by Austin Bay
August 24, 2010
The Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait stunned
Washington and the world. Within days, the Bush administration (George H. W.
Bush) deployed American military units to thwart further assaults by Saddam
Hussein's Republican Guard Corps and forge an extraordinary political coalition
dedicated to liberating Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield had begun.
Desert Shield is not over. A great struggle for the terms
of modernity in the Middle East continues and will do so for at least another
three to four decades.
Desert Shield connects to Desert Storm. The decision to
not topple Saddam led to the murders of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of
Iraqi Shia Arabs and Kurds who rebelled after Desert Storm "cut off and
killed" Saddam's military forces in Kuwait.
That led to "dual containment" of Saddam's Iraq
and the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in Iran. U.S. forces in Saudi
Arabia (enforcing U.N. Iraqi sanctions) gave Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida a
militant recruiting tool: The American infidels threatened Moslem holy sites in
Saudi Arabia, so destroy the Saudi regime and kill Americans. Sept. 11 killed
Americans 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 Command
was the primary military instrument the coalition used to wage the Gulf War.
Its roots lay in the Carter administration's Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). RDF
had several predecessors, including a plan named Armor "C" Package --
the "sea-borne" delivery of U.S. tank units to "somewhere in
The RDF was built to respond to an attack by the Soviet
dictatorship 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, the
West German mark became legal tender in East Germany; the red threat had
drowned in red ink. Liberal democracies chalked up a slow but big win in
Saddam saw himself as the successor to the Soviet Union.
He styled himself as the next "anti-American" option, but in reality
he simply offered another anachronistic dictatorship of elites built with
tyranny's usual tools: murder, ethnic division, economic corruption, denial of
free expression and a brutally enforced collective ideology. He was also into
genuine imperialist warfare -- he coveted Kuwait's oil, gold kiosks and
A key artifact is Saddam's speech delivered in Amman,
Jordan, on Feb. 24, 1990. Hallmarked by bombast, Baath Party rhetoric and macho
posturing, the speech provided a window into Saddam's strategic assessments
prior to the Kuwait invasion. In retrospect, it may have been much more: at the
least a rhetorical test of American reaction, at the outside a violent
megalomaniac's warning that he was a global leader and intended to go to war to
Saddam began with the usual "pan-Arab issues,"
the "loss of Palestine" among them. He then sketched his vision of
recent history. After World War II, France and Britain "declined." Two
superpowers arose, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and "global policy continued on
the basis of the existence of two poles that balanced in terms of force."
the situation," Saddam said, "changed in a dramatic way." The
Cold War ended. Saddam then proceeded with a rambling proposition that America
was "fatigued" and would fade, but "throughout the next five
years," the U.S. would be unrestricted.
The U.S., in Saddam's view, was strong but weak, without
staying power. The speech implied defeating the U.S. entailed scraping the scar
of Vietnam and threatening massive U.S. casualties. "Fatigue" and
domestic self-recrimination would stall U.S. power. One crucial line stands
out: "The big," Saddam said, "does not become big nor does the
great earn such a description unless he is in the arena of comparison or
fighting with someone else on a different level." (Translation: If a
minor-leaguer wants to move up, he takes on the majors.)
Saddam's assessment differs little from the 1950s Soviet
threat, "We will bury you." Osama bin Laden's "weak horse,
strong horse" metaphor echoes Moscow and Saddam. Sept. 11 was bin Laden's
bid to "fight on a different level." At their miserable, daily,
functional level, little distinguishes Saddam's Iraq from Iran's mullocracy, a
Soviet dictatorship or an al-Qaida caliphate. Whether atheist or theocrat, the
routine is murder, corruption and enforced collective ideology. This
commonality, and shared anti-Americanism, are two reasons the world's so-called
progressive leftists coddle al-Qaida and the Taliban.
World War I's aftermath created the conditions for
fascism, communism and, yes, al-Qaida-brand terror religion (Qutbism, is a name
for it). In various guises, America has been at war with totalitarianism since
at least the 1930s. Aug. 2, 1990, was a dangerous moment in that war. And the