A GULF WAR - How did we get there? By Robert Springboard War in the Persian Gulf between I

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A GULF WAR - How did we get there? By Robert Springboard War in the Persian Gulf between Iraq and the US and its allies seems increasingly likely. The immediate future of the Gulf crisis seems much clearer that its past, which presents a series of puzzling questions. Yet these deeper issues need to be understood in order to grasp the long-term implications of what is now taking place. At a recent seminar at the Australian National University a range of academic specialists examined the causes of the conflict, the Australian response and the costs to us and the rest of the world. Edited excerpts from several papers are published here. WHICH IS THE REAL SADDAM HUSSEIN? The issues that lie behind the gulf conflict have become confused in the propaganda war. Saddam Hussein has been characterised in the West as an Arab Bismarck, a new Hitler - even as a Frankenstien's monster. To the Arab masses, he is a hero, and, for certain Arabs, he is the new Nasser. Robert Springboard reviews the credibility of these and other interpretations to ascertain what really provoked Saddam's seizure of Kuwait. SADDAM AS BISMARCK OR HITLER This interpretation emphasises the megalomaniac nature of Saddam's personality and his ambition to be leader of the Arabs. As with the Prussian prototype, the combination of a nationalist ideology, ambitious personality, and rapidly developing state capacity are seen as the ingredients for an expansionary policy. He also reshaped Baathist ideology to come closer to the Prussian archetype. Baathism under Saddam became more a celebration of Iraqi greatness and historical authenticity than a call to Arab unity, although sufficient of the latter was retained to justify Iraqi regional ambitions and minority Sunni Muslim rule in Iraq. But the essence of Saddam's Baathism has been the call to restore Iraqi greatness, with the historical moments of Asyria, Babylonia, the Abbasids, and even Prince Faisal's Mandate Iraq serving as the posts to which the newly manufactured strands of Iraqi nationalism could be pegged. Just as Nasser's postage stamps portrayed the leader against the backdrop of the Pyramids and the Sphinx, so did Saddam, a one-time protege of the Egyptian president, link his person to his nation's greatness, ziggurats, hanging gardens, crumbling arches and the person of Nebuchadnezzar included. Unlike Nasser, however, Saddam permitted no "centres of power" to remain immune to his centralisation of control, nor were any restraints placed on the grandiose, grotesque cult of personality. According to this interpretation, he commenced his drive to become the Arabs' Bismarck, their new Nasser, the moment he became president. Three months previously Sadat had signed a peace treaty with Israel, thereby opening the door to a radical non Egyptian successor to Nasser. With Iraq's power ascending, Saddam then chose to meet his major threat, the Khomeinist challenge from Iran, before it had time to consolidate. Partly a defensive move, the plan was to slice off the Iranian province of Khuzistan, or as Saddam then called it, Arabistan. Success would have brought a major proportion of Iran's oil wealth under his authority, gained control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway and the entire head of the Persian Gulf, and made him indisputably the major Arab actor. Alas, the Iranians fought back and Saddam for eight years struggled to prevent disaster. Saddam emerged from the Gulf war with an unfulfilled agenda. So he redoubled efforts to convert the Soviet-style military into a much more moderm, technically proficient, mobile fighting force, supplied to as great an extent as possible by locally manufactured weapons and munitions. From 1985 to 1990 Iraq purchased nine per cent of the $174 billion worth of military equipment sold globally, making it the largest importer on the world market. Whether strategic parity with Israel was the inspiration, or whether his announcements of technological accomplishments were really political ploys to bolster Iraq's image among Arabs as the only credible challenger to Israeli supremacy, remains unclear. But even if Iraq's achievements lagged behind Israel's, they were nevertheless impressive. From the end of the war until August 1990, Iraq announced the launching of intermediate range ballistic missiles, the near completion of manufacture of ICBMs, launching of an earth-orbiting satellite and the domestic production of nuclear triggers and binary chemical weapons. Numerous interceptions by Western customs and intelligence agents of components for these and other weapons, including the supergun, indicate that these were not just words - the Iraqis clearly meant business. While the claim that the ministry of industry and military production, headed by Saddam's son-in-law, would make Iraq self-sufficient in arms by the year 2000 may be just rhetoric, that organisation has produced or refitted not only missiles, but also AWACS planes, MiG-23 fighters and naval mines. While the military gap between Israel and Iraq remains large, in both combat and manufacturing capabilities, the Iraqis demonstrated a commitment to and some success in narrowing that gap. The projection of Iraqi power into the Middle East and North Africa region has been a major objective from the end of the war with Iran. Saddam challenged Syria in Lebanon. The strategically critical relationship