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Gulf War 1991
Prefiguration and prelude to the 2003 Iraq debacle
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When the Bush I administration fought the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, with a bombing campaign and brief ground invasion, the American people were in ecstasy over a victory that was quick and (at least for Americans) largely bloodless. And unlike the case with Bush II’s war, the United States was able to escape seemingly unscathed at the time. But the similarities between the two wars outweigh the differences, and the Gulf War of 1991 can be seen as both a prefiguration and a prelude to the American war on Iraq of 2003. An understanding of the earlier war can provide the observer with a good standard of reference with which to analyze the war of 2003.

To understand the significance of the Gulf War of 1991 it is necessary to look briefly at the policy of the United States toward the Middle East during the latter stages of the Cold War.

The watchword for American policy was stability, which was perceived as a fundamental prerequisite for maintaining the vital flow of oil to the West. In its quest for stability in the Middle East, the post-World War II United States supported the conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikdoms, and opposed radical elements that threatened to disturb the status quo. In the 1970s, Washington feared that Baathist Iraq, under the banner of Arab nationalism and socialism, threatened the conservative Gulf states. In 1972, Iraq formalized its close ties with the Soviet Union, signing a 15-year treaty of friendship and cooperation and becoming a recipient of Soviet armaments. Consequently, during the 1970s, the United States backed the Shah’s Iran as the protector of the weak Arab monarchies and guardian of stability in the Gulf. Washington became a major arms provider to the Shah’s government, offering it almost anything it could purchase, short of nuclear weapons.[1]Dilip Hiro, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 14-15.

With the overthrow of the Shah in early 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, American policy was forced to change. Now the United States identified revolutionary Shi’ite Islamism directed by the Ayatollah Khomenei as the foremost threat to the stability of the Middle East. When Saddam launched an attack on Iran in 1980, Washington saw it as a move that would serve to rein in the Iranian revolutionary threat.

By the mid 1980s, the United States was heavily backing Iraq in its war against Iran.


American policy would soon begin to tilt toward supporting Iraq. Washington removed Iraq from its list of terrorist states in 1982 and, in 1984, restored diplomatic relations, which had been severed in 1967. Ironically, Donald Rumsfeld, serving as a special envoy, paved the way for the restoration of relations in a December 1983 visit to Iraq.[2]Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” Washington Post, December 30, 2002, p. 1.

In the fall of 1983, a National Security Council study determined that Iran would very likely defeat Iraq, an outcome which was considered a major catastrophe for American oil interests in the Gulf. Consequently, the United States would have to provide sufficient assistance to Iraq to prevent that risk from materializing.[3]Hiro, p. 119.

Thus, by the mid 1980s, the United States was heavily backing Iraq in its war against Iran, although for a time the United States also provided limited aid to Iran (under an arrangement that came to light as the Iran-Contra scandal). American help for Iraq included battlefield intelligence, military equipment, and agricultural credits. And Washington deployed in the Gulf the largest naval force it had assembled since the Vietnam War, ostensibly to protect oil tankers but actually to mount major attacks on Iran’s navy.[4]Dobbs.

During the period when the United States was providing aid to Iraq, numerous reports documented Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against the Iranians. Washington was opposed, in principle, to the use of poisonous gas, which was banned by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. But the Reagan administration considered that legal and moral issue of secondary importance compared with the pressing need to prevent an Iranian victory.[5]Dobbs.

In fact, U.S. satellite intelligence facilitated Iraqi gas attacks against Iranian troop concentrations. Moreover, Washington allowed Iraq to purchase poisonous chemicals and even strains of anthrax and bubonic plague from American companies; and in 1994 those substances were identified as key components of the Iraqi biological warfare program in an investigation conducted by the Senate Banking Committee.[6]Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Iran-Iraq War,” Z Magazine, February 1990; Jeremy Scahill, “The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet,” Common Dreams, August 2, 2002; and Chris Bury, “A Tortured Relationship — U.S. and Iraq Were Not Always Enemies,” NucNews, September 18, 2002. (Note: Possible copyright problem; the Bury piece seems to have been originally posted at ABC News, September 18, 2002. It is no longer available there, however.) Also Dobbs. The exports of those biological agents continued until November 28, 1989, if not later.[7]William Blum, “Anthrax for Export,” The Progressive, April 1998.

Overall American relations with Iraq were not impaired despite Saddam’s most gruesome atrocities.


