THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Sunday-Friday, July 30-August 4, 2011
We are in the midst of the 20th anniversary of the buildup to and the entrance of Iraqi troops into Kuwait. The world only heard of “naked aggression” on the part of the Iraqis, led by “another Hitler.” These simplistic statements did not reflect the truth or the depth of the actions of Iraq.
Negotiation as a tool to settle the crisis that emerged when Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait on August 2, 1990 was disallowed by the U.S. From August 3, 1990, the diplomatic door was slammed shut and nobody could pry it open, despite the efforts of many to negotiate a settlement. You might recall that there was a term being spread between August 3, 1990 and the start of Desert Storm: “The Nightmare Scenario.” This term was used to describe George Bush’s worst vision: Iraqi troops pulling out of Kuwait.
Most Americans view August 2, 1990 as the date that the Iraq-Kuwait crisis began, but Iraq knew long before that Kuwait was involved with undermining its economy and political structure. Saddam Hussein asked on February 23, 1990 in Amman, Jordan, “Aren’t American ships still patrolling the Gulf even though the war between Iran and Iraq is over?” He made reference to the presence of the U.S. Navy that was in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, supposedly to protect merchant shipping. When the war was finished, there was no further purpose for the U.S. Navy to maintain its occupation of the Gulf, but the fleet remained.
The U.S. military presence in the Gulf, combined with the information that Iraq had acquired concerning Kuwait’s techniques in trying to undermine the Iraqi economy, led Iraq to believe it was targeted, but Iraq thought a diplomatic conclusion could be reached. On March 3, 1990, Saddam Hussein met with King Hussein of Jordan in Baghdad. When the conversation turned to the problems between Kuwait and Iraq, Saddam Hussein told his Jordanian counterpart, “In time, reason and goodwill would finally prevail in this matter.” Shortly after, Saddam Hussein met with Senator Robert Dole and explained his country’s plight to the American lawmaker. When Dole returned to the U.S. and met with George Bush I, he told the president that Saddam Hussein is “the kind of leader the United States can easily be in a position to influence.”
Before the Iraqi intervention in Kuwait, most Arab countries were concerned about problems that may arise from an invasion. However, the American public was unaware of the months of negotiation that Iraq had conducted in attempting to defuse the situation. At that time, the American press rarely covered events in the Middle East unless they involved Israel. When Iraq crossed the border of Kuwait, most Americans considered it an unprovoked act of aggression. The ignorance of the American public about the Middle East allowed Bush to turn U.S. public opinion against Iraq.
Another bit of misinformation fed to the American public concerned the linking of the Palestinian’s plight to Iraq’s pulling out of Kuwait. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein stated that he would withdraw troops from Kuwait if discussion of the Palestinian question could begin. He was looking to the future and wanted to address major problems in the Arab world that had been put out of sight by much of the Western world. Immediately, we heard the term “no linkage.” The Bush administration told the American public that Saddam Hussein was using this as a ploy and that he had never championed the Palestinian cause before. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Throughout early 1990, Yasser Arafat was a frequent visitor to Baghdad and he and Saddam Hussein worked on the two biggest issues of contention in the Middle East – the Palestinian problem and the Iraq-Kuwait dilemma.
On May 24, 1990, King Hussein of Jordan told Saddam Hussein, “At the next (Arab) summit in Baghdad, I intend to demand financial aid not only for Jordan, but also for the PLO.” Saddam answered, “Leave it to me — I’ll force them to pay.”
On the agenda at the May 28, 1990 summit in Baghdad was the disparity between rich and poor Arabs. Saddam Hussein strongly inferred that the rich countries of the Gulf were not pulling their weight in helping the less fortunate, such as Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinians. When the subject of money arose, he said:
Brothers, let me tell you an old legend that perhaps some of you know. One day, disaster struck a little village, and all the villagers were asked to contribute something toward repairing the damage. In the village there lived a very poor man who had no possessions, and the other inhabitants decided not to ask him for anything. But the poor man approached them and said that he would feel ashamed not to contribute. He gave the other villagers the only thing he possessed – a copper pot. Well, at this summit, that poor man is Iraq, but we shan’t fail in our duty. We shall give $50 million to Jordan and $25 million to the PLO. That should help to exert moral pressure on those who might be tempted not to contribute. You all know the sacrifices we have accepted over the years while others fail to respect their agreements.
