Bernard-Henri Lévy's Take On What Declining American Influence And Leadership Means For The World

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French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Jan. 22, 2015. (Richard Drew/AP)
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Jan. 22, 2015. (Richard Drew/AP)

In his new book, "The Empire and the Five Kings: America's Abdication and the Fate of the World," renowned philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy (@BHL) argues that America's influence is declining, and five powers — China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Sunni radical Islam — are ready to take its place in the world.

He begins his book with a look at the Kurds, which are a key U.S. ally, and he argues that the U.S. has abandoned the Kurds in stepping back from its world leadership role. Lévy says the decision by President Trump to withdraw from Syria and other conflicts in the region was "more than stepping back. It's a betrayal."

"The Kurds were our best allies in the area. They were our boots on the ground," Lévy tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "They were living ramparts of flesh and blood against barbarity preventing terrorisms, and when the job was finished, we told them, 'Go to hell.' The behavior of President Trump when he decided to withdraw from Kurdistan, from Syria and from the Iraqi Kurdistan, was just disgusting. It's a morale failure, and it is a political mistake."

The reason why the U.S. fell from leadership is the thesis of his book, Lévy says.

"It happened because America now reasons only on short term," he says. "There is no strategical aim."

Interview Highlights

On why the U.S. is losing influence in the world

"For example, in the relationship with the Chinese, what I demonstrate in the book is not that Mr. Trump does not act. Of course, he acts. He tries to make a deal as he says, but on one side, you have people, the Chinese who are thinking on centuries. The Chinese have a long, long grand way of thinking. America thinks, I don't know, next month, next quarterly, at the maximum next year in these negotiations about tariffs and so on and so on.

"Regarding the Russians, it is the same. [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has a strategy. Trump has a tactic. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] has a strategy, which is to rebuild the Ottoman Empire. ... Mr. Trump pretends that Iran is the worst enemy, the most dangerous for America and for the West. But when the occasion arises, he delivers on a silver plate to Mullah of Iran what they want most ... which is Damascus and Baghdad, which is the Shia arc. Of course we have the sanctions, but they have Baghdad, and they have Damascus, and they have the strong alliance with Putin. So we are in a situation when our leader of the free world, Donald Trump, plays muscles, but the real strength is on the side, alas alas alas alas, of the five kings: Chinese, Arabs, Iranians, Ottomans (Turks) and Russians."

On why the U.S. came to be considered an empire

"America has been an empire in very precise circumstances when there was only you to save Europe from suicide in 1914, when there was only you to defeat Nazism in 1942, [1943, 1944], when there was only you to defeat communism, which was another fascism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and from time to time, to spread democracy and to crush the threat of fascism, which is the Islamist one. What I love in America is that generally, this imperialism is rather uninterested. It is not imperialism in order to stay or to occupy your territory and so on and so on. But now we're facing something new, which is no empire at all. The only empire of America is the empire of [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg], the empire of the Facebook and Twitter and the social networks and so on. But this is not serious, and this does not change anything in the concrete life of all those who all over the world consider America as the shining city upon the hill."

"We are in a situation when our leader of the free world, Donald Trump, plays muscles, but the real strength is on the side, alas alas alas alas, of the five kings: Chinese, Arabs, Iranians, Ottomans (Turks) and Russians."

Bernard-Henri Lévy

On why European nations aren't stepping up

"Sometimes Europe did that. For example, in Libya, it was [French President Nicolas Sarkozy] who took the lead, and President Obama exerted the leadership from behind. Why not? Europe is lazy. Europe was accustomed to the American security umbrella, and it will take time for Europe to take its responsibility. The metaphor I use in my book, the metaphor of Aeneas, the hero of Virgil, the man who goes from Troy to Europe. Now, Aeneas went from Europe to America two centuries ago to build America. Maybe today Aeneas has to go back to Europe, but it will take time."

On President Obama's failure to act after Syria used chemical weapons in 2013

"Because America is the special country. Because America has the belief that it is exceptional. Barack Obama, this day, did break provisionally — forever, I don't know — with this exceptionalism. He said, 'At the end of the day, OK, America is just another country. We have no special responsibility.' Because what he did this day was to say to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], the worst butcher today on Earth, he told him, 'Beware my dear friend. If you cross the red line of the use of chemical weapons, you will be punished.' Then Bashar al-Assad crossed the line and what happened? Mr. Obama went to make a little tour in the garden of the White House, and at the end of the tour, he said, 'Nothing will happen.' This, for America, was a loss of credibility, which I never saw, and it was, maybe I hope not, but it might be a U-turn in the deep metaphysical vocation of this great country which is America."

