Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Late on the afternoon of Oct. 9, Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, launched his offensive against Syrian Kurdistan.DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Bernard-Henri Lévy is the author of The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World.

Nothing had any effect.

Not the indignation of world opinion.

Not the incredulity of the United States’ military leaders, diplomats or Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Not French President Emmanuel Macron, who, a few hours before the Turkish attack, welcomed a delegation of Syrian Kurds to the Élysée Palace and reiterated France’s solidarity with their cause.

Not the same Mr. Macron who has since spent considerable time trying to talk some sense into a blind and ignorant U.S. President Donald Trump, who responded to the avalanche of criticism from all sides with this surrealistic comment about the Kurds: “They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy.”

The unthinkable has happened.

Late on the afternoon of Oct. 9, Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, launched his offensive against Syrian Kurdistan.

The same man who, during the years of war against the Islamic State, functioned as the smuggler-in-chief for thousands of jihadis headed for the caliphate via Turkey; the same man whose secret services contributed to the battle of Kobane three years ago by funnelling arms and reinforcements to the IS as it struggled to hold the city; that same man has shelled, and continues to shell, the Syrian Kurds who, alongside the Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan, were the staunchest, most effective enemies of the Islamic State.

And he did it with the assent of Mr. Trump, who, several hours before, gave the green light to the operation by announcing the withdrawal of 2,000 members of the U.S. special forces because he wanted nothing more to do with the “ridiculous,” “tribal” quarrel between the democratic Kurds and the neo-Sultan who is a friend to the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood.

Can anyone remember seeing in recent years such an extreme case of betrayal and abuse of authority?

When have democracies so shamelessly betrayed those who stood as their shields, sentinels and surrogates?

When have they been faced with as catastrophic a situation as a key member of NATO assaulting a free people, in defiance of every principle and value of the alliance?

Not to speak of the most terrible aspects of this assault: civilians targeted and massacred; summary executions; a female human-rights activist, Hervin Khalaf, stoned to death.

I cannot help but wonder about the responses of the other NATO signatories, all tied to bellicose Turkey by a treaty in full force and effect, if the conflict were to deepen: Are not the Kurds already compelled to hold out and ally with the war criminal, and enemy of the West, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

What we are seeing today is the shattering of everything gained against the Islamic State over the years by Americans, Europeans and Kurds (both in Syria and in Iraq) fighting together arm in arm.

Will the world accept the fait accompli and its unfolding consequences?

How should we react to the increasingly worrisome news reaching us from the field, such as revelations of Turkey’s bombing of prisons in which the Kurds had been keeping dangerous jihadis? Or the news that prison guards have been obliged to leave their posts in order to confront the Turkish attack?

Are we on the verge of a forced release, a return to the wild, a dispersal of the fighters who rallied under the Islamic State’s black flag before being neutralized by the Kurds at such cost? Intentionally or not, the Turks are in the process of restoring their freedom of movement.

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s appallingly irresponsible act, no one can say how much the United States’ word, or the word of the West, will be worth in the future in a part of the world where keeping one’s promise counts for so much, especially when it comes to allies and friends.

But it does seem that in offering this unexpected gift to the Turks, Russians, Chinese and Iranians (whose regional ambitions are no secret to anyone), as well as to those lying in wait to restore the caliphate, Mr. Trump has destroyed United States’ entire strategy in the region.

I am reminded of Talleyrand’s reaction to Napoleon’s execution of the Duke of Enghien: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”

But in the face of such a staggering cowardice and inconsistency, of this epitome of spinelessness and cynicism, I must amend Talleyrand’s formula: It is worse than a crime or a mistake; it is suicide.

This essay was translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Interact with The Globe