Drama, according to Aristotle’s definition, instills pity and fear.
There was no shortage of such events in 2022, which dealt unpredicted blows to Western populism and Iranian Islamism.
However, those dwarfed compared to what Russian imperialism uncorked and absorbed over the elapsing year.
A year of populism: Boris Johnson, Liz Truss struggle in the UK; Bolsonaro, Trump see political losses
Populism’s setbacks began in Britain. London, once a paragon of political stability and dignity, produced three prime ministers this year, including one who served for less than two months.
With Boris Johnson deposed for his lies about his personal conduct, and Liz Truss gone because of an adventurism that crushed the pound and ignored her party’s core beliefs, the pair represented populism’s two faces: the scorn for public norms and the abandonment of political prudence.
Added up, the two’s downfalls signaled a broader populist retreat that continued with electoral setbacks for Donald Trump’s congressional candidates and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat.
Having said this, populism survived 2022, as Israel’s general election made plain. Moreover, even if populism had vanished, the significance of its demise would have dwarfed compared with what happened this year in Iran.
Iran rocked by harsh anti-regime protests
THE ISLAMIST challenge to mankind has been infinitely harsher than any of populism’s achievements in recent years.
Since the 1980s, terrorists representing both Sunna and Shia struck in multiple cities in five continents, where they killed thousands, bullied millions and made government spend billions on anti-terror defense. This global scourge did not exist before the Islamist takeover of Iran 43 year ago. This year, what was launched back then has finally begun to crack.
The death of 23-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest for violating the mullahs’ dress code has sparked riots that in their scope, duration, and rhetoric the Islamic Republic had never faced. Now approaching its fifth month, unrest has spread from Kurdistan in the west to Baluchistan in the east, and the youngsters driving it demanded plainly and loudly an end to their country’s Islamist regime.
Clearly, this drama involves all the pity and fear that Aristotle’s definition prescribed, and its significance cannot be overstated. Likelihood is high that 2022 will be recalled as the year in which the revolution that perverted religion, abused the Iranian people, provoked the Jewish people, rattled the Middle East and destabilized the entire world reached the beginning of its end.
Having said this, the drama in Iran is simmering for now, steadily but slowly, and its moment of catharsis may take years to arrive. This cannot be said of the drama in Ukraine, a military bloodbath, humanitarian catastrophe and geopolitical showdown where little is simmering, and so much is ablaze.
The 2022 Event of the Year: Russian invasion of Ukraine
RUSSIA’S winter attack on Kyiv could have been the event of the year, even without the rest of the war it sparked.
The planned seizure of Ukraine’s major airport, removal of the government and its replacement with Russia’s puppets became a spectacular military fiasco. What began with a failure to seize the airport was followed by a failure to encircle Kyiv and culminated in the invaders’ sweeping retreat.
This five-week battle’s improbable course would have been the event of the year, if not for the subsequent fighting that exposed even deeper flaws in Russia’s military machine of which most Westerners and Russians were equally unaware.
The failure in Kyiv was about poor operational planning and cumbersome field command. The fighting that followed elsewhere exposed low-quality hardware, poor logistics, under-motivated troops, unimaginative commanders, and wholesale draft dodging, all of which exposed a yawning gap between a neo-imperial Russia’s ambitions and abilities.
Still, the social decay and industrial underachievement that underpinned Russia’s military setbacks dwarfed compared to its attack’s geopolitical result.
Hardly three decades after it ended, the Cold War returned – with relish.
True, unlike the previous East-West clash, this one is not about faith. Moscow no longer besmirches either capitalism or religion, and in fact practices both, albeit in its own way. However, Russia’s leaders returned to see in the West a rival, and in democracy a threat.
While all this was apparent at least since the invasion of Georgia in 2008, in 2022 Moscow and Washington joined a kind of hot war that the Cold War never saw.
Unlike the conflicts of Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Angola and the Middle East, in which the competing superpowers also took opposite sides, Ukraine’s is raging on Russia’s doorstep, less than an hour’s flight from the Kremlin. That is why Russia’s leaders feel they can’t afford to lose the defeat they face, that is why the fight they picked is the main event of 2022, and that is why it is set to dominate 2023 as well.
Paradoxically, the more Russia intensifies its war, the more its weakness is exposed. What began with a display of military ineptitude in the Battle of Kyiv and was followed with a display of industrial inferiority in fighting across a 1,000-kilometer front is now followed by a display of moral bankruptcy, as the attack on the Ukrainian army that followed the attack on the Ukrainian government now becomes an attack on the Ukrainian people.
The central drama of 2022, an Armageddon that displaced more than five million Ukrainians (according to Statista) and killed 40,000 Ukrainian civilians, in addition to 100,000 military casualties from each side (according to America’s top soldier, Gen. Mark Milley), may be followed next year by an inverted drama in which the war ends, and its leaders win the Nobel Peace Prize while vowing à la Isaiah that nation shall not lift sword against nation.
Though named after Isaiah’s father, this writer is no prophet and is thus in no position to make such a prediction as 2022 departs. It is, however, his and all other Middle Israelis’ wish as 2023 arrives.
The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.