with Jordan was reinforced. The Arab Cooperation Council, grouping Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen, was conceived by Iraq as a counterbalance to the Gulf Cooperation Council, which remained obdurate in the face of Iraqi importunings for membership status. A foothold was gained in Sudan by backing the government of General Omar Bashir. The Palestine Liberation Organisation, having failed in its campaign of moderation to induce the US to apply pressure on Israel, and growing restive in its relationships with Egypt and Tunisia, drifted ideologically and physically closer to Baghdad from about mid-1989. By so doing, it underscored the Iraqi role as the undisputed leader of the radical Arab camp. The inexorable logic of the situation, according to the Bismarckian analogy, is that Saddam had ultimately to seek to cash in on his emerging power by drawing directly into the Iraqi orbit weak Arab states. Frustrated on his western frontier by Syria's intransigence and skillful manipulation of Lebanese warlords, and insufficiently powerful to challenge Israel head-on, Saddam was left with the obvious choice of the weak and vulnerable states of the Gulf. Of these, Kuwait was much the handiest, both geographically and by virtue of the existence of a justification in the form of a historical claim. SADDAM AS FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER This view has Saddam being created by outside forces, especially Western nations, to serve their own purpose of containing Islamic and Iranian activism. Once Iran was defeated the Iraqi Frankenstein's monster turned on its creators. This interpretation is put forward most vociferously by Israel and its supporters for self-serving motives, which is to call into question US-Arab relations. It is not to say that the view lacks credibility. Indeed,there is much to sustain it. Western countries supported Iraq energetically during the course of the Iran war and continued to do so afterwards, with varying degrees of intensity and duration. While observers close to the US administration have, in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, explained support for Iraq after the Iran war cease-fire as resulting primarily from policy inertia the general difficulty in Washington of changing well established policies - critics have put forward less charitable explanations. One such view is that US decision-makers, and especially secretary of state James Baker, were blinded to Saddam's excesses and potential to harm US interests by the strong desire to establish better relations with Arab states, generally at the expense of Israel. Complementing the attack on the US administration as being naive and misguided in its assessment of Iraq and the Arabs more generally, is criticism of its susceptibility to the "Iraq lobby". This lobby's chief organisational vehicle, the US-Iraq Business Forum, is attributed with being the driving force behind the expansion of US sales to Iraq from $400 million in 1985 to $1.5 billion in 1989. This was achieved by the administration agreeing to the Forum's request to provide a very generous package of credits and guaranteed loans, which, according to critics, Iraq had no intention of ever repaying. The Forum also is said to have prevailed on the Reagan administration to oppose economic sanctions against Iraq, which were under consideration in congress following the revelation that poison gas had been used against Kurds. The Iraq lobby's strength is attested to by the fact that it included such heavyweights as Henry Kissinger, whose consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, represented a variety of corporations that won large contracts in Iraq. The most senior associate of the firm, Alan Stoga, represented his employer on a top-level business delegation to Baghdad in the spring of 1989. Other employees of Kissinger Associates entered the Bush administration, including national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a strong "pre-Kuwait" advocate of cooperation with Saddam Hussein. The bibliography of articles critical of the US administration for having backed Iraq is drawn principally from publications with conservative views known for their strong support of Israel. Whatever the partisan motives of these critics of the administration, the historical record indicates that from 1988 until 1990 the administration did support Iraq and worked assiduously to head off congressional attempts to chastise Saddam for human rights abuses, violations of bilateral economic agreements, and for attempts to smuggle weapons technology out of the US. Admitting that Iraq was "possibly the worst violator of human rights anywhere in the world today", a senior state department official justified continued US support for its government and a "reluctance to press Iraq on human rights issues", because Iraq was "uniquely impervious" to such pressure. Even though the US provided considerable political support and trade credits there was, according to him, "little or nothing Washington can do that would make a difference". From the time at which diplomatic relations were re-established with Iraq in 1984, until the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqis were granted loans and subsidies enabling them to purchase $5.5 billion in US crops and livestock; were extended $270 million in government-guaranteed credit from the Export-Import Bank to buy other American goods (despite repeated failures to make loan repayments); were provided with intelligence