On Trump's relationship with Israel and American Jews

"No 1: [Trump] should leave alone his Jewish grandsons, OK. No. 2: There is a quote in Hebrew, 'There is not only proofs of love, there is a deep love which is called Ahavat Yisrael.' You can make gestures toward the Jewish people like the embassy and so on. If it is not based on a deep love, of a deep understanding of what Israel means, these gesture[s] are zero. No. 3: The strength of the Jews in America, which is weakened by the way these days by [Rep. Ilhan Omar] and all the move around her and so on, there is something happening. This strength of the Jews stands on the fact that they will always very wisely bipartisan. There is something in this embracement of the Jews of America by President Trump that looks like a kiss of death. I hope I'm wrong. Not death because the Jews are 'undieable,' but I don't like this kiss. Because the Jewish people have survived because of its knowledge, because of its taste for study and all these ethics of the Jews is 101 percent opposed to the style which Trump and his entourage embody. And if we do any compromise with this nihilist style, I think we — Jews — you — American Jews — make a very dangerous mistake."

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

Book Excerpt: 'The Empire and the Five Kings: America's Abdication and the Fate of the World'

By Bernard-Henri Lévy

When I review the reasons why, at this stage of my life, I poured so much energy into the cause of the Kurds and Kurdistan, this is what comes to mind.

The justice of the fight, of course.

The greatness of this people, whose claims to self- government are so much more solid than t hose of so many others in the region.

I am not a fanatical believer in nation-states. But the least one can ask of the world is that it be consistent in its principles. There exists in the Middle East a state, Syria, that emerged from the decisions of a Franco- British diplomatic duo whose job was to divide the spoils of the Ottoman Empire. The same dignity has been conferred on another lethal fiction with no true identity, Iraq—and this exemplifies the logic of cold- blooded monsters. But in the Kurds we have a people possessing solid and long-standing grounds for asserting their rights. A great people who have paid for their determination to endure with a mountain of suffering rare in human history. Should they be told that they are not a people, are superfluous, and lack standing to demand the independence that, for more than a century, has been the dream and the glory of their fathers? This, to me, violates the notion of the most basic fairness.

Next, there is the debt they are owed. The indelible debt that the world owes to the only armed force that, when ISIS appeared and the region was frozen stiff with terror, dared fight it face-to-face. It was because I was aware of this debt that I, with a small band of friends, came to the region between July and December 2015 to shoot a documentary film, Peshmerga, along the six-hundred-mile front that the Kurds were holding, alone, against the fanatics of the Islamic State. It was because I was aware that these men and women—the Peshmerga includes battalions of women—were the first line of defense not only of Kurdistan but of the world, that I left Europe again in November 2016, on the first day of the fight for Mosul, to make a second documentary, The Battle of Mosul, about the liberation of the most import ant city of the Caliphate. And it was for the same reasons that I personally promoted these films wherever anyone was willing to show them, that I brought the first of them to the very symbolic great hall of the United Nations building in New York and to the hallowed dome of Congress in Washington, and that I lived those two years in step with the Peshmerga and their aspirations.  These fighters w ere sentinels against barbarism, the world’s outposts and shields. The film crew and I deemed it essential to be the witnesses of that.

Another of the reasons for my commitment is the fight for an enlightened Islam, which, as I grow older, I realize has been one of the major concerns of my life. At age twenty, it led me into the rice paddies of Bangladesh; then, forty years later, into the Libyan desert. It took me into Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Afghanistan in defense of the Dari people, the heirs of Rumi, Hafez, and The Roses of Ispahan. Into the Pakistan of the torturers of Daniel Pearl and of t hose who, from Lahore to Karachi, mourned him as a brother. It had previously plunged me into Sarajevo and held me there for the nearly four years of the Serbian war, where the Islam of tolerance and peace was inspiring the Bosnian resistance fighters and their leader, Alija Izetbegović. It brought me back to Algeria, the land of my birth, at a time when illiterate emirs  were sowing terror and the men and women who were resisting the deadly poison of Islamism (sometimes from outside the faith but more often from within it) needed ideological ammunition and encouragement. It was only logical that the same battle, the same desire to make a difference in the war of civilizations that pits the Islam of the learned against the Islam of the assassins should guide me one day into the mountains where the Kurds put their faith in democracy and law, in equality of women and men even on the field of battle, in secularity, in the diversity of faith, and in the sacred obligation to protect Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and Jews.

