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US President Biden concluded his March 27, 2022 speech in Poland with the words

For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

(e.g. CBS News's video Biden says Putin "cannot remain in power" at 26:37)

Question: How often has a post WWII US president said publicly that the leader of another country must go?

I'm not asking about actions (covert or otherwise), I'm asking about highly visible public statements in a speech or via a definitive statement by an official White House spokesperson that the leader of a country must no longer be its leader in no uncertain terms.

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    Is restricting to post-WWII necessary? I doubt it would have been common prior.
    – benjimin
    Mar 26 at 21:11
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    @benjimin the world got a lot smaller after WWII, the reach of the US got a lot bigger, and international reporting and awareness expanded, so US presidents were likely more measured in their challenges to other leaders and a statement like this would be much more significant. This is Politics SE not History SE so I think the postwar period is a good constraint.
    – uhoh
    Mar 26 at 21:22
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    FWIW, the White House has since released a statement clarifying that they are not in fact making regime change a policy goal at this time, like this Q currently implies, and this should be viewed as a statement about his exercise of power over his neighbors, not in Russia itself. (I understand that's arguably not what he said, but not every President is known for being a precise communicator.)
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 26 at 22:50
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    @benjimin: I wouldn't be so sure en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Maybe fewer public calls.
    – Fizz
    Mar 27 at 4:55
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    @Fizz - I'd completely agree with that. When they've got a fundamentally good heart, that can be a really good (if often frustrating) quality in a leader. A similar outburst of his led to the Obama administration's policy change on Gay Marriage, which was IMHO fundamental to the sudden collapse of opposition to it in the US. In this case, Biden had just visited a Ukrainian refugee center, and I think its fair to say his blood was up.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 27 at 20:24

4 Answers 4

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This seems to be a post Cold War phenomenon, and it’s even more a post 9/11 phenomenon as Bush was the first US president to make such a statement in public. Here are some examples:

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    Hit rate seems to be 40% at this point, not counting Putin.
    – alamar
    Mar 26 at 23:30
  • @alamar Are you refering to the fact, that 2 of the countries leaders were killed? I am tallking about the first 2.
    – convert
    Mar 26 at 23:33
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    I thought that maybe LBJ had made public statements about Sukarno during the 1965-66 coup d'etat and mass killings and that could be added to the list, but didn't find anything. Mar 27 at 17:40
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    Not Venezuela's Chavez? Fidel Castro? Not any of the N Korean leaders? Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych (2010-2014)?
    – smci
    Mar 27 at 23:50
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    I suppose that Biden has also said that Trump must not remain President of the United States ;-)
    – gerrit
    Mar 28 at 10:57
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The invasion of Panama was specifically for the purpose of removing Noriega from power there.

The speech, given by Bush, was given before most people in the US even knew that the war started. So it had all the feeling of a speech happening before a war. The fact that some of the operations of the war already happened, before the speech, didn't change that.

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In addition to the other answers I have found the following examples.

George H.W. Bush vs. Saddam Hussein. Although this was not literally a command for Saddam Hussein to resign, there is - in my opinion - hardly any difference between directly agitating the Iraqi military and people against Saddam or covertly paying "agents provocateurs" to fuel an uproar indirectly (like the US did in countless other cases). And certainly there can be no doubt about it that Bush Senior did not mean "maybe Saddam vanishes or not, I don't care" but rather strongly wished that the Iraqi people removed him from his position, and given that Bush was former CIA director, it can be speculated that he would not refrain from taking covert action to promote that goal.

Ronald Reagan vs. Sandinistas. Although he does not specifically address Daniel Ortega, it gets unambiguously clear from the speech, that Reagan wants regime change, and he does not want to rely on the autonomous will of the Nicaraguan people, and finally Reagan is supposing himself to be the one that has to take action. However, he had already been acting covertly under that goal for 5 years by that time. So this can be considered an attempt to save his reputation instead of being an act of upfront transparency.

I think the strategy of announcing the desire (and possibly direct or covert action) for regime change was a response to the perception that covert actions often backfired against the US, especially and most importantly with respect to the US population itself. So, by publicly announcing, the administration basically wanted to cover their back, because anyone who did not disagree, counted on agreement's side.

