When the Cold war ended, the USA found itself deprived of its anti-Communist
card and could no longer use the “Soviet threat” as the pretext by which to intervene in defence of its interests in international affairs from Vietnam to Grenada.
The 1990 Gulf Crisis came just in time to arm President Bush with the excuse he needed to re-assert US international leadership at a time when its right to lead was being challenged, and when it was a third-place economic power behind Germany and Japan.
A US-led Gulf War would have many incentives for an economically-struggling superpower. As the Middle East was a major oil-producing region, it was important for the US to be seen as the champion of “liberty and democracy” here—at the end of the day there would be lucrative pay-offs, and it did not matter that both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had abysmal human rights records. Iraq could also be used as something of a showroom for every type of hi-tech weaponry available. Thus it was little wonder that US firms secured Middle East arms sales worth $18 billion months after the shooting war ended, not to mention a further $9 billion contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 72 F-15s in early September this year.
Two years after the “Mother of all Atrocities”, the Allies are back in the Gulf, like the proverbial villains returning to the scene of the crime.
Mandate to kick ass
This time the pretext is that Iraq has breached UN Security Council resolutions 687 and 688, in which Iraq conceded to allow UN inspectors, charged with rooting out and destroying its weapons of mass destruction, access to key ministries, and to halt the repression of its civilians.
The US, in reality, never needed the breach of any resolution to intimidate any country. The US has UN cover to kick ass wherever it pleases. This was made clear by the UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering who pointed out to the Security Council in 1990 how Article 51 allows the US “to use armed force . . . to defend our interests”. In this case to prevent Panama from using its territory as a base for smuggling narcotics into the USA.
That a breach of UN resolution 687 is the reason the US is back in the Gulf is something of an irony. After all, it was the US who gave Saddam the money to buy the weapons at his disposal during their years of diplomatic courtship, and few would doubt that the US intelligence network knew where the money went.
Bush’s love-hate relationship with Saddam stretches back some ten years, for it was then that Bush, as a big voice on the National Security Council, argued that Saddam wasn’t all that bad, that Iraq should be encouraged as a block to the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran.
By 1984 Bush’s relationship with Saddam had developed and Iraq and the US were enjoying healthy diplomatic relations and intelligence sharing – even at late as 1990 the CIA was tipping off Saddam about a Ba’athist assassination plot. In 1984, Bush also talked the Export-Import Bank into pressing on with a dodgy loan worth $484 million to Iraq.
A further $5 billion Community Credit Corporation programme was underway in 1987, the same year Bush met the Iraqi Ambassador for talks about the easing of licences for hi-tech exports sought by Iraq, and the same year Iraq attacked the USS Stark killing 37 US servicemen.
In 1988, ignoring evidence from US officials that Iraq was subverting US credit programmes to purchase arms, and opposing congressional sanctions brought about by Saddam’s murder of 2,000 Kurds at Halabja, Bush pushed through further loans.
When FBI agents raided the Atlanta branch of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 1989, evidence was found of a $4 billion link to Saddam’s arms network. Bush’s own administration went on to prove Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Bush, however, insisted that healthy diplomatic relations came first. As late as 1990, Lawrence Eagleburger and James Baker had pulled off a further $1 billion deal with Iraq through other government agencies, and days before the allied invasion, April Glespie, the US Ambassador to Iraq was telling Saddam how the US had no interest in his “border disputes”. What followed is etched in history forever.
Democrat Charles Schumer
was right when he commented that Saddam was “President Bush’s Frankenstein . . . a run- of-the-mill dictator the President fed with US dollars”. (Guardian
, 22 May).
Iraq’s breach of resolution 688 – the repression of Southern Shi’ites – is hardly something Bush should be losing sleep over. Wasn’t it the US which backed Saddam in his war against the Shi’ites of Iran – the same Shi’ites who saw the USA as the “Great Satan”?
As David Hirst pointed out: “During the Iran/Iraq war, the US backed Saddam as an instrument to contain Khomeinism and the dire threat it seemed to pose the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf.” (Guardian, 28 August)
Following the Gulf War came the “Great Betrayal”. Bush urged the Kurds in the north and the Shi’ites in the south to rise against Saddam. Thinking they had US backing they did just that, only to hear Bush point out that he would not mobilize ground troops in their defence; neither would he commit US aircraft to repel Iraqi sorties against them. Bush’s reason? He feared that Iran would capitalize on the Shi’ite backlash and spread the fundamentalist revolution to southern Iraq. Thus the US pulled back, fearing a strengthened Iran, now Iraq was disabled, would mean a greater threat to US strategic interests in the region.