information on Iran; and were not rebuked when 45 US helicopters ostensibly acquired for civilian use were transferred to the military. In the weeks before the invasion the administration, increasingly on the defensive in its pro-Iraq policy, shifted its justification from the "reasonable expectation that Saddam Hussein might well want to develop closer ties to the West" (as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern and Asian Affairs, Edward W. Gnehm, put it) to the position that trade sanctions "would hurt American farmers and businessmen without swaying Baghdad in the least". The Bush administration appeared to be signalling Iraq right up until the invasion that it was seeking to maintain good relations. In July it opposed trade sanctions in the House. US Ambassador Glaspie was instructed to assure Saddam in her now infamous July 25 meeting with him that the United States had no position on his dispute with Kuwait. Two days before the invasion the state department declared that the US had no obligation to come to Kuwait's aid if attacked. According to its critics, the US administration provided both the resources with which Iraq amassed such disproportionate military, economic and diplomatic power, and the opening for that power to be projected into Kuwait. The Iraqis were led by a sympathetic US administration to believe that it would tolerate virtually any act by them. Or, according to a different interpretation of Iraqi perceptions, they began to see the writing on the wall that congress and the pro-Israeli lobby ultimately were going to force a change in the administration's policy. A pre-emptive strike against Kuwait, therefore, would stand a much greater chance of success if launched before the sea-change occurred. IRAQ AS VICTIM OF NEO-IMPERIALISM This view enjoys little currency in the West but it has become gospel in radical Arab quarters. This interpretation is consistent with most of the facts presented above, although it assesses them differently and points to moves suggestive that US policy was soon to become openly and aggressively anti-Iraqi. The essence of this case is that the West first used, and then sought to abuse, Iraq. It built up Iraqi capabilities to contain Iran. With that task accomplished, the West reverted to its previous policy of ensuring that any and all Arab states remain subordinate to Israeli power. Despite Iraqi moderation toward Israel, including acceptance of the two-state solution, endorsement of PLO decisions to renounce terrorism and accept the existence of Israel, and the establishment of a close working relationship with Egypt and other moderate Arab states, it became increasingly clear to the Iraqi leadership during 1989 that to follow the path of moderation was essentially to submit to Israeli-Western dominance. However moderate Iraq, other Arab states, and the Palestinians became, the US would never put sufficient pressure on Israel to make it implement UN Security Council Resolution 242 and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, the US, in concert not only with other Western states, but now even with the connivance of the USSR, would placate Israel and ensure its pre-eminence. The West was also re-establishing good relations with the new Iranian government. Oil in excess of agreed OPEC quotas was being produced by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to depress prices and undermine Iraq's reconstruction effort. In this Kuwait and the UAE had the active support of the US. Given this assessment, Baghdad saw that it had no alternative but to strike while it still possessed the capabilities to do so and before it was thoroughly subordinated to Western hegemony, exercised regionally through Israel, Iran and conservative Arab states. That this is a viable interpretation rather than a trumped up justification for Iraqi aggression is suggested by a review of events in 1989-90. The French, citing debt arrears, suspended arms sales to Iraq in May 1989. In the fall of 1988 and early 1989, the West initiated a campaign against the use of chemical weapons. As early as 1984 there was irrefutable evidence that Iraq was systematically employing mustard and nerve gas against Iran. Yet it was only with the war finally over and the possibility that Iraq might pose a challenge to Israeli military superiority that chemical weapons were made an issue. The Iraqi response was to link their possession of those weapons to Israel's nuclear capabilities, a linkage which Israel and the West rejected out of hand. The Iraqi proposal to declare the Middle East a nuclear, biological and chemical weapon-free zone was dismissed as a crude ploy. Over the 19-month period from January 1989 to August 1990, Western countries intercepted numerous pieces of high-tech weapons gadgetry bound for Iraq, whereas prior to that time there were no such interceptions. At the end of the war with Iran a sale of Atropen automatic injections designed to protect soldiers from the effects of nerve gas was blocked. In 1989 the Defence Technology Security Administration, headed by Stephen Bryen, who previously had been investigated by the FBI for spying for Israel, stopped the export of an advanced computer. Israel was at least as active as Iraq in acquiring lethal technologies through legal and probably illegal channels, but no action was taken by the US or other Western nations to interdict this flow. When Israel launched a satellite-carrying ICBM, the general Western response was to show admiration for Israeli