Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)President Joe Biden concluded his powerful speech this weekend in Poland about Vladimir Putin’s barbaric attack on Ukraine with this line about the Russian leader: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
White House officials later sought to make it clear Biden was not calling for “regime change,” but it was no gaffe. Biden is 100% correct.
Putin — whom Biden has rightfully called a “war criminal” — should not remain in power given his horrific attack on Ukraine, his role in slaughtering civilians in Syria and his efforts to undermine Western democracies, including during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Biden didn’t hold back in what will likely be seen as a historic speech Saturday just hours from the Ukrainian border. The president appealed directly to the Russian people, telling them, “I refuse to believe that you welcome the killing of innocent children and grandparents or that you accept hospitals, schools, maternity wards that, for God’s sake, are being pummeled with Russian missiles and bombs.”
Biden also shared his emotional conversations with Ukrainian refugees earlier that day, recounting how he “saw tears in many of the mothers’ eyes as I embraced them; their young children — their young children not sure whether to smile or cry.” And he shared the story of what they said to him such as “one little girl [who] said, ‘Mr. President’ — she spoke a little English — ‘is my brother and my daddy — are they going to be okay? Will I see them again?’ ”
The world has seen the horrors Putin has rained down upon the people of Ukraine simply because they won’t bend a knee to this brutal dictator and agree to give up their democracy and self-determination.
The civilian death toll in Ukraine has exceeded 1,100 people — including nearly 100 children — according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but it notes the actual figures are likely considerably higher.
Some of the most horrific events include the actions of Putin’s forces in the March 16 bombing of Mariupol’s Drama Theater — a shelter for civilians — killing about 300 people, according to Ukrainian officials.
And as The New York Times documented last week, Russian forces have bombed at least 23 hospitals and other health care infrastructure, 330 schools and 27 cultural buildings as well 900 houses and apartment buildings. The paper also detailed Russian forces have used cluster munitions, which are imprecise and amount to indiscriminate bombings of civilians.
Biden has been right to call Putin a “war criminal” and even a “butcher,” as he stated Saturday after visiting Ukrainian refugees in Poland. No one who engages in an unprovoked attack on another nation and then in war crimes should remain in power.
But Putin, the “murderous dictator,” as Biden has also described him, engaged in these types of gruesome attacks on civilians in Syria as well, beginning in 2015 when his forces provided military support to keep Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in power. Putin’s forces in Syria — as in Ukraine now — bombed hospitals, schools, markets and other civilian targets. Putin’s military devastated Syrian cities and in the process slaughtered more than 24,000 civilians, as The Guardian detailed, citing civilian casualty monitor Airwars.
Beyond those apparent war crimes, Putin has been actively working to undermine Western democracies. For example, in France’s 2017 presidential election campaign, Russian operatives reportedly spread disinformation in an effort to hurt the candidate they opposed, the moderate Emmanuel Macron, while boosting the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.
And of course, in the United States, as the Mueller report documented, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” The report further noted “a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” explaining “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.”
Biden on Saturday reiterated a point he has made time and time again since becoming President, namely the world is locked in a contest between democracy and autocracy. During his inaugural address on January 20, 2021 — just two weeks after the January 6 attack on the Capitol — he declared, “We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile.”
It’s why just a month later during his virtual speech at the Munich Security Conference, Biden said, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” It also explains why in December his administration organized the Summit for Democracy, which brought together democratic leaders from around the world to tackle the threat of autocratic forces such as Putin.
Near the end of his speech Saturday, Biden returned to this theme as he explained the world is caught in “a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression.”
In keeping with that point, he slammed Putin’s ambitions, declaring “a dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty.” Instead, Biden promised “a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.”
That is when Biden said about Putin, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
All I can say in response is: Amen.