Saddam Hussein had always worked closely with Yasser Arafat. In fact, he helped convince the Palestinian leader to adopt a more moderate stance in dealing with the U.S. When the U.S. public was told that Saddam was only using the Palestinian issue as a ploy, they were told another lie. History shows that the Ba’ath government worked right up until the March 2003 invasion of Iraq in helping the Palestinians. Even the more recent assistance received negative press in the U.S. The administration mentioned that the Iraqi government paid a stipend to the families of suicide bombers, therefore, Iraq supported terrorism. In reality, the Iraqi government paid benefits to the families of all those Palestinians who died at the hands of the Israelis during the Palestinian intifada. Saudi Arabia also contributed to those families, yet the Saudis were not depicted as terrorists because the U.S. still had troops stationed there.
After his capture in December 2003, Saddam Hussein was not allowed to talk to a lawyer for months. When he eventually was visited by Khalil al-Dulaymi, the Iraqi lawyer who represented Saddam in court, despite all that had happened since March 2003, the conversation quickly turned to the Palestinians. Saddam Hussein told al-Dulaymi:
The Palestinian issue is an issue of all Arabs. Whoever fritters it away is like someone who fritters away his honor and dignity. They made lots of attempts with me. They sent me letters care of Arab and international leaders and public personalities. They said, “All we want from you is one word; we don’t need an agreement now.” They wanted me to indicate a willingness to recognize their so-called state “Israel.” But I refused with all my power, in spite of the fact that they told me that recognition of the Zionist entity would mean the end of the embargo, and a return to normal relations with the United States.
But I understand that whoever fritters away the soil and territory will fritter away everything; his honor and dignity. After that, there won’t be any red lines for him. It is a deadly chain reaction. It only needs some place to start and then the path of concessions will just carry on with no end.
Despite Iraq’s efforts to reach an agreement with Kuwait, the Emirate continued to demand money from Iraq. Leaders of other Arab countries were becoming concerned that the situation could become more volatile and most were surprised at Kuwait’s insistence on immediate payments.
On July 28, 1990, King Hussein of Jordan spoke with Sheikh Sabah, the Kuwaiti foreign minister. The king was perplexed at Kuwait’s attitude and he told the foreign minister about his concern that Iraq may take military action. The Kuwaiti response was curious because Iraq had not yet invaded the Emirate and, in theory, the U.S. had no defense agreement with Kuwait. Sheikh Sabah told King Hussein, “We cannot bargain over an inch of territory. It is against our constitution. If Saddam comes across the border, let him come. The Americans will get him out.”
Iraq maintained that the U.S. was collaborating with Kuwait to undermine the Iraqi economy and Sheikh Sabah’s statement inferred knowledge of future U.S. military intervention. When Iraq crossed the border of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the whole world focused its attention on the Middle East. Unfortunately, Iraq’s military intervention was the first information to which most Americans were exposed in the Iraq-Kuwait dispute, making it possible for the U.S. administration to create its own version of the incident. Hardly anybody knew about the fruitless discussions that led to the invasion.
Saddam Hussein’s strategy was to garner world attention to his plight and then withdraw from Kuwait and start earnest negotiations. He had no idea of the magnitude of the U.S. plan to turn the world against Iraq.
Shortly after Iraqi troops crossed the Kuwaiti border, King Hussein talked with Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi president mentioned that most problems could be resolved at a scheduled mini-summit to be held in Cairo, Egypt on August 4. He then said he did not want any condemnation by an Arab country of the invasion prior to the meeting. King Hussein took the role of mediator and said he would talk to the other Arab nations. He foresaw few problems.
One of the first calls King Hussein made was to the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak. After the king explained the situation, Mubarak replied, “I’ll support you.”
