On Point: August 1990 and the War for Modernity


by Austin Bay
August 24, 2010

The Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait stunnedWashington and the world. Within days, the Bush administration (George H. W.Bush) deployed American military units to thwart further assaults by SaddamHussein's Republican Guard Corps and forge an extraordinary political coalitiondedicated to liberating Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield had begun.

Desert Shield is not over. A great struggle for the termsof modernity in the Middle East continues and will do so for at least anotherthree to four decades.

Desert Shield connects to Desert Storm. The decision tonot topple Saddam led to the murders of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands ofIraqi Shia Arabs and Kurds who rebelled after Desert Storm "cut off andkilled" Saddam's military forces in Kuwait.

That led to "dual containment" of Saddam's Iraqand the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in Iran. U.S. forces in SaudiArabia (enforcing U.N. Iraqi sanctions) gave Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida amilitant recruiting tool: The American infidels threatened Moslem holy sites inSaudi Arabia, so destroy the Saudi regime and kill Americans. Sept. 11 killedAmericans and ignited the Global War on Terror.

Pinpointing Aug. 2 as the beginning of this struggle,though narratively convenient, obscures a larger context. U.S. Central Commandwas the primary military instrument the coalition used to wage the Gulf War.Its roots lay in the Carter administration's Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). RDFhad several predecessors, including a plan named Armor "C" Package --the "sea-borne" delivery of U.S. tank units to "somewhere insouthwest Asia."

The RDF was built to respond to an attack by the Sovietdictatorship on the Persian Gulf. As 1990 began, the U.S.S.R. still existed,but the Cold War had ebbed. In July 1990, a month before Saddam's invasion, theWest German mark became legal tender in East Germany; the red threat haddrowned in red ink. Liberal democracies chalked up a slow but big win inEurope.

Saddam saw himself as the successor to the Soviet Union.He styled himself as the next "anti-American" option, but in realityhe simply offered another anachronistic dictatorship of elites built withtyranny's usual tools: murder, ethnic division, economic corruption, denial offree expression and a brutally enforced collective ideology. He was also intogenuine imperialist warfare -- he coveted Kuwait's oil, gold kiosks andMercedes dealerships.

A key artifact is Saddam's speech delivered in Amman,Jordan, on Feb. 24, 1990. Hallmarked by bombast, Baath Party rhetoric and machoposturing, the speech provided a window into Saddam's strategic assessmentsprior to the Kuwait invasion. In retrospect, it may have been much more: at theleast a rhetorical test of American reaction, at the outside a violentmegalomaniac's warning that he was a global leader and intended to go to war toprove it.

Saddam began with the usual "pan-Arab issues,"the "loss of Palestine" among them. He then sketched his vision ofrecent history. After World War II, France and Britain "declined." Twosuperpowers arose, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and "global policy continued onthe basis of the existence of two poles that balanced in terms of force."

 "And suddenlythe situation," Saddam said, "changed in a dramatic way." TheCold War ended. Saddam then proceeded with a rambling proposition that Americawas "fatigued" and would fade, but "throughout the next fiveyears," the U.S. would be unrestricted.

The U.S., in Saddam's view, was strong but weak, withoutstaying power. The speech implied defeating the U.S. entailed scraping the scarof Vietnam and threatening massive U.S. casualties. "Fatigue" anddomestic self-recrimination would stall U.S. power. One crucial line standsout: "The big," Saddam said, "does not become big nor does thegreat earn such a description unless he is in the arena of comparison orfighting with someone else on a different level." (Translation: If aminor-leaguer wants to move up, he takes on the majors.)

Saddam's assessment differs little from the 1950s Sovietthreat, "We will bury you." Osama bin Laden's "weak horse,strong horse" metaphor echoes Moscow and Saddam. Sept. 11 was bin Laden'sbid to "fight on a different level." At their miserable, daily,functional level, little distinguishes Saddam's Iraq from Iran's mullocracy, aSoviet dictatorship or an al-Qaida caliphate. Whether atheist or theocrat, theroutine is murder, corruption and enforced collective ideology. Thiscommonality, and shared anti-Americanism, are two reasons the world's so-calledprogressive leftists coddle al-Qaida and the Taliban.

World War I's aftermath created the conditions forfascism, communism and, yes, al-Qaida-brand terror religion (Qutbism, is a namefor it). In various guises, America has been at war with totalitarianism sinceat least the 1930s. Aug. 2, 1990, was a dangerous moment in that war. And thewar continues.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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