Moreover, there are also specific and more effective means of suppressing disagreement when the administration seems to behave transparently, than there are means of suppressing public indignation and possibly legal action in case the regime change is pursued secretly.

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This is not business as usual, no matter what the US said about Saddam, Assad or Noriega in the past. Those look the same, but they are most assuredly not the same in practice.

While there are multiple documented calls by the US for regime change, they:

  • were generally frowned upon when the US first started getting into the habit of doing so.

  • concerned small tinpot dictatorships, not Russia, a major nuclear power.

  • not a country whom the world has a deep vested interest in seeing to effect a change of course and withdraw, without being able to coerce in doing so.

  • With Saddam and all, the US was mostly acting on its own, for its own purposes. There was no coalition that needed to be held together and most of the world didn't particularly care, one way or the other if the US proceeded or stopped.

As Anthony Zurcher, the BBC US correspondent says Why Biden's off-script remarks about Putin are so dangerous:

The speed with which the US issued its "clarification" - later echoed by Mr Blinken - suggests the US understands the danger inherent in Mr Biden's words.

There's a line between condemning a nation's leader - the sometimes overheated rhetoric of diplomacy - and calling for his removal. It was a line both the Americans and the Soviets respected even at the height of the Cold War. And it is a line that Mr Biden had apparently crossed.

"Regime change" is something powerful countries are accused of imposing on weaker ones - not what one nuclear-armed nation demands of another.

By Sunday, even some US allies were attempting to distance themselves from Mr Biden's remarks.

Biden, has, on the whole, done a very commendable job of bringing together the coalition against Russia. He's also been very good at reminding the younger generations of the inherent constraints brought on by nuclear MAD theory. He's preemptively outed some of their planned intentions. He's even been good at not upping the US DEFCON when Russia upped theirs earlier in the crisis.

Then he does this. After calling Putin a war criminal the week before.

The fact that many of us will feel that he is right does not make saying it publicly any less of a gaffe. He got elected to a position which requires keeping a tight lid on one's mouth when necessary.


Another indication that this was not normal practice is that Biden had to publicly disown his own statement:

"But I want to make it clear: I wasn’t then nor am I now articulating a policy change," Biden said. "I was expressing moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it."

Now, if this was just like previous POTUS regime change calls, why did he have to do that?

p.s. I am not questioning Biden's competence, which I otherwise would rate highly in this crisis. Nor should anyone put words into my mouth about his age - a criticism often raised by Trump who often looked way more doddery himself.

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    Just a thought; why not ask what you "certainly consider to be the larger question behind the question" as a proper Stack Exchange question to allow others to express their views as well rather than hijack my question to try to make it about something that it isn't and then have yours as the only answer to it? I try to ask fairly low-temperature questions that can be answered with facts. That I've done so here is not an accident or oversight. Ask this as a new question and let everyone answer!
    – uhoh
    Mar 28 at 1:34
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    It's not the only answer. And I apologize and did not mean to cause offense or annoy you. But what I find concerning is that the answers so far treat it as business as usual. It is not. The US had the power to get away with the other guys. It can't here. That's amply supported by the BBC guy. Mar 28 at 1:35
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    In Stack Exchange "business as usual" is answering the question as asked; as written in the question post. SE works so well because we all stick to business as usual. To me this is an opportunistic airing of a personal viewpoint and does not qualify as a Stack Exchange answer.
    – uhoh
    Mar 28 at 1:38
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    OK you've made your point the first time. I was able to read it perfectly well. Consider it a reframing then. All the answers so far: no big deal. Which isn't borne out by international reactions to it. So, just my personal opinion? I think not. What is also missing in the answers is that it was almost unprecented for a Western government to publicly advocate regime change outside of wartime when the US first started on the practice. Mar 28 at 1:39
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    @uhoh I'd have to agree with Italian here. While I'm sure your intentions were good, a pure answer of the question as currently stated without additional context is simply misleading about the rarity and impact of the event that you explicitly referenced at the beginning of the question, whether it is intended to be so or not. This answer provides much-needed context.
    – reirab
    Mar 28 at 21:23

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