For a while, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria were useful to the West. They were prepared to do what intervening, rhetorically grandstanding Western states were unable to do – fight the Islamic State (IS). Yes, the likes of Cameron and Obama could talk big on IS; they could call it an ‘imminent threat to every interest we have’; they could deem it the most ‘serious threat we face’. But, while railing against IS allows Western leaders to evoke what they lack domestically – authority, moral purpose, cojones – that very same lack stopped them from following through on the rhetoric, stopped them from acting on the grand phrasemaking, stopped them lending the postures substance. And so it has been left to others to do the fighting, and the dying – to do, that is, the very thing Western leaders seem incapable of doing: risking lives for something.