In late 1987, the Iraqi air force began using chemical agents against Kurdish resistance forces in northern Iraq, as the Kurds had formed a loose alliance with Iran. The attacks, which were part of a “scorched earth” strategy to eliminate rebel-controlled villages, provoked outrage in Congress, and in 1988 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for sanctions to be imposed on Iraq affecting $800 million in guaranteed loans. The State Department did issue a condemnation of the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja in 1988, but overall American relations with Iraq were not impaired despite Saddam’s most gruesome atrocities, accounts of which were being widely disseminated by numerous international human-rights groups.[8]Dobbs.

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“The U.S.-Iraqi relationship is … important to our long-term political and economic objectives,” wrote Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy in a September 1988 memorandum addressing the chemical-weapons question. “We believe that economic sanctions will be useless or counterproductive to influence the Iraqis.”[9]Dobbs. In short, the United States was fundamentally concerned about maintaining stability in the Gulf region, which took precedence over any humanitarian issue. The irony of it all is that, despite clearly realizing the implications of what it was doing, the United States helped arm Iraq with the very weapons of horror that Bush II administration officials in 2002-2003 trumpeted as justification for forcibly removing Saddam from power.

While the United States was supporting Iraq, Israel was providing war materiel to Iran — a significant illustration of how Israeli policy had diverged from that of the United States. Israel’s support of Iran reflected the long-held Israeli policy of supporting the periphery of the Middle Eastern world against Israel’s closer neighbors.[10]Hiro, pp. 83, 117-18.

After the Iran/Iraq war ended in August 1988 with an inconclusive ceasefire, Iraq’s development and use of chemical weapons evoked increasing criticism in the United States, especially in Congress. By November 1988 both houses of Congress had passed legislation that would have had the effect of imposing sanctions on Iraq.

Congress’s efforts to sanction Iraq, however, were countered by the administration of George H.W. Bush, which came into office in January 1989. The Bush administration essentially continued the Reagan regime’s favorable treatment of Iraq, showering it with military hardware, advanced technology, and agricultural credits. Washington apparently looked to Saddam to maintain stability in the Gulf, and believed that trade and credits would have a moderating effect on him.[11]Steven Hurst, The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration: In Search of a New World Order (London: Cassell, 1999), p. 86.

Israel’s view of Iraq was quite different from that of the United States.


Israel’s view of Iraq was quite different from that of the United States. Israel looked upon Iraq’s military buildup as a dire threat to its military supremacy in the Middle East. For it appeared that Iraq was developing the capability to counter, at least to a degree, Israel’s superior arsenal of conventional, chemical, and nuclear arms.[12]Jackson Diehl, “New Arab Arsenals Challenge Israel’s Long Regional Dominance,” Washington Post, April 3, 1990, p. A-35. As Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman observed in April 1990: “The Israelis say that, whatever they have, they must ensure it is far more powerful than anything the Arabs may get.”[13]Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, “Iraq’s Arsenal of Horrors: Baghdad’s Growing Menace Alters Israeli Strategy,” Washington Post, April 8, 1990, p. B-1.

Israel could conceivably destroy the budding Iraqi arsenal through a preemptive strike, but such an attack would have serious drawbacks. “Eliminating the technological capacity of Iraq, as in 1981, is becoming impractical,” said Gerald Steinberg, a military expert at Bal-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. “The potential costs of it have gone up, and the effectiveness is diminished each time it is done.”[14]Quoted in Diehl. Nonetheless, Israel began making secret preparations to attack Iraq’s chemical-weapons plants.[15]Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn, Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), pp. 350-51.

By the beginning of 1990, tensions in the Middle East had begun to escalate. On March 15, Iraq hanged a British Iranian-born journalist, Farzad Bazoft, claiming he was a spy for Iran and Israel, and Great Britain recalled its ambassador to Baghdad the following day. On March 22, Gerald Bull, a Canadian ballistics expert who provided engineering assistance to Iraq to develop long-range artillery — especially a so-called super-gun that could reach Israel — was murdered in Brussels, and agents of the Israeli Mossad were suspected in that crime. On March 28, the British arrested five men, charging them with attempting to smuggle American-made nuclear bomb triggers to Iraq. Two days later, the New York Times published a U.S. intelligence report confirming that Iraq had deployed six SCUD missile launchers to the western regions of the country, putting Tel Aviv within range.[16]Majid Khadduri and Edmund Ghareeb, War in the Gulf, 1990-1991: The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and Its Implications (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 99-100.