know-how. When Iraq responded almost in kind, it was interpreted as a grave threat to regional stability. External economic pressure on Iraq was applied with growing force during this period. Supplier credits on Iraq were made increasingly difficult to obtain. In the US, the pro-Israeli lobby in congress was working assiduously and with increasing effect to sever US-Iraqi economic ties. In October 1989 Senator Inouye introduced a measure to block Export-Import Bank guarantees for Iraq. In May 1990, the department of agriculture announced that "possible irregularities", including kickbacks, were under investigation, thereby jeopardising the $500 million payment guarantee Iraq had requested from the Commodity Credit Corporation. On July 27, 1990, the senate voted 83 to 12 to bar Iraq from receiving US government-guaranteed loans for the purchase of American products. The downward drift in oil prices in 1989-90 occurred simultaneously with economic and diplomatic pressure on Iraq by Kuwait. Exceeding its OPEC quota by some 400,000 barrels a day, Kuwait, unlike Saudi Arabia, steadfastly refused to convert the bulk of its war-time loans to Iraq to gifts. It likewise rejected all proposals for Iraqi control over two uninhabited islands that control access to Iraq's major new port at Um Qasr. As soon as the war ended, Kuwait demanded of Iraq that it agree to the border between the two countries, the timing clearly dictated by Kuwait's economic ascendancy. During the war Kuwait did not break its diplomatic relations with Iran, and moved very quickly to improve relations with Iran after the war. As part of its policy of keeping pressure on and seeking to isolate Iraq, Kuwait lobbied the Gulf Council to have Iraq's admission to the organisation refused. Iraqi rhetoric suggests that Baghdad interpreted these Kuwaiti provocations as being instigated by the US. On July 17 Saddam spoke of the conspiracy between "some Gulf rulers" and the US to keep oil prices low, while a week later the Iraqi press identified the Kuwaiti foreign minister,Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, as the "tool to implement American policy in Kuwait". The announcement on July 24 that the US would hold joint military manoeuvres with the UAE would have been interpreted in Baghdad as a signal that the US sought to stiffen the resistance of these statelets to Iraqi pressure, and as a prelude to an enhanced US military role in the area, which Iraq had been actively opposing for almost half a year. This in turn could have been the stimulus for launching an immediate military strike before Kuwait could be placed under direct US protection. SADDAM AS DESPERATE GAMBLER The case for Iraq as the latest victim of the West's unending policy of divide and rule in the Middle' East, but refusing to submit quietly to its fate, is reasonably convincing. A variant of this interpretation, however, is also credible. While those who hold it may or may not accept the premise that the West was out to cut Iraq down to size once it was no longer required to contain Iran, all concur in the assessment that Saddam overplayed his hand. His ambitions domestically and regionally simply outran his resources. So he had little choice but to lash out to save his regime from domestic disaster. A victim of the West's plot to undermine him, or maybe just of his own megalomania, Saddam is in either case properly understood as a gambler who, badly in the hole, stakes all on a single hand. According to Laurie Mylroie, Harvard-based Iraqi specialist, "Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was the act of a desperate man". Mylroie' points to Iraq's foreign debt that climbed a further $10 billion after the cease-fire in August 1988; the slide of the dinar by a further 25 per cent to one-twelfth its official value; annual inflation of more than 40 per cent; a stalled political liberalisation; extensive discontent in the military; and a regime having to fall back on brothers and cousins to sustain itself. The dramatic events of February-August 1990 "can be seen as an effort to raise tensions with the West in order to create the environment in which to intimidate the Gulf states into paying up. And when that failed, to take what was not given. Certainly Saddam had promised a "peace dividend" during the eight-year war with Iran, a sort of verbal contract that kept Iraq going through the darkest hours. Iraqi oil revenues, which provide 95 per cent of its foreign exchange, were down 20 per cent by July 1990 from estimated 1989 earnings, as the price of world oil dropped as low as $14 a barrel. Queues for basic commodities had become commonplace, public-sector wages were at starvation levels, guest workers were being harassed into leaving the country or accepting deteriorating pay and conditions and, maybe worst of all, the promised liberalisations of the economy and policy were not forthcoming. Iraqis were being asked once again to make intolerable sacrifices at a time when it was becoming increasingly clear that the government had no idea how to handle its many problems. Further exacerbating the deteriorating economic situation and manifest policy inadequacies, were the ostentatious profligacies of those of the regime and their favoured clients. Saddam's brothers, sons (including the notorious Uday) and other relatives, many of whom had been relieved of their posts in the preceding decade, were, from late 1988, re-inserted into the hierarchy, presumably because Saddam was in need of those with blood loyalties