Of course, Saddam is just as big a hypocrite as Bush. In his war against Iran, Saddam heaped praise on the Marsh Arabs—Shi’ites who fought alongside Iraqi troops. Now Saddam sees them as “inferior and un-Iraqi, monkey-faced people”.
In reality, the second round of the Gulf crisis was a blatant piece of Bush electioneering – the latest instalment being the recently – announced sale of 72 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. A deal that will secure 20,000 defence jobs and up Bush’s election chances in the key Mid-West state of Missouri.
Bush claimed that the jets were a reward for Saudi support during the Gulf War, believing the deal will not disturb the strategic balance in the region – if there ever was one – at the same time contradicting his own stated policy of scaling down arms proliferation in the Middle East.
Bush’s sidekicks, Baker and General Brent Scowcroft, welcomed with open arms a high level delegation of Iraqi opponents of Saddam at a meeting in late July. For the mixed team of Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites provided the Bush administration with just the pretext it needed to have another go at Saddam. A deal was quickly arranged whereby an air umbrella would be enforced north of the 36th Parallel bisecting Kurdistan, with a similar exclusion zone below the 32nd Parallel between Baghdad and Basra.
On 13 August Bush and Scowcroft hatched a further plan, whereby UN inspectors would attempt to gain access to key Iraqi ministries. The innocent UN inspectors, supposedly highly trained and acting on their own initiative, in fact depended heavily on US intelligence.
Three days later, Patrick Tyler of the New York Times, broke a story concerning the UN inspectorate’s demand for access to the Ministry of Military Industries.
One official told how the whole cat-and-mouse game “relates less to the importance of any documents that might be found in the targeted buildings than the conviction that the steps will provoke a confrontation that will serve as a pretext for military action and to help the President get re-elected”.
By mid-August the US was well prepared to bomb any ministry failing to open its doors, or to knock out of the sky any Iraqi plane that did not belong there – the US had 120 planes on stand-by in Saudi Arabia with more offshore. They had also brought along, for the sheer hell of it, the GBU-28, a bomb capable of penetrating 90 feet of soil and concrete.
The US, in recent years, has acquired something of a name for itself when it comes to bringing along more tools than are needed for the job. In 1991, the coalition had 2,000 combat aircraft in the Gulf, outnumbering Saddam’s 3-1. Allied ground forces in 1991 numbered 700,000–troops from 32 nations. Saddam, as was only recently revealed (but you can bet Bush knew all along), had 183,000 troops.
The Vietnam Syndrome had left deep psychological scars on the Pentagon. Bush wanted to hit Iraq hard and fast, ignoring arguments that sanctions should be left to work. Now, sanctions are indeed working. At present inflation of the Iraqi dinar stands at 4,000 percent. The war has left starvation and disease in its wake, with little prospect of international help. Hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans will carry the mental scars of the war for years to come. So who the hell needs another war? Iraq needs one like it needs the plague.
The present crisis is also wrapped up in that complex term “The New World Order”, about which much has been written in recent years. Back in January 1991, Noam Chomsky (Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics Massachusetts Institute of Technology) had this to say:
The NWO is real enough . . . its basic features were coming into force 20 years ago with the emergence of a tri-polar world as economic power diffused within US domains. The US remains the world’s leading military power, but its economic security has declined. . . . With the collapse of Soviet tyranny, the US is more free than before to use force . . . In the NWO, the Third World domains must still be controlled by force (Guardian, 10 January 1991).
The Bush administration is well aware of this. In March this year, the US Defence Department drafted a policy to:
ensure that no rival . . . is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union . . . the US must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive position to protect their legitimate interests (Guardian, 9 September).
was certainly thinking along the lines of US capitalists in the wake of the Cold War when he wrote that the task is to “to help build and sustain a world order stable enough to allow the advanced economies of the world to function without constant interruption and threat from the Third World”. (Sunday Telegraph
, 16 September 1990).
Is it not a further irony that the US needs just this kind of “interruption and threat” to re-assert itself, exploiting its monopoly in the security market to reap economic rewards. Were the US to slash its defence budget by 25 percent in the next five years, as recently pondered by the Pentagon, it would face the prospect of pulling out of many of its bases in Europe and the Far-East. This would, as Francis Fukuyama pointed out “in turn stimulate real pressure for regional rearmament” (Guardian, 9 September).
But who would those nations wishing to re-arm buy weapons from? You guessed it and the US would always have the pretext to invade any up-and-coming tyrant who had a few too many weapons.
We should expect wars to be still on the capitalist menu in coming years.