Fearing that Israel may have been planning an air raid similar to the one it conducted against Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, Saddam Hussein in early April 1990 announced that if Israel attacked Iraq, he would drench half of Israel with chemical weapons. The Western media portrayed Saddam’s threat as outrageous, often omitting the defensive context of his warning. In response to Saddam’s speech, Ehud Barak, Israel’s chief of staff, asserted that Israel would strike at Iraq any time its forces became a threat to Israel.[17]Khadduri and Ghareeb, p. 100.

Angering Israel and its American supporters further was the Bush I administration’s effort to rekindle the Middle East peace process. The Palestine Liberation Organization, which had recognized Israel in 1988, seemed more willing to negotiate than the Israeli government headed by Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, which was resistant to giving up control of the occupied territories. Shamir insisted on January 14, 1990, that the influx of Soviet Jews necessitated Israel’s retention of the West Bank. On March 1, 1990, Secretary of State James Baker stipulated that American loan guarantees to Israel for new housing for the Soviet immigrants hinged on the cessation of settlements in the occupied territories. And on March 3, President Bush adamantly declared that there should be no more settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.

“George Bush is less sympathetic to Israel’s concerns than any U.S. President in the four decades since the nation’s birth.”—William Safire, 1990


But Shamir rejected, forthwith and openly, the Bush administration’s entire effort to bring about a solution. And Israel’s American supporters, especially on the Right, were thoroughly on the side of the Israeli prime minister.[18]Hurst, pp. 29-34, 72-76. William Safire, a pro-Israel columnist for the New York Times, complained that “George Bush is less sympathetic to Israel’s concerns than any U.S. President in the four decades since that nation’s birth.” Safire continued: “Mr. Bush has long resisted America’s special relationship with Israel. His Secretary of State, James Baker, delights in sticking it to the Israeli right. His national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and chief of staff, John Sununu, abet that mind-set.”

Safire was outraged that Bush should threaten to abstain from abetting the Israeli government’s colonization of the occupied West Bank. “This is the first Administration to openly threaten to cut aid to Israel,” he wrote. “… This is also the first Administration to tie aid directly to Israel’s willingness to conform to U.S. policy demands: unless the West Bank is barred to Jews who want to move there, no loans will be guaranteed to help Soviet Jews start new lives.” Safire claimed that Jewish settlement of the West Bank was essential for Jewish Russian immigrants because, he alleged, a resurgence of anti-Semitic pogroms was imminent in post-Communist Russia.[19]William Safire, “Bush Versus Israel,” New York Times, March 26, 1990, p. A-17.

The U.S. media, especially the pro-Israel media, was reporting that Iraq was producing nuclear materials, developing chemical weapons, and producing guided missiles. For example, U.S. News and World Report, owned by Zionist Mortimer Zuckerman, titled its June 4, 1990, cover story about Saddam “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.”[20]Ted Thornton, “The Gulf Wars, 1990-1991,” History of the Middle East Database, March 19, 2003; and Sam Husseini and Jim Naureckas, “Zuckerman Unbound,” FAIR, January/February 1993. The Bush administration, however, firmly resisted efforts to alter its friendship to Iraq.

Reacting to congressional protests of Saddam’s threat to use chemical weapons against Israel, Secretary Baker correctly noted the defensive context of the threat in testimony before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on April 25, 1990, and even went so far as to insinuate that it was appropriate for Iraq to have such weapons as a defensive deterrent. Baker said that while the Bush administration regarded the use of chemical weapons as “disturbing,” Saddam only threatened to use “chemical weapons on the assumption that Iraq would have been attacked by nuclear weapons.”[21]Murray Waas, “Who lost Kuwait?,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, January 30, 1991.

What ultimately led to the Bush I administration’s break with Iraq, of course, was its aggressive move on the tiny sheikdom of Kuwait. Saddam’s desire to control Kuwait was not unique for an Iraqi leader. Iraqis had long regarded Kuwait as a rightful part of their national domain. In 1963, in fact, Iraq’s president had asserted an Iraqi claim to Kuwait, only to back down when the British deployed a detachment of regular troops in the emirate. What especially caused Saddam to look longingly toward Kuwait and its oil was Iraq’s dire economic situation. Iraq’s victory over Iran had been a Pyrrhic one, leaving the country economically devastated with an enormous debt of tens of billions of dollars — Saddam admitted to $40 billion. Significant portions of the debt were owed to Arab oil-producing neighbors — Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. To pay off the debt, Iraq would have to rely on its oil production, but much of Iraq’s oil-producing capacity in the southern part of the country had been destroyed in the war. Moreover, the price of oil had plummeted.[22]Dilip Hiro, Iraq in the Eye of the Storm (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002), pp. 32-34; Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 105-108.

