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‘I Have Never Seen Such Idiots!’

A Cypriot taxi driver says the West is sleepwalking into catastrophe
‘I Have Never Seen Such Idiots!’

Good morning from the airport in Larnaca, Cyprus. I'm headed back to Vienna after a short trip here. I just had a rather vivid ride to the airport from Limassol in the care of a highly opinionated taxi driver. This man's views are consonant with those of other Cypriots I've talked with this week. I know it's a Tom Friedman cliche to quote the taxi driver, but as far as I can tell, Americans never hear from people like this -- and it's really important that we do so we are not blindsided by events.

The driver -- I didn't get his name, but for simplicity's sake, I'll call him "Kyriaco" -- began by telling me that I don't have to wear a mask in his taxi, but that he has to wear one, because it's the law. "Idiots," he said, referring to the government.

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"What time is your flight?" he asked. In four hours, I said. I told him I was leaving extra-early because airports in Europe are terrible this summer. He said I wouldn't have that kind of problem in Larnaca. In Europe, airports fired people during the pandemic, but in Cyprus, the government paid the salaries of airport staff, to keep them on.

We got to talking, as one does, about how things are going in Cyprus. He says the economy in Limassol is really suffering because of the Ukraine war. "We had a lot of Russian business here," he said. "Now, all those five-star hotels are empty."

Kyriaco was extremely anxious about the coming winter. He said it won't be too bad in Cyprus, which doesn't get very cold, but he said Europe is going to be walloped. "What do you think ordinary people are going to do?" he said. "They won't be able to pay their power bills, and there might not be power at any price. How are they going to live? What if they lost their jobs because industries can't get gas, and shut down? What happens to them then?!"

By now his voice was rising.

"I don't understand the European Union idiots," he said (if I had to drink a shot for every time he said the word "idiots," I would be passed out drunk here in the terminal). "They are destroying our own economies to hurt Russia. Do you think they are hurting Russia? No! Only us, the common people. They don't care. Why we do this? Why we destroy everything for ourselves?"

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As we drove, he pointed to a smokestack on top of a hill. Dirty smoke rose from it. "You see that? They are burning dirty oil there for power. They are poisoning the environment. Because of the sanctions, the European Union gave us permission to burn any oil we can find to make electricity. Our government is getting the cheapest oil they can. It's dirty. The EU gave permission not to use the scrubbers. It's a war thing. So we are destroying our own environment to punish the Russians. Idiots! I have never seen such idiots!"

"Do you know who is benefiting most from this war?" Kyriaco asked me. "The Americans. You want to hurt Russia, and you don't care what it does to us."

I reminded him that European leaders are making these decisions too. Yes, he said, but they are doing what the Americans tell them to do. "You Americans are going to sell us natural gas at high prices this winter," he grumbled.

I told him that a friend back in the US e-mailed me overnight to predict that the Russians would sabotage an American liquid natural gas tanker, blowing it sky-high. If the tanker is in port, it will obliterate the port city. In any case, the war will get really serious if that happens.

"You see?" Kyriaco said. "Why do you take these risks? Why do these idiots risk world war? The US minister, why did she go to Taiwan?" He was talking about Nancy Pelosi. "Do the Americans really think that it is in their interest to provoke the Chinese?"

"I tell you something," he said. "America used to be so powerful. But it is not so powerful today, not like it was. You have Russia, and China, and India. Not everybody does what America tells them to do. Do you ever think about that?"

Yes, I told him, I do.

"No, not you," he said. "I mean your government. This Biden, my God. What an idiot!" He slapped the steering wheel. "Listen, my friend, the world is not what it used to be. A lot of people who used to love the Americans don't do it anymore. People see that you start so many wars, and make life hard for a lot of people. Nobody believes you anymore."

I told him that back in the US, more and more people disbelieve our government, and institutional authority. I mentioned to him what Viktor Orban said recently, about how the economic and energy crisis brought to Europe via sanctions on Russia could result in the fall of governments. Yes, said Kyriaco, that absolutely could happen. We in the West are sleepwalking into catastrophe.

"I don't know what is going to happen next," he said as we pulled into the airport. "We will survive it for sure. We always do in my country. But it's going to be bad."

"Do you have kids?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I am afraid to. My God, look at what's happening in the world today!"

