New Eastern Outlook
After the end of the eight year-long Iraq-Iran War Washington was left facing the issue of legitimising its further military presence in the strategically important (for the US) region of the Persian Gulf. By that time both of the countries involved in the conflict were bankrupt and were in need for large-scale monetary investment in order to rebuild their economies. Furthermore, Iraq, with its million-strong army, chemical and biological weapons and means of delivering them, perfectly-functioning state machinery and significant economic capacity, could become potential threat to the US and its strategic ally in the Middle East – Israel. That is when Washington began to shape the plan to “secretly” use Baghdad to justify the further growing US military presence in the region, expansion of allied relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and solidifying America’s leading role in the Middle East.
The Americans, directly and through their agents in the Iraqi government, began to push Hussein to the idea that the only way for him to afford rebuilding Iraq’s economic potential (approximately 150 billion USD) would be to raise oil prices and write off debts (50 billion USD) that the Arab Gulf states owed to Iraq, then provide them with more loans. Meanwhile the Americans sought to cut oil prices via their allies in the Gulf on the basis of the necessity to slow down Iran’s economic recovery. As a result, Iraq accused Kuwait and the UAE of violating OPEC agreements concerning oil production quotas and of over-flooding the market while lowering prices. In a conversation with the Soviet Ambassador V. Posuvalyuk in July 1990 Hussein said that the fact that oil prices dropped to 11 USD per barrel alone cost Iraq over 14 billion USD. By messing around with Hussein’s ambitions the White House managed to significantly hamper the relations between Iraq and Kuwait, while demonstrating to the whole world their utmost concern about the situation in Kuwait. For instance, during the 24.07.90 negotiations in Baghdad, the President of the ARE H. Mubarak, citing his contacts with official White House representatives, informed Hussein about the US concern over Baghdad’s hard course towards Kuwait and the UAE. Having emphasized the fact that Washington “does not understand Iraq’s tactical manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf”, Mubarak insistently advised Hussein to directly explain his position to the Americans. The next day Hussein had a meeting with the US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie where he outlined the reasons that “forced” him to strain relations with Kuwait and the UAE. Though Hussein stressed that his actions took into consideration the diverse ties that the US had with these countries and Washington’s role and influence in the Middle East. When Hussein asked her about America’s attitude should Iraq decide to resolve its territorial dispute with Kuwait, Glaspie replied: “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America” (according to the transcript published in The New York Times on 23 September 1990). Furthermore, the Iraqi leader was informed that Washington would considered it logical if the disputed oil-rich Al-Rumeila area belonged to Iraq. He was also informed that Baghdad alone should decide the ways of implementing its claims to Kuwait.
On July 27th, during a one-day visit to Baghdad Mubarak’s political advisor Osama El-Baz informed Hussein of the nature of Mubarak’s phone conversation with G. Bush, wherein the US president expressed his satisfaction over “Iraq’s explanation” and stated that Washington would “take up a wait-and-see attitude concerning Iraq’s dispute with Kuwait and the UAE, and that America has no intentions of expanding its military presence in the Persian Gulf”. Washington’s “neutral position” was considered by Iraq as a sort of carte blanche to resolve the issue with Kuwait on Iraqi terms. The Iraqi government was also convinced that the Americans would “turn a blind eye” to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, though condemning it in the UN. On the other hand, if the White House really wanted a peaceful resolution of the Kuwaiti issue, then, according to former Special Advisor to Reagan for National Security Affairs Dr. Constantine Menges, after the CIA report in the morning of the 1st of August concerning the date of the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait, the US president still had enough time to personally call Hussein and heavily warn him against further aggression. Thus the American trap for Hussein snapped shut.
What happened after showed that all government institutions in the US were in fact ready for such predictable actions of the Iraqi regime. Therefore the mechanism for mobilizing the world community to condemn Iraq was launched by Washington right after the invasion. The US president called the aggression “treacherous”, while the next day the Congress approved the president’s decision to impose heavy economic sanctions on Iraq. Meanwhile American diplomats urged the UN Security Council to take hard, ultimate measures. The fact that Washington, and Kuwait City, were aware of the oncoming aggression, wasn’t a secret to the more informed Arab leaders. For instance, the King of Jordan Hussein speculated among his fold that the Kuwaiti Crown Prince prior to the invasion instructed the top army officers to hold off the attack for just one day, until the Americans come. Iraq’s invasion gave the US legal basis for punishment of the aggressor and thus eliminate a potential threat to its closest ally –Israel, while in the long run – for sustained long-term military presence in a strategically and economically important region of the Persian Gulf.