Kuwait, having felt threatened by Iranian radicalism, had provided Iraq with extensive loans during the war with Iran.


Kuwait seemed a reasonable scapegoat for Iraq’s problems, and it simultaneously offered a solution. Kuwait, having felt threatened by Iranian radicalism, had provided Iraq with extensive loans during the war with Iran. With the end of the war, however, the Kuwaiti government demanded full repayment from Iraq, whereas Iraq expected Kuwait to write off its debt as a reward for its providing protection from Iran. Moreover, Kuwait continued to flagrantly exceed its OPEC production quota, overproducing by 40 percent, which helped depress the oil prices that Iraq desperately needed elevated. Saddam also accused Kuwait of siphoning off oil from the Iraq section of their shared Rumaila oil field through slant drilling and demanded a revision of the territorial boundary with Kuwait to favor Iraq.[23]Hiro, Iraq in the Eye of the Storm, pp. 32-34; Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 105-108.

In their War in the Gulf, 1990-91, historians Majid Khadduri and Edmund Ghareeb, assessing the responsibility for Gulf War I, assign some culpability to Kuwait for its unwillingness to even consider Iraq’s proposals, which were not totally unreasonable. “Settlement of the crisis by Arab peaceful means,” they maintain, “would have been much less costly to the Arab world than by foreign intervention.”[24]Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 234-36. In the long run, it would have been less costly for the United States, too.

At the end of May 1990, at an Arab summit meeting in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein threatened to retaliate against Kuwait if it continued to exceed oil-production quotas. On July 17, 1990, a belligerent Saddam accused Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of being “imperialist agents” whose policy of keeping oil prices low was a “poison dagger” in Iraq’s back. Shortly thereafter, Saddam began to move his military forces toward the Kuwaiti border.[25]Hurst, p. 88.

Saddam’s critics expressed outrage. Neoconservative Charles Krauthammer compared Saddam to Hitler. “What makes him truly Hitlerian is his way of dealing with neighboring states,” Krauthammer asserted in the Washington Post on July 27. “In a chilling echo of the ’30s, Iraq, a regional superpower, accuses a powerless neighbor of a ‘deliberate policy of aggression against Iraq,’ precisely the kind of absurd accusation Hitler lodged against helpless Czechoslovakia and Poland as a prelude to their dismemberment.”[26]Charles Krauthammer, “Nightmare From the ’30s,” Washington Post, July 27, 1990, p. A27.

“We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts.”—Ambassador Glaspie to Saddam, July 25, 1990


The Bush administration, however, seemed quite indifferent to the imminent Iraqi threat to Kuwait. In a press conference on July 24, State Department spokesperson Margaret Tutwiler did express moral opposition to “coercion and intimidation in a civilized world,” but pointed out that “we do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait, and there are no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.” On July 25, Saddam Hussein summoned U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie to a meeting that would later gain great publicity and vociferously complained that Kuwait was engaging in acts of war against Iraq by not assisting with Iraq’s war debt or agreeing to limit its production of oil. If Iraq attacked Kuwait, Saddam vehemently argued that it would be because Kuwait was already making war on Iraq. To Saddam’s overt threat, Glaspie mildly responded: “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts.” It has been widely argued that Glaspie’s response persuaded Saddam that the United States would not militarily oppose his invasion. He had been given the green light to attack.[27]Hurst, p. 90; H. Rahman, Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait’s Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq (Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 1997), pp. 298-99.

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Then, on July 31, 1990, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs John Kelly, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, pointed out that the United States had no defense treaty relationship with Kuwait or other Persian Gulf countries. Subcommittee chairman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) pressed Kelly for specifics: “If Iraq, for example, charged across the border into Kuwait, for whatever reasons, what would be our position with regard to the use of U.S. forces?” Kelly responded: “That, Mr. Chairman, is a hypothetical or a contingency, the kind of which I can’t go into. Suffice it to say we would be extremely concerned, but I cannot get into the realm of ‘what if’ answers.” Hamilton pressed further: “In that circumstance, it is correct to say, however, that we do not have a treaty commitment which would obligate us to engage U.S. forces?”