I tipped him well. Something tells me that that man will need it.

I know, I know: he's a taxi driver, not a credentialed Expert. But you will recall that credentialed Experts led the West into World War I. Credentialed Experts led America into the disaster of the Vietnam War. Credentialed Experts led us into the Iraq War. I have rather more confidence in the instincts of the Cypriot taxi driver than I do in Washington think tanks and the mandarins of Brussels.

Comments

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Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
The whole world can see that the American hegemony is ending. The last 30 years of wasted power and wealth.... wasted in stupidity.

Europe is committing suicide.
schedule 2 months ago
Breck Henderson
Breck Henderson
Rod -- The biggest lie we are being forced to live by is the climate change narrative. You need to get that clear in your mind. Yes, it's getting warmer. Yes, manmade CO2 plays a role of undetermined magnitude but probably very small. NO, climate change is not an existential threat. The German economy is built on a big lie, and that big lie is being exposed. Neither Germany nor any country can operate a modern, industrial economy with intermittent power sources -- wind and solar. It is physically, technically impossible. Anything that teaches the Europeans the folly of the climate change lie is welcome. What's at stake in the Ukraine war is far bigger than the fate of a single nation. The world is divided into two camps -- authoritarians and liberal democracies. At the moment the liberal democracies have the upper hand, led by the U.S. The authoritarians want to break that hold. They want to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency. They want to be free to claim hegemony over any smaller nations they detest because they provide an example of the superiority of liberal democratic governance, as in Taiwan and in Ukraine. The U.S. Navy currently guarantees freedom of the seas all over the world. The autocracies would like to put an end to that. There are so many more advantages to being the predominant economic and military power in the world. Imagine the fiscal wreckage that would ensue if the Chinese managed to oust the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Our $30 trillion in debt would become intolerable overnight. The Europeans, including Hungary, could produce their own natural gas if they would only drill and use hydraulic fracturing -- but the greens force them to keep their proven supplies locked. Maybe a little suffering will drive home this obvious absurdity. Nuclear power is a fine, safe solution, but we hear little talk of that except in France, which will survive the winter just fine because 80% of their electricity is nuclear. That Germany chose to shutter their nuclear fleet is astoundingly idiotic. But refusing to fight back against Russian aggression in Ukraine because Russia can inflict ruinous economic conditions on a Europe that is attempting to live by lies is not a sensible path.
schedule 2 months ago
    Peter Pratt
    Peter Pratt
    Your first point on climate change is correct.
    Your second point on Ukraine is grossly in error. What we see in Ukraine is the American empire fighting to prevent a multipolar world. The US should have supported this happening after the end of the Cold War, but Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II (Cheney) decided to rule the world. This hegemony has been at the expense of the working and middle class people of America.
    The American empire is full of authoritarians. The leaders hate actual democracy.
    schedule 2 months ago
    ROBERT GRANO
    ROBERT GRANO
    "I don't think there are any Russians.
    And there ain't no Yanks.
    Just corporate criminals
    Playing with tanks." Michael Been, "The Walls Came Down" (1984)

    In your scenario you've left the various technocrats, the "corporate criminals," out of the picture entirely. The people profiting from the Ukraine war are the same people who profited from our excursions in the Middle East. To paint this mess as a simple "liberal democracies vs. autocrats" thing is to fall into exactly the superficial "analysis" that the profiteers want us to. Liberal democracy, no matter what that term once meant, has become a sort of stalking horse for the technological plutocrats who want to run things "for our own good." If anyone's a threat to true liberal democracy, it's them.

    And note: it's entirely possible to believe that Putin's war is evil and unjust, and that China is a very real threat AND to believe that West-sponsored info-capitalist global hegemony is also evil and unjust and a real threat. The West also steamrolls "smaller nations they detest." We just do it culturally and economically instead of militarily.
    schedule 2 months ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      I wouldn't say our system is "evil and unjust", not in the same way a brutal autocratic is. I'd phrase it as "unwise and unjust". Every system of government will always feature a ruling elite-- that's inevitable and one has to be a hopeless idealist to think it could be otherwise. Attempts, notably by Marxists, to deny that reality have merely created another governing elite, and usually one that is rather nasty. The issue is not whether rulers will exist, but whether they rule well.
      schedule 2 months ago