opinion Our Leaderless Free World

A central fact about today’s democratic world is that it is leaderless.

Twenty-five years ago, we had the confident presence of Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and Tony Blair — and Alan Greenspan. Now we have a failed American president, a disgraced German chancellor, a British prime minister about to step down in disgrace, and a Federal Reserve chairman who made the most important decision of his career last year. Elsewhere: resignation of Italy’s prime minister, caretaker government in Israel, assassination of Japan’s dominant political figure.

It is bad in normal times. It is destructive in bad people. We stumble, half-blind, through four separate but mutually reinforcing crises, each compounding the other.

The first crisis is international.. The war in Ukraine is not just a crisis unto itself. It is the epitome of a crisis, which began with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which exposed incompetence and weakness, and which The results were easily predictable. Beyond Ukraine, in which President Biden has pledged enough support to avert a clear defeat but not won a clear victory, there is the looming nuclear crisis with Iran, in which the president appears to have no choice but to negotiate. There is no policy that is on its head. failure, and another escalating crisis over Taiwan, in which those challenging Beijing and Trying to adapt it..

Talented leaders turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade. Biden seems to be mastering the trick of turning lemonade into lemons. He has largely risen to the occasion in Ukraine – creating a moment of coalition unity and resolve – and if he loses, he will have a lot more to lose. If the war is still going on in the winter and Europe is subject to Russian energy blackmail (for example, demanding that Kyiv accept some sort of humiliating ceasefire). Minsk 3 agreement), what will Tehran and Beijing conclude?

The second crisis is economic. This is distinct from a normal economic crisis, which can occur for reasons beyond the control of leaders. A crisis of credibility occurs when leaders make confident predictions, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that turn out to be catastrophically wrong. Insisting that inflation is “temporary”, As Biden did last year., was one such prophecy. His insistence on Monday that “God willing, I don’t think we’re going to see a recession” could be next.

Economic credibility is critical when decisions are painful. At least Jimmy Carter had the guts to nominate Paul Volcker. Where is the similar confidence-inspiring move from Biden, who remarkably keeps the same incompetent economic team that helped get us into this mess? And if the US recession exacerbates a global recession, which the International Monetary Fund expects is imminent, how serious will the consequences of economic inefficiency be?

The third crisis is that of poor countries. Sri Lanka’s political and economic collapse this month, caused in part by the pandemic but mainly by domestic mismanagement, is a foreshadowing of what we see in other developing countries, from Pakistan to Mexico to much of Africa. can expect in parts. But unlike Sri Lanka, the crisis in these places is unlikely to stay within their own borders. I Pakistan, an economic crisis could quickly turn into a nuclear crisis. In African countries and Mexico, the risks are in the form of state collapse and mass migration.

Last time the world was hit by a global recession (and rising food prices), the Arab Spring, civil wars in Syria and Libya, the rise of Islamic State, mass migration to Europe and popular uprisings that included Brexit and elections. . of Donald Trump. Imagine all of this but on a much larger scale, a year or two from now.

The fourth crisis is that of liberal democracy. Democracy does not have its own justification. It justifies itself by what it provides: security, stability, predictability, prosperity—and then consent, choice, and freedom.

People who have lived their entire lives in stable democracies often assume that freedom is everyone’s highest value. The depressing lesson of the last 20 years is that it is not. An illiberal democracy on the Hungarian model can be a successful form of government. The same is true for effective dictatorships like Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Democracies that fail to deliver—by letting go of prices or crime or border control or shared understandings of right and wrong—endanger what they stand for.

The free world will always maintain tremendous advantages over its anti-democrats because we are able to admit and correct our mistakes. But the crises we face will challenge even the most resilient leaders. Apart from Volodymyr Zelensky, there is no one.

The best thing Biden can do for the country is to announce he won’t run for re-election — now, not after the midterms. Let his party decide its own future. Appoint a Treasury Secretary who inspires confidence (if not Larry Summers, then Jamie Dimon). Make sure Ukraine wins fast. Put fear and hesitation in the minds of dictators in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.

It may be enough to save a faltering presidency in a sinking world.