“That is correct.” Kelly responded.[28]John Edward Wilz, “The Making of Mr. Bush’s War: A Failure to Learn from History?,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Summer 1996.

On August 1, the very eve of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Bush administration approved the sale of advanced data-transmission devices to Iraq, which could be used for missiles. The Bush administration offered no hint that it would oppose an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait militarily.[29]Wilz..

PART TWO

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army swarmed into Kuwait, meeting minimal Kuwaiti resistance. The ruling al-Sabah family fled, and Iraqi forces occupied the entire country.

With Iraq’s invasion, American policy underwent an abrupt and complete volte-face. President George H.W. Bush denounced Saddam’s move as heinous aggression that could not be allowed to stand. Whereas Saddam’s barbaric actions heretofore had been largely ignored by the administration, now it trumpeted them to high heaven — even describing nonexistent atrocities such as the killing of incubator babies by the invading Iraqi forces in Kuwait.[30]Mitchel Cohen, “How the War Party Sold the 1991 Bombing of Iraq to U.S.,” Antiwar.com, December 30, 2002.

President Bush quickly made preparations to send troops to Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom from an Iraqi attack that he alleged was imminent. But King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was hesitant about allowing American “infidels” on Islam’s most sacred soil. A U.S. influx of that kind would certainly ignite fierce opposition from many of his strongest religious supporters. Thus, the Saudi monarchy, along with other Arab leaders, especially King Hussein of Jordan, was initially not disposed to use force against Saddam’s Iraq, preferring instead to rely on compromise to encourage Saddam to remove his forces from Kuwait. If the Saudi ruler rejected the American troops, however, the United States would not be able to fight Saddam. As General Schwarzkopf would recount: “There was absolutely no way in the world we could rapidly deploy our air forces if we couldn’t go in and use the Saudi military airfields that were in place. There was no way we could possibly deploy the Marine Corps and bring in the Marine pre-positioned ships and equipment, without using the Saudi ports.”[31]William Thomas, Bringing the War Home (Earthpulse Press, 1996-99), Chapter 2, Earthpulse.com.

Israel was ecstatic at the reversal in American policy toward Iraq.


To win King Fahd’s support, therefore, the Bush administration not only relied on diplomatic pressure but even resorted to deception. It apparently exaggerated the threat of an Iraqi armed invasion of Saudi Arabia, through the use of doctored satellite pictures, in order to scare the Saudis into accepting both U.S. troops on their territory and eventual military action against Iraq.[32]Scott Peterson, “In war, some facts less factual,” Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2002; and Jon Basil Utley, “Questions About the Supposed Iraqi Threat to Saudi Arabia in l990 — Aerial Photos Were Never Released!!,” Americans against World Empire, 1990.

Israel was ecstatic at the reversal in American policy toward Iraq, which vindicated Israel’s claim of the threat posed by Saddam. “We are benefiting from every perspective,” said Yossi Olmert, director of the Israeli government press office. “Of course, we can lose big if Saddam decides to attack us next. But at least the rest of the world now sees what we have been saying all along.”[33]Jackson Diehl, “Gulf Crisis Boosts Israeli Confidence over Relations with U.S.,” Washington Post, August 5, 1990, p. A-13.

Israel wanted strong measures to be taken against Iraq, not simply to drive it from Kuwait but, more important, to destroy Iraq’s military power and eliminate a regional rival. President Chaim Herzog even called on Washington to use nuclear weapons in its attack. But Israel did not fully trust the United States to carry out a military attack, fearing that it might actually opt for a negotiated peace. On December 4, 1990, Israeli foreign minister David Levy reportedly threatened the U.S. ambassador, David Brown, to the effect that if the United States failed to attack Iraq, Israel would do so itself.[34]Cockburn and Cockburn, pp. 353, 356.

The crisis in the Persian Gulf also helped Israel by eliminating the American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. As it turned out, however, that would simply be a respite for Israel, as the Bush I administration would reapply the pressure in the war’s aftermath.

Neoconservatives played a leading role in promoting the U.S. war on Iraq, setting up the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, co-chaired by Richard Perle and New York Democratic Rep. Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs; the new pressure group would focus on mobilizing popular and congressional support for a war.[35]“Solarz Forms Group Backing Gulf Policies,” Washington Post, December 9, 1990, p. A-36. Neocon warhawks such as Frank Gaffney, Jr., Richard Perle, A.M. Rosenthal, and William Safire, and the neocon organ The Wall Street Journal, emphasized that America’s war objective should not be simply to drive Iraq out of Kuwait but also to destroy Iraq’s military potential, especially its capacity to develop nuclear weapons; the latter result was Israel’s fundamental objective. The Bush I administration would come to embrace the neocons’ position.[36]Christopher Layne, “Why the Gulf War Was Not in the National Interest,” The Atlantic, July 1991. (Web access restricted to subscribers.)