However, two months after the invasion S. Hussein began to realize that the Americans had forced him into a trap, getting out of which without significant damage to his image would be impossible. Washington ignored Hussein’s signals, sent through the King of Jordan, that he is ready to withdraw troops and to start peace negotiations. Therefore, in his explanation to E. Primakov, he said that “Iraq wants a peaceful resolution, but not at the cost of surrendering. I wouldn’t want Iraq to be humiliated in public because of withdrawal of our troops”. From that conversation E. Primakov was left with the impression that the Iraqi president was quite vary that Baghdad would remain subject of Washington’s controversy to eliminate the Baath regime and physical elimination of himself even in case Iraq withdrew its troops from Kuwait. However, he still hoped that everything would “resolve” and that the US still needs him.
This can be partially explained by the fact that Washington continued to sustain Hussein’s hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, during his September 1990 visit to Islamabad, stated his conviction (obviously directed at the “Iraqi audience”) that the Kuwaiti crisis would be resolved via diplomatic means with no use of force. Meanwhile the White House made all efforts to downplay attempts to find a peaceful solution made by several Arab leaders (King of Morocco, King of Jordan, President of Algeria). Washington wanted the status-quo to remain and the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait to continue, since it gave them legal pretext to expand their military presence in the Persian Gulf and to create a large-scale anti-Saddam coalition.
In order to bring Saudi Arabia into the anti-Iraqi alliance the Americans provided Riyadh with intelligence concerning plans for Saudi and the UAE occupation and the subsequent division of their territories among Iraq, Jordan and Yemen that Hussein supposedly harboured. The contents of this data were announced by King Fahd at the emergency meeting of Arab leaders in Cairo in August 1990. Furthermore, the Bush administration used the “Iraq will inevitably invade KSA” rhetoric to successfully overcome the pro-Israel Congress lobby in order to sell 20 billion USD worth of weapons to Riyadh. US Defence Secretary R. Cheney was visiting the Saudi capital at the time stated that the US would sent a military squadron headed by USS Wisconsin to the Persian Gulf and 82nd Airborne Division units with two tactical aviation squadrons to Saudi Arabia. The fact that 40000 American troops were to be stationed in KSA within a week after the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait provides solid evidence that Washington knew about the impending invasion, secretly carried out preliminary mobilization and together with the Saudis prepared the necessary infrastructure to send the troops overseas. Besides, the war in the Persian Gulf helped the US solve many problems concerning US withdrawal from bases in Western Europe and utilization of arsenals. What actually happened was that the rich Arabia Peninsula states, frightened by Iraq’s invasion in Kuwait, “financed” the redeployment of the US military group to the Middle East and then to the US, while the unfolding combat solved the problem of “unused” ammunition.
According to Western experts, UN economic sanctions against Iraq and above all freezing of its assets in the international banking system, as well as suspension of export of Iraqi oil through Turkey and Saudi Arabia could collapse Iraq’s economy as early as 6 months after the invasion. However, even such terms weren’t enough for the American administration, so it started rapid preparation for a military operation to liberate Kuwait. On November 8, 1990 George Bush ordered to send another 200 thousand troops to the conflict zone. This decision was considered a turning point in US policy, signifying their preference to use force to solve the problem. On January 10, 1991 Director of CIA Webster in a secret report for the US Congress stated the main point: economic sanctions alone are not enough to stop the occupation of Kuwait. A massive missile and bomb air strike on the Iraqi troops in Kuwait and targets in Iraq is required. The Congress gave permission to use the American Army against Iraq. The Congress seemed to have ignored CIA’s estimation that at least 500-700 thousand civilians might die as a result of air strikes.
Looking back at Washington’s policy towards Iraq and the many-moved game around Hussein it is clear that without his own “help” it would have been impossible for the US to implement its bloody “Desert Storm” scenario. Hussein’s manic faith in his destiny and conviction that he’s the chosen one; the fact he was ill-informed, which led to overestimation of the negative reaction of Arab states towards strikes on Iraq; constant admiration of his strategic genius and political shrewdness from his milieu; and strong belief that the US would not dare conduct land warfare against Iraq – all these factors played a nasty trick on Hussein and allowed him to be lured into the “American trap”, which led to Iraq’s and the Iraqi people’s tragic fate before and after the millennium.
Meanwhile, having so skilfully executed the “Kuwait gambit” in 1990, Washington laid the foundation for its permanent large-scale military presence in the Persian Gulf for further combat operations in the region.
Source: New Eastern Outlook