It’s always hard to see the big picture during a crisis that’s still unfolding, just as it’s difficult to remember some of history’s most fundamental lessons. One of these is that great powers tend to fall from within. Western democracies, big and small, will be sorely tested over the next few months.
Inflation has come like a massive wave intent on smashing the middle class and those already struggling yet again. And if the tension with Russia escalates further, this tsunami will look like a ripple on the water. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows this and is betting on social and political upheaval to divide and weaken the West. Prices started rising before the war in Ukraine and will continue after it, increasing already shocking inequalities.
US President Joe Biden will almost certainly lose the crucial congressional elections in November even though he is going to great lengths to control inflation. In Britain, meanwhile, the tabloids are raging and rising prices are the main story on every major news program. Like elsewhere, tension and anger are also simmering here in Greece. The easiest solution is always to snub the disaffected and write them off them as cranks. But this does not solve the problem, as the liberal American elite learned the hard way in 2016.
The West is trapped in an endurance test that promises to be critical and tough.
But there is something else that’s interesting. Speaking to a Ukrainian man recently, I said, “The international community appears to support you.” “Not the international community, just the developed West,” he responded. And he was right. One glance at the map of sanctions against Russia shows that beyond the United States, most of Europe, Japan and Australia, the rest of the world is either with Russia or on the fence, waiting to see how the situation evolves. Many important leaders look at their Western counterparts in puzzlement when faced with terms and dilemmas; some won’t even take their calls.
The combination of the war in Ukraine and global inflation will change everything. It will determine what comes after the US’ post-Cold War dominance, squandered these past 20 years.. But I have a feeling that the game will actually be played out inside the West, inside Western democracies – like in ancient Athens, like in Rome, like always.