at a time when other bases of trust were being stretched to the breaking point. While many of the reported coup attempts, executions of officers, and disaffections of the military generally can be discarded as unsubstantiated rumours, it is clear that since the end of the war Saddam has been struggling continuously not to be overthrown. Cancellation of scheduled military parades, the disappearance of the most decorated and popular general to emerge from the Gulf war, the "accidental death" of the minister of defence in a helicopter crash and the closing down of officer clubs are sufficient indication that Saddam has been riding a tiger. Mylroie's suggestion that it was easier for Saddam to send that tiger off to Kuwait than to subdue it at home may account for the invasion decision, at least in part. SADDAM PULLED INTO THE VACUUM This analogy between politics and the laws of nature is based on the proposition that the Arab masses remain radically anti-US and anti-Israel, and that ambitious Arab heads of state are inevitably tempted to tap into this sentiment to secure their home base and to seek regional leadership. In this instance Saddam was attracted into the leadership vacuum, thus turning his back on the moderate course that most analysts had predicted he would follow, by the sheer size of the opportunity that vacuum offered. Syria had abandoned its cherished ideal of "strategic parity" with Israel. Egypt's Mubarak had become Washington's mouth-piece in the Arab world, and the US was drifting back into a policy of "benign neglect" toward the Palestinian issue. Israel's provocations added further fuel to the smouldering fire of resentment among the Arab masses, so Saddam had only to stir the embers slightly before the whole mixture ignited, scorching his Arab and non-Arab enemies. The logic of this assessment seems sound, especially if coupled to the observation that Saddam, having tried the moderate tack from the end of the Gulf war through 1989, saw that he was not making headway. CONCLUSION Important political decisions are virtually always "overdetermined"; they are the result of numerous factors and calculations. Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait is unlikely to be an exception to this general rule. It is not a "liberal cop-out" to argue that none of the explanations reviewed above alone accounts for the Iraqi move into Kuwait, for it is most probable that elements of several or all played some role in the actual decision.An example of a reasonably plausible explanation drawing on these disparate interpretations is as follows. * First, Saddam does indeed appear to be enormously ambitious with a strong commitment, may lie even fixation, on expanding his influence throughout the region. * Second, it is true beyond question that the West provided wide-ranging military, economic and diplomatic support not only during the war with Iran, but for some time after, and that this support contributed very substantially to Iraq's power. * Third, it is equally true that the West began to grow wary,of Iraq almost as soon as the Gulf war ended. A disproportionately strong Iraq did not suit most Western interests and it certainly displeased the Israelis. Saddam's gassing of the Kurds, widespread human-rights abuses, meddling in Lebanon, Sudan, Mauritania, and elsewhere, and Iraq's redoubled efforts to acquire highly sophisticated weapons, the expense of which accounted in part for the deepening economic crisis, all contributed to growing disenchantment in the West with Iraq well before the war of words suddenly escalated in February 1990. equally, however, the West, and especially the US, operated with a double standard in the region, with one set of requirements for Israel and another, altogether less indulgent, standard for Iraq. It is not unreasonable to conclude, therefore, that both the West and Iraq believed themselves to have been "cheated" by the other. The West sought an oil-exporting, technology-consuming, politically moderate Iraq, more or less in the mold of Saudi Arabia. The Iraqis wanted from the West appreciation in the form of compensation for having stopped the Iranian revolution in its tracks; they wanted an understanding that Iraq must be the dominant Arab state in the Gulf; and, most difficult of all, the Iraqis wanted the West to rein in Israel and to understand that it would have to forswear its policy of using Israel as a stick to beat the Arabs into submission. Both sides were clearly hoping for too much from the relationship that had been established from the Gulf war. The fourth interpretation - that Iraq and the Saddam regime were in deep trouble - an also contribute to this scenario of the invasion decision. Saddam may have over-extended domestically because he thought his Western and Arab allies would bail him out, regardless of how deep Iraq sank into debt. But when credit flows began to dry up in 1989, and then oil prices slumped, the Iraqi economy was placed in a serious short and medium-term cashflow bind. This crisis, compounded by growing dissatisfaction with the slow pace of political reform, clearly made the Kuwait option more attractive, as did Kuwaiti provocations and arrogance. Finally, if Saddam had indeed been weighing carefully the costs and benefits of following a moderate, as distinct from a radical, course, the manifest lack of leadership for the radical Arab position would have offered a strong incentive to choose the latter course.


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