Abiding with me during those seasons spent with the Kurds was a preference for the tangible, which, since my university days, I have always viewed as the most reliable guardrail against systemic thinking, the fatal temptation of those enamored of thought. The phenomenology of Edmund Husserl; Jean-Paul Sartre’s affection for the substance of things; and Polybius, the historian on horseback, present at the siege of Carthage, who thought, like Heraclitus, that the “eye” is greater than the “ear,” that an “autopsy” is always more valuable than a “testimonial,” and that, to write history, it is best to have lived at least a little of it. Polybius, who, as we were taught in the elite French preparatory classes of the last century, had but one adversary to whom he devoted an entire volume of his Histories: the illustrious Timaeus, whose work has been lost but whom Polybius viewed as the prototype of the recumbent historian, the bookworm, the library rat, who never faced danger or fatigue while compiling the stories of others. I was on Polybius’s side at the time. And when I decided early on to witness the living theater of man’s cruelty with my own eyes whenever possible, I was thinking of Polybius as much as I was of Ernest Hemingway, of the Russian novelist and war correspondent Vasily Grossman, or of the photographer Lee Miller. Nearly a half century later, I have not changed my mind.

And finally there is the taste for distant adventures that, like my preference for the tangible, grew with me into adulthood and accounts for the fact that I have never been able to rank a thinker, however fertile his mind, above the type of writer that a great French resistance fighter, Roger Stéphane, called “the adventurer” in a short work, Portrait de l’aventurier (with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre), that was one of the breviaries of my generation. For me,  those adventurers include, once again, strategists such as Polybius, who was said to be an expert in encrypting signals and could calculate the exact height of the ladders needed to scale a fortress from the shadows its walls cast on the ground; men of action like T. E. Lawrence, who brought his mad conquest to a culmination in the monument of sand and dreams that was The Seven Pillars of Wisdom; the Hemingway of By-Line; writer-combatants like George Orwell in Catalonia or André Malraux in his Latécoère airplane in Spain or Romain Gary in his Boston bomber of the Lorraine squadron; writer-mercenaries like Xenophon, who put his art of war to work for Cyrus the Great and who, from the protracted retreat of the Ten Thousand, drew the material for that bible of lost  causes that is Anabasis; the ascetic Byron of Missolonghi; and the splendid Maurice de Saxe, who was regaled with a great play drawn from the repertory and mounted in his campaign theater on the eve of his victories at Prague and Fontenoy, and who gave the very Rousseau- like title of Reveries to his treatise on the art of war.

Time passes. The models persist. They abided in me as I argued to the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, that entering Mosul and planting his flag would be as decisive for his people as was the taking of Aqaba for Faisal’s tribes in World War I. And they were still on my mind as I followed the long, dusty Kurdish columns into the Sinjar Mountains and as I bivouacked in the Zartik Mountains with Maghdid Harki, the young, white-h aired Peshmerga brigadier general, brave but so vulnerable, whom I vainly tried to convince to reinforce the roof of his bunker. At least I was able, in my film, to chronicle his final moments.

I have written elsewhere about some of these reasons.

One day I may return to them at greater length.

But there was one last reason, perhaps the most important, and it accounts for this book.

At the end of these two years of adventure I witnessed the unfolding of an event that, upon reflection, is quite extraordinary.

President Barzani, the head of the Peshmerga, had come to believe that the time for unrequited sacrifice was over and that the moment had arrived to remind the international community of the promise made to the Kurdish people a century ago, in the letter and spirit of the treaties of Sèvres and Trianon that brought World War I to a close in the Middle East.

Therefore, in September 2017 he took the initiative of organizing a referendum that, as he emphasized over and over again, from Sulaymaniyah to Erbil, would not be followed by a unilateral declaration of independence.

He insisted that its true purpose was to begin a dialogue with the federal state of Iraq, in Baghdad, which had long since ceased to observe all but a fraction of its constitutional and budgetary obligations with respect to the Kurds.

