American crisis communication, a double-edged sword

US citizens residing or traveling in Ukraine received a message from the White House, Monday January 24. ” It’s time to go “, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Refusing any parallel with Afghanistan and the disastrous withdrawal of August 2021, the Biden administration evokes classic precautionary measures. Yet the decision to evacuate the families of US embassy workers in Kyiv was met with disbelief, especially by local authorities. When does reactivity become feverishness? Since the beginning of November 2021, the United States has sometimes seemed to waver in the face of the Russian military threat against Ukraine. On the other hand, from the point of view of crisis communication, Washington has not deviated from its line: a dramatization supposed to illustrate its vigilance, but above all betraying the limits of its commitment.

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For two months, the White House and the State Department have multiplied contacts with the press. The highest diplomats and advisers explained official positions, alerted to Russian maneuvers, praised coordination with the allies. When the NBC channel announced on January 8 that Washington was considering a reduction in the military presence in Europe, the reaction was meteoric in denial. The desire not to submit to Moscow’s initiatives constitutes a break with 2014, a period that many senior American officials experienced in the Obama administration. At the time, NATO had been overwhelmed by Russian operations in Crimea, then in the Donbass. This time, Washington seems to be rewriting the adage: “If you want peace, announce war”.

“It’s not about prophecy”

By placing 8,500 soldiers on alert, ready to be deployed if the NATO Response Force were activated, the Biden administration avoids reducing its position to promoting economic sanctions, in the event of a Russian operation. This display, however, fuels questions about a possible perverse effect: the self-fulfilling prophecy. By dint of crying wolf, aren’t we encouraging his appetite and his coming? “It’s not about prophecy, retorted, Monday, January 24, the American ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, during a briefing for the foreign press. We see a buildup of 127,000 troops along the border. We have seen that the Russians have deployed troops in Belarus. This is not prophecy, but facts. And these facts led us to respond. »

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