Thinking Like a European

Maybe I’m misreading Bernard-Henri Lévy’s op-ed in Foreign Policy on the upcoming Kurdish independence referendum but it seems to me that it expresses a peculiarly even bizarrely European pattern of thought:

The timidity of the international community in the face of the Sept. 25 referendum on an independent Kurdistan is a trifecta of shame, absurdity, and historic miscalculation.

We are talking about a people who have been deported, Arabized by force, gassed, and pushed into the mountains where, for a century, they have mounted an exemplary resistance to the tyranny their Baghdad masters successively imposed on them in defiance of geography and of the Kurds’ thousand years of history.

Theirs is a region that finally gained autonomy with the fall of Saddam Hussein — a region that, when the tsunami of the Islamic State crashed over Mesopotamia in 2014 and the Iraqi Army took flight, was the first to organize a counteroffensive. Since then, over a front 600 miles long, the Iraqi Kurds held off the barbarians and thus saved Kurdistan, Iraq, and our shared civilization.

And it is the Kurds again who, in the run-up to the battle of Mosul, went on the offensive on the Plains of Nineveh, opened the gates to the city, and, through their courage, enabled the coalition to strike at the heart of the Islamic State.

But now that the time has come to settle up, the United States remains stubbornly opposed to the referendum, urging the Kurds to put off their aspirations for independence to an indeterminate date in the future. Instead of thanking the Kurds, the world is telling them, with thinly veiled cynicism, “Sorry, Kurdish friends, you were so useful in confronting Islamic terror, but, uh, your timing is not so good. We don’t need you anymore, so why don’t you just go on home? Thanks, again — see you next time.”

Let’s cut if off there. In the history of the world can anyone think of an instance in which a people were given a country? I can’t. What I see is people seizing their countries by force.

The Kurds’ problem is that they’re divided among Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia and don’t have enough power in any one country to seize control from a country that isn’t interested in having a chunk of itself carved out.

Our European cousins imagine a world governed by a civil code and popular sovereignty. Might that world exist someday? Perhaps. It doesn’t exist now.

In the particular case of the Iraqi Kurds I strongly suspect that the Shi’ite majority in Iraq would welcome the Kurds’ departure and don’t let the door hit you as you go out as long as they didn’t intend to take Mosul or oil-rich Kirkuk with them.

In the pre-Saddam days the area of Iraq where the Kurds live was called the “Kurdish Autonomous Region”. That’s probably about as good as it gets and it’s what the Kurds—and the international community such as it is—should be striving for.

4 comments… add one
  • gray shambler

    can anyone think of an instance in which a people were given a country? I can’t.

    Israel.

  • mike shupp

    Just the example that occurred to me. Let’s agree the Israelis had to go to war immediately after getting their country to defend it from outraged neighbors and former occupants (and haven’t yet fully come to terms with any of them.) But even before 1949, there was a notion among Jews that a “national homeland” of some sort, as an alternative to the diaspora, would be a good thing, and before concentrating their efforts on Palestine, there were efforts to win territory in Africa from the British and French governments and elsewhere. Science fiction fans may recall a novel by Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union about a short lived Jewish state in Alaska.

    I think the odds are good that if I knew more history, I could find other examples, or near-examples. How exactly would you describe the Lousiana Purchase? Or the Pilgrim settlement in Massachusetts?

  • Israel.

    First they tried buying it. Then they seized it.

  • Bob Sykes

    Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia: five countries strongly motivated to form an anti-Kurd alliance. That would also be an anti-American alliance. And Russia would be their friend.

    This has the makings of a geo-political disaster for the US.

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