Fortune magazine annually prints the names of 500 American companies that are envied around the world.
If there were a magazine listing the top 500 American intellectuals, I would have suggested the name of Robert Kagan—in spite of his disregard for Kurds—for its next edition.
He has just published a new book, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World. Short, concise and provocative—it urges its readers to vigilantly uphold the liberal world order for future generations.
It addresses the sudden disappearance of American leadership from the world’s stage. It blames the Obama Administration for initiating the retreat, and the Trump Administration for completing it.
For a book, it has its memorable literary allusions as well: it quotes Mike Campbell, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, who, when asked how he went bankrupt, responds, “Gradually, and then suddenly.”
The world has always had issues, says Mr. Kagan, but now it is entering a period akin to the non-war years between 1918 and 1939 when nations only took care of their own— and then introduced us to frightening words like concentration camps, Holocaust and Kamikaze.
He feels Americans were lucky to have 1945 leaders like Roosevelt, Truman, Acheson, Marshall, and Kennan, who felt we inhabit a jungle and the “judgment of nature upon error” was not forgiveness but immediate death.
To make the jungle habitable and ward off errors, Roosevelt and Truman birthed the liberal world order and in the words of Acheson, the United States became its “locomotive” for the good of humanity around the globe.
Sadly, 10 million Kurds—their population at the time, were barred from boarding the liberal world order locomotive when it left the United Nations depot in San Francisco to spread the gospel of “individual rights, freedom, universality, equality—regardless of race and national origin, cosmopolitanism and tolerance.”
Untouched by the grand new experiment called liberal world world, our colonial masters, Turks, Persians and Arabs instilled in us self-doubt and self-contempt to deny us agency in our lives. When some of us dared to experiment with freedom, Uncle Sam’s weapons—sometimes Russian, were used against us to teach us a lesson in servility.
The word “servility” always stuck in our throat.
We much prefer freedom.
As our “luck” would have it, we connected with Henry Kissinger, a prominent champion of liberal world order, and asked him to give us a helping hand to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty in Kurdistan and the Middle East. In spite of his promises, he emboldened Saddam Hussein to shed our blood like water. When asked why he had betrayed us, his response showed not only his heartlessness, but also, in one pithy sentence, the final epithet for the approaching death of the liberal world order:
“Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”
While the tottering liberal world order continues to side with our adversaries, some of us qualify, says Mr. Kagan, as children of its godfather, the Enlightenment. Those Kurds, the Marxists ones, believe in the promise of “justice and true equality” and want to see an “end to materialism.”
But their dreams are hopeless—incompatible with human nature, adds Mr. Kagan. And yet he is grateful to its luminaries, such as Mr. Gorbachev, who let Estonians, Czechs, Armenians and many other nationalities free themselves from Russian bondage without a bloodbath.
Bloodbaths, alas, have been our ordeal in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Saddam’s Iraq even likened us to rats and poisoned us with toxic gas while still enjoying robust relations with the United States.
Mr. Kagan, regrettably, is quiet on that sordid chapter of liberal world order. His silence is disingenuous considering his tenure at the State Department in those years.
But maybe there is some good news in the bad news that this liberal world order is falling down like a house of cards.
“What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East,” says Mr. Kagan. He quotes polling data suggesting the uprooted refugees of Syria and Libya provided grist for the propaganda mills of the neo-Nazi groups across Europe.
There is another way to help contain this intercontinental crisis.
The Middle East remains a bastion of authoritarianism. Its offspring, Radical Islam, rejects the Enlightenment.
The Kurds, including their Marxist elements, don’t want to be refugees in Europe. Besides, to us belongs the record of helping reduce the fever of the world in Mosul and Raqqa.
We can do more, provided we are respected in return, and accepted as a member of whatever replaces the bankrupt liberal world order.
And then there is this observation of Malcolm X:
“We don’t think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D. C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights.”
His clincher: “We want it now or we don’t think anybody should have it.”
Can Kurds be castigated for experimenting with a little bit of Malcolm X?
After all, when you are brutally denied freedom for so long, you will grasp at anything to ward off its enemies to hasten the bright and balmy dawn of liberty in at least one corner of the world.
You could ask American blacks.
Kani Xulam @AKINinfo
This op-ed first appeared on Rudaw Media Network’s website: rudaw.net