How did the federal power in question respond to this offer of dialogue?

With a series of punitive measures, followed by a total blockade of Kurdistan, followed in turn by a full- fledged invasion in early October of the Kirkuk region, the oil capital of the country.

And in response to that invasion, in response to the surprise offensive planned in secrecy in Tehran and Baghdad, in response to an attack of ten against one (and, as if that were not enough, of tanks against men), what was the position of Kurdistan’s historic allies, its sister democracies, which, only days before, could not heap enough praise on the Peshmerga?

They could find nothing to say.

They uttered not a word as Kurdish houses in Kirkuk were gassed and ransacked, women raped, people tortured.

Not a word as our comrade and cameraman Arkan Sharif was left to bleed to death, a kitchen knife stuck in his throat.

And, after Kirkuk was taken, as the tanks advanced on Erbil, the international community, the united States foremost, lifted not a finger to forestall or foreshorten this outrage; only by throwing all of their forces into the  battle, and with their backs to the wall, did the Peshmerga succeed in protecting Erbil.

This is certainly not the first time that such a betrayal has occurred.

And through family lore, recent memory, and, in this latest episode, direct experience, I know that there is a suicidal weakness in the relationship between the democracies and war; that our first reflex, when the alarm sounds and well-armed and determined adversaries trample our values underfoot, is to do nothing at all.

Such was the fate in 1936 of the Popular Front in Spain, which was shamefully left to fall for fear of aggravating Hitler and Mussolini.

Such was the fate of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

It was the story of Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968, and Warsaw in 1981—the story behind the  “of course we will do nothing” that, though uttered aloud only in the endgame by a member of French president François Mitterrand’s cabinet, was from the outset the motto of a Europe immobilized by the mere idea of confronting the red Army.

It was the story of the abandonment of Sarajevo to Serb militias between 1992 and 1995.

Except that here, in Kirkuk, there was no question of the red Army.

Nor Mussolini’s nor Hitler’s.

Nor even the Serbian army, which passed, however erroneously, for one of the best of Europe.

There was only the Iraqi army.

The same army, now admittedly reequipped, that two years earlier had fled before the advance of the Islamic State.

The same force, devoid of any real military culture or patriotism, torn apart by sectarian rivalries between the Shiite majority and Sunni, Kurdish, and Christian minorities, that would have not stood for twenty-four hours after a Western warning shot.

It was before this army that the Europeans and the Americans had bowed.

Worse, it was their own arms—brand- new Abrams tanks delivered for the joint fight against ISIS—that the U.S. advisers and special forces on the ground allowed the Iraqis to turn against the Kurds.

And we witnessed the astonishing spectacle of the world’s leading power consenting to the defeat and humiliation of its staunchest ally in the region. We saw the same President Trump, who had just declared Iran to be enemy number one in the complicated Middle East, voice no objection as Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, the elite unit of the Iranian revolutionary Guards responsible for Iran’s external operations, came and went, parading around the field of battle like a conqueror and posing for photographers. I myself reported, without drawing any correction or denial, the incredible scene in Kirkuk when, at around eight p.m. on October 15, the day of the decisive battle, another high-ranking Iranian officer screamed at a group of appalled Kurdish officers that “if you refuse to surrender, I will attack you here, here, and here,” his finger jabbing at a map—this a few hundred meters from the airbase where American advisers were stationed.

The Kurds perceived this nonintervention as a terrifying enigma.

I will never forget the air of incredulity of Netchirvan Barzani, prime minister and nephew of the president, on the night in Erbil when, surrounded by his staff, he understood that Baghdad intended to follow through on its threats of a blockade. The confusion was general. Everyone occupied himself with something: one with a reassuring analysis of the overlapping interests that supposedly ensured that none of the protagonists could gain from escalation; another with a frantic Google search of the  legal provisions relating to the airspace that Iraq was preparing to violate; still another with a phlegmatic disquisition on the eternal recurrence of the Kurdish curse and the prospect of having to take once again to the mountains that were, as people liked to say in Erbil, the only true friends of the Peshmerga. But Netchirvan Barzani’s move was to call the allied capitals, one after the other, to alert them. And, as it dawned on him that there was no one at the other end of the line, he passed from shock to anger. A cold rage hardened his youthful and gentle features. No longer was he the modern leader, happy with the world, a cosmopolitan prince speaking Oxonian English, whose ambition, as I had gathered from our previous encounters, seemed to be to lead his people to prosperity on a Singaporean model. The tragic dimension of Kurdish destiny was catching up with him. His voice was dry and hard, his eyes dilated from the affront.  There appeared on his face a look of controlled ferocity that I would have sworn was not native to him but rather came from one of those ancestors whose legacy of long-suffering heroism haunts every Kurd. Especially him, Netchirvan Barzani, whom all of us around the table knew to be the grandson of Mustafa Barzani, father of the Kurdish nation and of its school of resistance.