On the same day, August 2, 1990, King Hussein called President Bush to explain the latest developments in negotiations. He wanted to obtain Bush’s commitment that he not pressure Arab countries to issue communiqués criticizing Iraq’s actions for at least 48 hours. At the time of the call, Bush was on an airplane from Washington D.C. to Colorado. The Jordanian leader told Bush, “We (Arabs) can settle this crisis, George … we can deal with it. We just need a little time.” Bush’s reply was, “You’ve got it. I’ll leave it to you.”
King Hussein thought he was dealing with an honorable person, and, when the conversation ended, he took Bush’s word that he would do nothing for 48 hours. Bush did not wait 48 seconds to start thwarting the efforts of a negotiated settlement.
While the Arab world was awaiting the mini-summit in Cairo, scheduled for August 4, George Bush was already lining up allies to condemn Iraq, despite his promise to King Hussein to remain quiet for 48 hours. On August 3, 1990, Saddam Hussein issued a communiqué announcing he would begin to withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait on August 5. He was confident that the mini-summit scheduled for August 4 would reap benefits for everyone. Saddam, as well as the entire Arab world, was unaware of the American chicanery that was occurring.
On August 3, 1990, Bush met with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. The topic was the option of military force against Iraq. Powell told Bush, “If you finally decide to commit to military forces, Mr. President, it must be done as massively and decisively as possible.”
Meanwhile, on August 3, in Amman, Jordan, matters worsened. King Hussein met with his foreign minister, Marwan Al Qasim, and stated, “I have very good news. Saddam Hussein has told me he’s going to pull out of Kuwait.” The foreign minister was a little more up-to-date on the situation and he wasted no time telling the king, “You haven’t heard, but the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has just put out a statement condemning the Iraqis for invading Kuwait.”
King Hussein realized he had been duped by Bush. Egypt was an Arab country that held much influence and its condemnation could destroy all possible negotiations. The king did not know at the time that Bush had already called Mubarak and cancelled a $7 billion Egyptian debt in return for Mubarak’s condemnation – a debt George Bush had no right to forgive under U.S. law.
An irate King Hussein called Mubarak and asked, “Why did you release that communiqué? We had an agreement not to do something like that until the mini-summit took place.” Mubarak answered, “I was under tremendous pressure from the media and my own people. My mind is not functioning.” King Hussein angrily told Mubarak, “Well, when it starts functioning again, let me know.”
Egypt’s condemnation virtually shut the door on diplomacy. The August 4 mini-summit was cancelled and King Hussein told his brother, Prince Hassan, “The Arabs ought to have proved that they could settle the conflict themselves. We shouldn’t have failed. Anything can happen now. We must expect the worst.”
Meanwhile, events were occurring in the Soviet Union that would help isolate Iraq in the international arena. On August 3, U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker met with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Edward Shevardnadze. It is curious to see that Bush had promised King Hussein 48 hours of silence on August 2, yet less than 24 hours later, the U.S. Secretary of State was in the Soviet Union to discuss the Iraq-Kuwait issue. Baker urged his counterpart to assist in issuing a joint U.S.-Soviet statement condemning Iraq’s actions. Shevardnadze responded, “We insist that the Soviet Union won’t accept any gunboat diplomacy on you part.” Baker assured him, “There won’t be any unilateral action by the U.S. unless American citizens are in danger.” Shevardnadze made clear his government’s stance by stating, “Above all, no military operations.”
Shevardnadze’s diplomatic, but weak, response assured Baker that the Soviets would not interfere with U.S. war plans. Despite Shevardnadze’s “no military operations” statement, the U.S. was already lining up its military machine to travel to the area.
The diplomatic initiatives and the Iraqi statement of August 3 calling for the beginning of a withdrawal of Iraqi troops on August 5, 1990, have become the most under-reported aspects of this period. Without U.S. deceit, the situation could have been solved. Few people ever read about these occurrences.