Support for the war often hinged on the issue of support for Israel.


Support for the war often hinged on the issue of support for Israel. As columnist E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post: “Israel and its supporters would like to see Saddam weakened or destroyed, and many of the strongest Democratic supporters of Bush’s policy on the Gulf, such as Solarz, are longtime backers of Israel. Similarly, critics of Israel — among conservatives as well as liberals — are also among the leading critics of Bush’s gulf policy. ‘That’s embarrassing,’ said William Schneider, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, ‘because there seems to be a hidden concern — either pro- or anti-Israel.’”[37]E.J. Dionne Jr., “Gulf Crisis Rekindles Democrats’ Old Debate but with New Focus,” Washington Post, January 3, 1991, p. A-16.

Patrick J. Buchanan would make the much-reviled comment that “there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East — the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.”[38]Patrick J. Buchanan, “A.M. Rosenthal’s Outrage Reeks of Fakery,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 1990, p. 3C. But even Jewish liberal Richard Cohen opined in late August 1990 that “the problem I have with those who argue for a quick military strike is that they seem to be arguing from an Israeli perspective…. The United States is not immediately threatened by Iraq — as Israel was [in 1981] and is.” Cohen concluded that “those who plump for war are a bit premature, attempting to make the Middle East safe for not only oil [the American interest] but for Israel as well.”[39]Richard Cohen, “Those Calls for War,” Washington Post, August 28, 1990, p. A-17.

The strategy of eliminating Saddam’s military power precluded diplomatic efforts to get Saddam out of Kuwait, which were put forth by numerous parties including the Arab League, France, and the Soviet Union. Iraq itself made various informal compromise offers. Early on, however, the Bush administration precluded any face-saving gesture being offered to Iraq in its assertion that aggression could not be rewarded. The United States offered Saddam only a choice between war and total capitulation. Needless to say, a similar hard line had not been applied to numerous other aggressors.

On August 22 Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, ascribed the Bush administration’s rejection of the “diplomatic track” to its fear that if it became “involved in negotiations about the terms of an Iraqi withdrawal, America’s Arab allies might feel under pressure to give the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, a few token gains in Kuwait to roll back his invasion and defuse the crisis.”[40]Thomas L. Friedman, “Confrontation in the Gulf: Behind Bush’s Hard Line,” New York Times, August 22, 1990, p. A-1.

What explained the complete transformation of the Bush administration’s policy toward Iraq? Why would the administration not simply opt for a compromise agreement after Saddam’s invasion, since that seemed to be an acceptable condition before the war? Explanations run the gamut. One implies a conspiracy — that the Bush administration intended to fight Saddam and deliberately gave him the impression that he could get away with an invasion of Kuwait, in order to establish a casus belli. At the same time the United States urged Kuwait to resist Saddam’s demands in order to bring about the war.[41]Sami Yosif, “The Iraqi-U.S. War: a Conspiracy Theory,” in The Gulf War and the New World Order, edited by Haim Bresheeth and Nira Yuval-Davis (London: Zed Books, 1991), pp. 51-59.

While it sounds logical, the conspiracy thesis assumes too much planning on the part of the U.S. government. Another theory, one involving Israel, would seem more plausible. Steven Hurst in The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration contends that Washington pursued a hard line to accommodate Israel, to presumably make it amenable to granting concessions regarding Palestine. Establishing peace in the all-important Palestinian/Israeli conflict would be impossible, Hurst emphasizes, if the United States went too far in appeasing Saddam.[42]Hurst, pp. 95-96.

But it seems also that President Bush’s personality was a significant factor in the policy shift. Bush was only tangentially involved in Iraq policy prior to the Kuwait invasion. Baker and the State Department essentially directed the policy to placate Saddam, unaffected by outside cries about Saddam’s threats or even by opposition from within the administration by the Department of Defense, headed by Dick Cheney. Baker, in fact, continued to oppose military intervention after the invasion of Kuwait, instead preferring a peaceful compromise. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also opposed military action, preferring instead a policy of sanctions.[43]Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (New York: Doubleday, 2004), p. 394.