Nor  will I forget how, the next morning, revisiting the former fronts at Gwer and in the Zartik Mountains, where the wind of emancipation had once briefly blown, I was surprised by the shock, the sad faces streaked with dried tears, and, above all, the anger— anger again—of  people from whom I had parted just a few days ago as they exchanged their Kalashnikovs for ballots, raising index fingers stained with ink to show they had voted, aware of living through a historic moment. Now here they were again, realizing (late, because the Abrams tanks were rolling toward them) that they would have to take up their rifles again! When we reached Altun Kupri, thirty-six miles from Erbil, where the Iraqi army was already massing its forces, I was greeted with shouts of “America betrayed us” from a crowd of volunteers who had been busy building an improvised line of defense under a relentless sun relieved only intermittently by shade from the trees. “Why did America sell us out?” the fighters demanded. “For how much? And to whom?” But the clamor was lost in the penetrating rumble of pickup trucks being lined up to form a steel bulwark capable of slowing the advance of the Abrams tanks and then lost again in stanzas of a patriotic song, shouted out and whipped by the wind to leave only sonorous and somber repetitions of “Long live Kurdistan!” The ambient noise spared me from having to hazard an answer.

But what could I have said to those fighting voters riled up with rebelliousness?

Like them, I was thinking that this affair bore an unmistakable odor of betrayal.

Like them, I was shocked by the mixture of amateurism, fecklessness, and absence of vision of the U.S. and European administrations.

But the more time passed, the more I wondered if there was not something else in that black October, if we were not living through an event, a real one, one more loaded with meaning than it seemed, coming from farther back, headed farther into the future, and prefiguring, well beyond Kurdistan, a change of great magnitude that could not be explained simply by the treachery of great powers.

For such events do occur.

They creep up with the stealth of a wolf.

“On dove’s feet,” Nietzsche said.

The difference between doves and wolves is that the former bring peace whereas the latter enter cities only to spread fear and devastation: how true this was in Kirkuk!

But what they have in common is that we do not hear them coming.

In both cases, a third ear is needed to hear behind “the most silent voice” or the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) the echo of the soundless explosion, of the noiseless tumult, and, sometimes, of the shift of which they are the sign or the premonition.

Who grasped what was happening that day in 371 BCE when, in Leuctra, a desolate corner of the Greek region of Boeotia, the Sacred Battalion of Thebes cut to pieces the four hundred Spartiate Equals who were, like their Theban opponents and the Peshmerga, men who stood up in the face of death? Sparta still had unchallenged leaders, marble laws that were the admiration of the world, and another army, intact and undefeated. But the small battle of Leuctra sounded the death knell of its hegemony in Greece.

Who, thirty-three years later, at the Battle of Chaeronea, when all commentators, the Delphic oracle included, had eyes, ears, and words only for the destruction of the same Sacred Battalion by the cavalry of Philip II of Macedon, could discern that Athens was in fact the real target? That Athens was the true loser? That this was the beginning of the end for the empire of Solon, Miltiades, and Themistocles?

And the Battle of Pydna, on the border of Thessaly, which took place in 168 BCE? That was a lightning offensive (it took an hour) that might well have never taken place: a horse on the loose from the roman lines, making to cross the river, provoked the first engagement and led King Perseus to believe that the enemy was on the move. Who, at the time, understood that it was the Macedonians’ turn to suffer a historic defeat? To lose their grip and yield to the romans? Who among the contemporaneous chroniclers grasped that Alexander’s dream was fading away?

Some events seem rip-roaring but turn out to be mock occurrences.

Others, seemingly anodyne, are like delayed bolts of lightning, slow to strike and, once they do, slow to propagate before suddenly altering the course of history.