Yasser Arafat traveled to Baghdad on August 5 and met with Saddam Hussein. Despite the setbacks, both were still optimistic about a negotiated settlement. Saddam told Arafat, “A political solution is absolutely essential.” The PLO leader answered, “I completely agree.”
Saudi Arabia still was not convinced that American troops should be stationed in the Middle East. As late as August 8, 1990, King Fahd was blaming Kuwait for the problems. He stated, “I have a lot of criticisms to make of them (the Al Sabah family who rules Kuwait). They didn’t pay their debts. They are largely responsible for this crisis.” Shortly after, however, Fahd allowed the unlimited incursion of American troops on Saudi soil.
On the same day as King Fahd’s condemnation of Kuwait, Bush made a declaration that received much more media coverage than the king’s and set the tone for the future. In six days, he had made enough backroom deals to be able to proclaim, “A line has been drawn in the sand.”
Yasser Arafat was now traveling all over the Middle East trying to put together a meeting that could ease the tensions. He tried to convene a meeting in Baghdad, but the U.S. persuaded some sides that it would not be in their interests to attend. On August 10, Arafat stated, “It’s a mistake. If the delegation had gone to Baghdad, it could have reached a solution that would have settled the Gulf crisis.”
By now, King Hussein knew that he and others who tried to negotiate peace had been double-crossed by the United States. On August 13, in Baghdad, he lamented:
Every day that passes brings us closer to war, and those who claim that an Arab solution is a dead letter forget that it was feasible during the first week of the crisis until the Americans put a stop to it.
By August 15, the American administration knew it had cornered Iraq and it was only a matter of time until a final plan for slaughter was designed. On that day, an advisor to Bush summed up the administration’s attitude. He told the president, “It’s true we’ve promised to consult Congress if there’s a war. In other words, we’ll phone them just after the first bombs have been dropped.”
To add to the deceit, Bush made a statement the following day (August 16) that heralded the beginning of a U.S. military presence in the Gulf. He told the press, “We’re there to protect Saudi Arabia against aggression and nothing more. And we’ll withdraw when they request.”
During this aspect of the U.S. military buildup, the U.S. administration stated that Iraq was preparing to invade Saudi Arabia. Iraq denied all the allegations and it stated it had no territorial designs on the kingdom. Most military analysts said that Iraq could have taken over Saudi Arabia within two or three days if it desired. Even General Schwarzkopf admitted that if Iraq attacked Saudi Arabia prior to December 1990, American troops would have been massacred and there would have been a “Dunkirk-like exodus” of American military personnel from the Gulf. Unlike the U.S., Iraq was honest about its intentions. It was only interested in straightening out its differences with Kuwait.
Over the next few months, many attempts to negotiate a settlement arose. Every one was obstructed by the U.S.
On November 30, 1990, hope appeared. In what seemed to be a complete change of attitude, George Bush put forth a plan for negotiations. He proposed that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz come to Washington for talks and that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker travel to Baghdad for discussions with the Iraqi government. His invitation was for talks “at any time before January 15, 1991” (the date the United Nations had affixed for allowing military force to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait).
The optimism was short-lived. Bush had no intention of allowing such talks to take place. When the Iraqis came back with dates of January 3 and January 12, Bush said they were too close to the January 15 deadline, despite his original offer to meet “at any time before January 15.”
In a compromise effort, Tariq Aziz and James Baker met on January 9, 1991 in Geneva, Switzerland. Aziz wanted to negotiate, but Baker only handed a letter to Aziz warning the Iraqis that the U.S. was prepared to annihilate Iraq. Despite other last-minute attempts for peace from King Hussein, Yasser Arafat and others, there was no way of obtaining a non-military settlement. George Bush had closed the door for negotiation and locked it months before.
Pérez de Cuéllar met with Saddam Hussein just prior to the start of hostilities and the Iraqi president designated the U.S. as the aggressor when he told the U.N. secretary-general,
The Iraqis will never withdraw in the face of death. Bush will therefore be pushed day by day into a corner, and he will be obliged to resort to arms because he who is busy preparing the requirements for the use of arms could not find alternatives to avoid the use of arms.