Autocratic setbacks offer Biden his ‘inflection point’ for democracies

on Dec 04, 2022 07:40:PM

This year has been a tough one for the world’s worst authoritarians: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Each of them ends 2022 reeling from self-inflicted wounds, the consequences of the sorts of bad decisions that hubris-blinded autocrats find far easier to make than to unwind.

Given that, the United States and its global partners should double down in 2023 to shape the contest unfolding between democrats and despots that will define the post-Cold War order. US President Joe Biden has consistently focused on this competition as a historic “inflection point.” His third year in office provides him his best opportunity yet to score lasting gains in that contest.

At the beginning of this year, autocracy seemed to be on the march. Putin and Xi in early February 2022, just ahead of the Beijing Olympics, entered a “no limits” strategic partnership. That was followed by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

But since then, in all three cases—Russia, China, and Iran—autocratic leaders’ errors of commission have deepened their countries’ underlying weaknesses while breeding new difficulties that defy easy solutions. 

That’s most dramatically the case with Putin, whose reckless, unprovoked, and illegal war in Ukraine has resulted in 6,490 civilian deaths, per the United Nations’s most recent estimate, and has prompted more than a million Russians to flee his country. International observers point to proof of crimes against humanity.

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