Anyway, that is what I felt.

When I boarded the last plane authorized to take off for Europe before the Iraqi embargo took effect and Kurdistan became the open-air prison that it remained for months, I was already convinced: we were in a situation akin to t hose I just cited. What was happening in Erbil reflected much more than President Trump permitting adjustments in the outlying provinces of the American empire. Something was at work that, with respect to America’s relations with its allies, its partners, and itself, did not square with the old order and suggested the possibility of  great shifts to come.

Back in Paris, I read up on who had said what in the debates within the UN Security Council about the “declaration” and the “resolution” that had been initiated by France and quickly emptied of substance through the interventions of China and Russia.

I saw a copy of the letter that the U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had sent to President Barzani a few days before the September 25 referendum, in which Tillerson stated plainly that he was fully aware of the role the Peshmerga had played in ISIS’s defeat and of the gratitude they were due as a result.

I had access to another memo from Tillerson, this one sent after the referendum to the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, asking him belatedly to cease fire, to accept the hand that the Kurds had extended, and to order the Shiite militias directed by Iran to leave Iraq.

In short, in reassembling the last pieces of the puzzle, I discovered something almost worse than nonintervention, blindness, and betrayal: when America decided to react, when it seemed to take the measure of the rout that it was inflicting on itself and finally spoke up, however timidly, its words fell flat and were ignored.

At that point, my conviction was set.

Fortune, as Polybius said, worked in the manner of a tragic playwright, improvising ups and downs, dramatic revelations, and reversals around one character’s mediocrity (in this case an America First president indifferent to too-distant events), another character’s tactical errors ( here, the great but politically overconfident President Barzani), and yet another’s hubris (the Iraqi prime minister’s giddy discovery that his firmness in the face of the Kurds yielded him, in Baghdad, a degree of glory greater, at least for the moment, than what he had garnered from the collapse of the Islamic State). For anyone believing in universal history—that is, in the necessity of recounting the history of the world, as another Greek put it, “as if it were a single city”—it was clear that this featureless battle that concerned no one was, like Leuctra, Chaeronea, and Pydna, the occasion of a wide- ranging rebalancing of prestige and deterrent power in which a sapped America ceded its influence while its emboldened adversaries pushed their advantage and improvised an unprecedented redistribution of the systems of authority.

Iran on the move.

Turkey sensing that it need no longer hold back the

hatred it feels for the Kurdish  people: a people almost as detestable and expendable in Turkish eyes as the Armenians.

A handful of Sunni states that, behind the example of Saudi Arabia, no longer hide their indifference for a small people who, although Muslim, are not Arab.

A power (Russia) and a superpower (China) that do whatever they can to stifle the Kurdish voice within the United Nations.

In short, five large or very large countries claiming new seats at the table of power—and doing so at the expense of the brave and noble Peshmerga.

One might object that what divides these five is greater than what unites them. Or that they exert no more influence over the course of the world than do others, such as Egypt or India. But this is the choice I make in this book.  These are the five powers whose maneuvers I watched during those fearful days—five “kingdoms” I call them in reference to a Bible story about a “war of the empire against the five kings” that had always intrigued me but that, now, finally made sense.  These are five kings who, in a word, shared the fact of having acted with respect to the Kurdish situation as if the American empire no longer mattered, as if we had entered a world without the United States—or, worse, as if we were returning to a pre- Columbian time when America did not yet exist.

Kurdistan as a mirror.

The  battle of Kirkuk as a point at which disparate forces that had long been at work suddenly concentrated and refracted, tracing the contours of a new world order.

Historians will speak, I predict, of a Kirkuk moment—or more accurately of a Kirkuk epoch, because the word epoch, in Greek, signifies a halt, a suspension of the points of reference and the certitudes previously in force: a caesura, a spasm, and perhaps a new beginning.

A time is coming that is no longer the time that emerged from the death of communism, from the triumph of liberal values, and from the pronounced “end of history,” an ending to which I never subscribed but that was beginning to take on a truly sinister face.

In Erbil, I felt the icy breath of the evil spirit of the world.

Excerpted from The Empire and the Five Kings: America's Abdication and the Fate of the World, published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2019 by Bernard-Henri Lévy. Translation copyright © 2019 by Steven B. Kennedy. All rights reserved.

This segment aired on March 19, 2019.


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