It’s Cold War II, and the enemies of freedom are lining up to forge a new world order
The visual contrast was brutal. In Beijing, autocrats swaggered through those vast marble halls that dictators love to build. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were surrounded by sundry lesser despots – leaders from Egypt and Ethiopia, Myanmar and Mozambique, Turkmenistan and the Taliban – united chiefly by their enthusiasm for the coming overthrow of the Western order. Equally worrying, the presence of democratically-elected Viktor Orbán of Hungary – a disaffected Nato and EU member – shaking hands and smiling for the cameras.
At almost exactly the same moment as China’s global summit of its friends and partners, US President Joe Biden was taking querulously to the airwaves to warn his countrymen against retreat. “American leadership is what holds the world together,” he intoned, with his customary expression of elderly bafflement. “American alliances are what keep us, America, safe.” Strong words and true, but undermined by the way he kept blinking in confusion at the autocue, a dotard president seeming to symbolise a nation past its prime.
How vertiginously it has come upon us, this sense that we are losing. Only a month ago, Putin, who had recently been able to summon European leaders to his outsized Moscow table, was reduced to fawning over Kim Jong-un.