President Bush’s intention upon learning of the invasion was to follow the pacific policy laid out by James Baker.


President Bush’s intention upon learning of the invasion was actually to follow the pacific policy laid out by Baker. However, the hard-liners toward Iraq were bellowing about American appeasement. Bush was now on center stage, and he was concerned about appearing weak, which was how the critics were already describing his policy toward Iraq.

An encounter with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on August 3 in Aspen, Colorado, where Thatcher was attending a conference, drove Bush from uncertainty to avid support for war. Thatcher insisted that the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait could not be allowed. “Don’t go wobbly on me, George,” she lectured the president. As one of Thatcher’s advisors later quipped: “The prime minister performed a successful backbone transplant.”[44]Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 393.

Bush’s biographers Peter and Rochelle Schweizer explain his adoption of a militant war stance: “George Bush, like so many of the others in his family, was obsessed with the notion of measuring up to the challenge…. George had become convinced in the early weeks of August 1990 that his great test would be the struggle against Saddam Hussein. For the first time in his life he made a geopolitical struggle intensely personal. Before, he had always spoken about war and geopolitics in terms of national interest and American security; now he was more direct and personal.”[45]Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 394.

The United States would ultimately unleash Operation Desert Storm, beginning with a massive air bombardment on January 16, 1991, followed, 39 days later, by a four-day ground war that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and induced Saddam to accept a cease-fire on March 3. The war established a peace that would greatly weaken Saddam, including the requirement that Iraq not possess an arsenal of chemical, bacteriological, or nuclear weapons. That comported with the position of Israel, which sought to weaken its enemy.

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The quick and decisive defeat of Saddam by the U.S.-led coalition was a stunning and humiliating blow to the Arabs of the Middle East. Not since the heyday of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser had one man embodied all the aspirations of Arab radicalism as had Saddam Hussein. As neocon Joshua Muravchik wrote in late January 1991 after the start of the brief war: “If — as seems all but certain — the war ends in Saddam Hussein’s utter humiliation, the sobering effect should be enormous. With Mr. Hussein’s Baath Party in tatters, Soviet influence a thing of the past, Islamic extremism losing its luster in Iran, and the myth of unity shattered as never before, the Arab world may be ready finally for realism and moderation.”[46]Joshua Muravchik, “At Last, Pax Americana,” New York Times, January 24, 1991, p. A-23.

But for the defeat of Saddam to be advantageous to Israel, Iraq would have to be devastated. During the American bombing campaign, neocon Bruce Fein wanted to make sure that the country was reduced to rubble. Fein was concerned that the United States, in its effort to avoid civilian casualties, was not creating sufficient havoc. Especially upsetting was the “woolly-headed acquittal of the Iraqi people of any responsibility for the arch-villainous actions of their president.” It was necessary, Fein asserted, to punish the Iraqi people:

Why, therefore, should Mr. Bush instruct the U.S. military scrupulously to avoid civilian targets in Iraq even if a contrary policy would more quickly destroy Iraqi morale and bring it to heel? During World War II, the Allied powers massively bombed Berlin, Dresden, and Tokyo for reasons of military and civilian morale. Winston Churchill instructed the Royal Air Force to “make the rubble dance” in German cities. Why is Mr. Bush treating Iraqi civilians more solicitously than the enemy civilians of World War II?

Fein did not just want to kill the Iraqi people during the war; he held that in the postwar period the Iraqi people should be assessed reparations.[47]Bruce Fein, “No quarrel with the people of Iraq?,” Washington Times, February 20, 1991, p. G-4.

The neocons hoped that the 1991 war would lead to the removal of Saddam and the consequent U.S. occupation of Iraq.


Beyond the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, the neoconservatives hoped that the war would lead to the removal of Saddam and the consequent American occupation of Iraq. However, despite the urging of Defense Secretary Cheney and Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to adopt a military plan to invade the heartland of Iraq, that approach was never adopted, in part because of the opposition from Powell and Schwarzkopf, the field commander.[48]Arnold Beichman, “How the divide over Iraq strategies began,” Washington Times, November 27, 2002, p. A-18.

Moreover, the United States had a UN mandate to liberate Kuwait, not remove Saddam. To attempt the latter would have caused the warring coalition to fall apart. America’s coalition partners in the region, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, feared that the elimination of Saddam’s government would cause Iraq to fragment into warring ethnic and religious groups. That could have included a Kurdish rebellion in Iraq, spreading to Turkey’s own restive Kurdish population. And the Iraqi Shi’ites, likely falling under the influence of Iran, would increase the threat of Islamic radicalism in the vital oil-producing Gulf region.

