WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The distinguished French philosopher, author, and filmmaker, Bernard-Henri Levy, has a new book: The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World.
Levy was prompted to write it, as he witnessed, in dismay, the American and European response to the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum and its aftermath: the Iranian-orchestrated assault on Kirkuk.
The people of the Kurdistan Region were exercising their democratic rights in the September 2017 plebiscite, in accord with the liberal values developed and nurtured in the US and Europe.
The sad story of the response of the Western powers is well-known. They opposed the referendum and then, in the face of the attack on the Kurds, did nothing.
Levy was in Kurdistan then. “I was witness to the incredible betrayal of the Kurds, by their American and European allies,” he told Kurdistan 24.
Indeed, as Levy saw it, this was something even bigger: the manifestation of a “huge political earthquake,” the US “retreat and abdication” of its role in the Middle East and the world more broadly, leaving a vacuum that is being filled by the five kings: Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, and Sunni extremists.
“Kurdistan for me was really the revelation of this new situation,” he explained. “It was the starting point,” and “that is why this book is dedicated to the Kurds.”
“I was a witness to this betrayal. I was a witness to the Kurds, delivered on a silver plate to Iran,” Levy stated. “I saw America abandoning [its] values,” and I saw Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “all the five bad guys, taking advantage” of the US retreat “to pursue their own agenda” and their dreams of “replacing the American empire by another empire of their own.”
Levy has an acute sense of history, often lacking in Americans. The five kings, he explained, represent states that had been “empires in the past.” Those empires collapsed in centuries past, including just 30 years ago, when the Soviet Union disintegrated.
But memory of them remains in their homelands, and those kings now seek to reestablish the old empires—in opposition to the liberal democratic order, promoted first by Europe, and then, after World War II, under US leadership.
“Look at Erdogan.” He “is no longer the chief of state of Turkey,” Levy observed. “In his own mind,” he is a “neo-Sultan of a new Ottoman empire.”
“The Iranians are trying” to follow “in the footsteps of their remote ancestors of the Persian empire.”
Levy recalled a conversation he had two years earlier with Masoud Barzani, then President of the Kurdistan Region. “I remember Masoud Barzani” saying that “my real concern and the real concern of the west should be to prevent the Iranians from making the Shi’a arc” to the Mediterranean.
“So we are seeing the rise of new empires,” Levy explained, which share a hostility to liberal values, “to their own people,” and to the very concept of human rights.
Levy emphasized how the Kurds themselves were “the embodiment” of those liberal values. In fighting the Islamic State, “the Kurds were a barricade of flesh, blood, and bones to oppose those who were attacking those values.”
Levy witnessed that himself, while producing two extremely moving documentaries: “Peshmerga” and “The Battle of Mosul.” The films have been shown at the US Congress and the United Nations and honored by America Abroad Media, an organization whose mission is to support “local voices that convey universal values.”
“When you abandon” those who defended your values, while fighting “on the front lines,” Levy said, “it means that you abandon your values.”
That is Levy’s fundamental charge against America today.
The Middle East Institute (MEI), a Washington DC think-tank, has just announced its regional studies course for the spring. This year, it is entitled, “The Post-America Middle East” and includes lectures on the five kings: Russia’s Growing Influence,” “China’s Expanding Role,” and “Rise of Regional Powers.”
In a sad way, MEI’s seminar series constitutes professional approbation of Levy’s thesis, as it applies to the region that prompted him to formulate it in the first place.
But Levy’s book is also a wake-up call, a warning about what can happen, if the US continues on this course. It is, thus, essential reading for all those concerned about a world in which America abandons its leadership role and the values that have animated its national security policy for the past seventy years.