We know, too, about the craven abandonment of the Kurds to the New Gang of Four, right up to the ceasefire of Oct. 28.
To Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards received what amounts to a green light to conduct themselves, from Jalula to Sinjar, as if they were on conquered territory and thus to try their hand at wielding influence from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Oman and thus becoming a loaded pistol pointed at the head of the West and its allies.
To Turkey, which, in the manner of Schrödinger’s cat being simultaneously dead and not dead, is both in NATO and out of it, using that freedom of movement to exact historical vengeance against the people of the Peshmerga.
To Syria, whose murderous puppet of a dictator now reigns, to borrow a phrase from the French poet Louis Aragon, over “a country flayed by butchers.”
And finally to Iraq, that factitious country that never existed except in the dizzy mind of a British diplomat a century ago and that conjures up a sense of unity by crying, like Cato the Elder about Carthage, “delenda est Erbil” and crushing a free, democratic, and peace-loving people under the boots of its heavily armed militias.
By contrast, insufficient attention has been paid to the frightening mystery posed in this affair by the attitude of the United States.
What continues to astonish at the end of these four weeks of cynicism and hardly strategic cowardice is the spectacle of President Donald Trump, the allegedly brilliant dealmaker and peerless player who putatively wins all his bets; it is the image of this “tough guy” who supposedly misses no opportunity to set himself apart from Obama-the-spineless-intellectual; what astonishes is the incredible inconsistency of the president of the world’s leading democracy, who can lecture us in the morning that the agreement with Iran is the worst pact his country ever signed and then, later that same day, welcome Iran’s General Soleimani into the streets of Kirkuk, shifting shamelessly from Obama’s convenient strategy of “leading from behind” to a tragic and truly incomprehensible “leaving for nothing” that amounts to rolling out the red carpet for the enemy.
In my long life, I cannot recall such a bewildering moral and political forfeiture.
I know no other example of a great power that has left one of its oldest and most loyal allies in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.
And I can think of no sorrier spectacle than that of watching these Kurdish fighters, tolerant Muslims and ramparts against ISIS, be delivered up and cut to pieces by a rabble wielding weapons and Abrams tanks furnished to their executioners by the Americans.
But that is where things stand. And, for a friend of the United States, it is wrenchingly painful.
The country of Kennedy and Reagan no longer has any sacrosanct allies in the region. The value of its word has plummeted, despite a seeming change of tone these last few hours.
And, for the leaders of the Gang of Four, for this bunch of brutes drunk on impunity, hubris, and, no doubt, hateful vengeance for the American master they so long feared, it is as if the house of cards that was the Pax Americana had suddenly collapsed, opening the way to no end of adventures.
This is the geopolitical equivalent of a stock-market crash.
It has been a haunting moment when a flabbergasted world discovered that the fiduciary value of the American president and his Department of State was almost zero.
The emperor, in other words, was naked; his securities were no longer worth the paper they were printed on; and the American colossus had crumbled into a pile of diplomatic subprimes.
These days in Washington “Thucydides’s trap” is much discussed, thanks to Graham Allison’s 2017 book by that name.
On everyone’s mind is that fearful instant—fearful because it almost invariably leads to war—when the old hegemonic power grasps that, as a result of its own failures and weaknesses, it may have to yield to the newcomer.
Well, in America’s treatment of Kurdistan we glimpse Athens and Sparta switching roles—but no doubt it is the fatal fault that will give wings, far beyond the region, to America’s rivals.
Remember Pericles, the wise strategist, whose death and the popular disregard of his message brought forth the ruin of the great democratic city state of Athens. Pericles had warned those of his fellow citizens who were inclined to cowardice and laxity.
He had told them that prestige was a responsibility that could not be shirked. And he had predicted that, if his fellow citizens failed to heed his warning, they would slide quickly into “peaceful enslavement.”
In equating Kurds and Iraqis, Trump has come down on the wrong side of the Thucydides’ theorem—at the expense of the United States.
The Athens of our time, the most prestigious and democratic of nations, runs the risk of throwing itself headlong into peaceful enslavement and leaving the remains of its influence to the several menacing Spartas that, from Ankara to Moscow or Beijing, have already begun to salivate.
Today it is the Kurds who taste the bitter fruit of the new “plot against America,” this one, in contrast to the one imagined by Philip Roth, conducted openly, with the enemy advancing undisguised; but tomorrow, unless we correct our course, it will be other peoples in other free cities in other regions of the planet who will pay the price.
Messieurs Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Khamenei, and consorts, dinner is served. The great feast on the American carcass may have just begun.
Translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.