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Concluding his emergency trip to Europe for consultations on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Biden famously ad-libbed, “For God’s sake, Putin must not remain in power!”

Why did the administration, within minutes, feel the need to walk that back? It is crystal clear that this brutal war was Vladimir Putin’s idea, and that it continues because Putin will not admit that he catastrophically miscalculated how the war would go. Any rational actor would be looking for the exit, but Putin keeps bludgeoning the Ukrainian population even though it’s increasingly clear that he cannot reach his stated objectives, and is paying huge military and economic costs. There’s a good chance the war will only end when Putin is overthrown.

Yet there are good reasons why the United States, of all countries, should not be publicly calling for regime change. First, we have a long and shameful history of imposing regime change on our Central American and Caribbean neighbors in the early 20th century, most often to install strongmen friendly to US business interests. This history includes the Spanish-American War, in which we took control of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and imposed regimes to our liking. In 1954, the CIA organized a coup against the elected president of Guatemala, initiating decades of right-wing military rule. The CIA tried the same thing in 1961 in Cuba, but its sponsored invasion by Cuban exiles failed at the Bay of Pigs. US fingerprints were all over the 1973 coup against Chile’s elected president, Salvador Allende.

Not every attempt at regime change was successful. The Cuban Revolution has survived since 1959, in spite of an unrelenting US economic embargo. Since 1961 there has been no overt attempt to overthrow the regime, probably because we and the Soviets ended the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 by agreeing that the Soviets would withdraw their missiles and the US would refrain from regime change in Cuba. We have also maintained unremitting hostility against leftist governments in Nicaragua and Venezuela, but neither of those regimes have folded.

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Further afield, the CIA covertly organized the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in Congo in 1961.

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More recently, the US imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attacks of 9/11/2001. We know how those turned out.

Everyone in the affected countries—and their neighbors—remember these events, and most see them as dark times. When the US starts talking about regime change, people check their wallets.

What Biden was probably remembering (he’s old, so he has lots of memories) are two cases where the US was the prime mover in establishing long-lasting and healthy democracies on the ruins of autocracies: Germany and Japan after World War II. But the analogy to the present conflict is weak. World War II was a war of total military and economic mobilization that led, finally, to the complete destruction of the ruling orders of Japan and Germany. We and our allies had no alternative but to invent new regimes and see to it that they were adopted. Japan and Germany then spent decades firmly nested within an alliance of Western democracies, in the context of the Cold War, while their democratic regimes had time to consolidate.

The present conflict in Ukraine is completely unlike those postwar successes. Constrained by the risk (not present in WWII) that any direct confrontation with Russia could escalate to a nuclear World War III, NATO is really not playing for the total defeat of Russia. NATO members are providing massive military and economic aid to Ukraine, and imposing very costly economic sanctions on Russia, but the purpose is to get Russia to negotiate an end to the war, not to defeat it totally.

Biden has nevertheless not only called for Putin’s removal, but has called him a war criminal. Putin may indeed be a war criminal, and he may yet be removed from power (either by a palace coup or a massive popular uprising), but in the meantime, the war will only end when Putin wants it to end. As Donald Rumsfeld once said, you negotiate peace with your enemies, not your friends.