an act of war. This is almost humorous coming from a man who is waging unprovoked war against a peaceful neighboring state.
Next, the United States will continue its diplomatic and economic sanctions against the aggressor until its war operations cease and it removes its forces from Ukraine. In addition to those actions, I am ordering US forces Europe to DEFCON 2, and I am authorizing US commanders, and requesting NATO commanders to alert their Russian counterparts that US and NATO air forces will begin enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine at 1200 hours local time February 6, 2022. I am also authorizing US forces to respond appropriately to aggressive behavior by Russian military ships and planes at sea and in the air. Until now, US naval and air forces have exercised enormous restraint and grace in the face of provocative and unwarranted acts by their Russian counterparts. Our naval and air forces no longer need to exercise that restraint.
Likewise, the United States and its Allies and supporters have exercised enormous restraint in the face of this Ukraine aggression. We have reached our limit. It is time for the Russian state to cease its aggression, and act as a modern partner with its neighbor nations. It cannot turn back the clock. It cannot rebuild the Soviet Union. It cannot recreate the Russia of the czars. It cannot reverse the tide of history. Any attempt to do those things is not just folly.