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‘I Have Never Seen Such Idiots!’

A Cypriot taxi driver says the West is sleepwalking into catastrophe

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.


"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?"


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.