In 1998, the first President Bush would explain his reason for not invading Iraq to remove Saddam thus: “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger…. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”[49]George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), p. 489. In his 1995 memoirs Baker would similarly observe that the administration’s “overriding strategic concern in the [first] Gulf war was to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonization of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare.”[50]James A. Baker III, with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989-1992 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), p. 435.

George H.W. Bush had essentially realized his major goals: the unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait; the restoration of what he considered the legitimate Kuwaiti government; and what he thought was the protection of the region from any future Iraqi aggression. In short, the foremost concern of the first Bush administration, in line with the traditional American position on the Middle East, was regional stability. As Norman Podhoretz would negatively sum up Bush I’s policy 13 years later:

When Saddam Hussein upset the balance of power in the Middle East by invading Kuwait in 1991, the elder Bush went to war not to create a new configuration in the region but to restore the status quo ante. And it was precisely out of the same overriding concern for stability that, having achieved this objective by driving Saddam out of Kuwait, Bush then allowed him to remain in power.[51]Norman Podhoretz, “World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win,” Commentary, September 2004.

Israel and its neocon allies sought just the opposite: a destabilized, fragmented Iraq (indeed a destabilized, fragmented Middle East) that would enhance Israel’s relative regional power.

PART THREE

Rejecting an American occupation of Iraq as too dangerous, the first President Bush sought to remove Saddam by less aggressive means. In May 1991, he signed a presidential finding directing the CIA to create the conditions for Saddam’s ouster. As it emerged, the plan consisted largely of generating propaganda and supporting the Iraqi dissidents who came to form the Iraqi National Congress. The hope was that members of the Iraqi military would turn on Saddam and stage a military coup. That was not to happen.

During the war, Bush had called for the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam.


In the process of terminating the war on Iraq, the Bush administration allowed Saddam to brutally suppress uprisings by the Kurds and the Shi’ites. What made that seem like an especially immoral betrayal was the fact that, during the war, Bush had called for the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam. Now, as Saddam smashed the rebellions, neoconservatives and other supporters of Israel were outraged. A.M. Rosenthal angrily declared that “that by betraying the rebels the U.S. is truly intervening — on the side of the killer Hussein.” To the argument that American intervention might break up Iraq, Rosenthal questioned the need for a unified Iraq: “Anyway, were Americans sent into combat against Saddam Hussein so that Washington should now help him keep together the jigsaw country sawed out of the Middle East by the British after World War I?”[52]A.M. Rosenthal, “Why the Betrayal?,” New York Times, April 2, 1991, p. A-19. Here Rosenthal was questioning the entire principle of stability that had traditionally guided American policy in the Middle East.

“Two months after a brilliant military campaign ended in victory, Mr. Bush has achieved the worst of worlds for millions of Iraqi rebels and for American policy in the Mideast,” opined Rosenthal in the New York Post of April 23, 1991. But the solution Rosenthal had in mind involved more than just providing immediate protection for the Kurds and Shi’ites. He emphasized that “there will be no peace as long as Saddam Hussein rules, and threatens to rise again.”[53]Rosenthal, “The Way Out,” New York Times, April 23, 1991, p. A-21.

Rosenthal presented what would become the key neocon solution for the Middle East — regime change and democracy. He contrasted the reliance on a democratic approach to the traditional policy of “realism” in the Middle East, which the Bush administration continued to pursue in the aftermath of Gulf War I:

For many years now the “realists” have dominated American foreign policy, particularly on the Middle East. They constantly search for a “balance of power” that is unattainable because it is based on dictatorships, which by their very nature are the cause of instability. They dismiss the concept of morality in international affairs and believe that democracy is impossible in the Middle East.Yes, it is impossible — as long as the realists have their way and we appease the Saddam Husseins and Hafez al-Assads of the area, coddle the oil despots and are in a constant twitch of irritation about our support of Israel, the only democracy in the area.

Just see where Realpolitik has gotten us in the Mideast: Iran in the hands of religious fanatics, Syria and Libya ruled under terrorist fascism, Saddam Hussein still in power, marauding — and a million Iraqi refugees clawing for food, crying out their hunger and betrayal.[54]Rosenthal, “The Fear of Morality,” New York Times, April 16, 1991, p. A-23.

William Safire, too, wrote of the immorality of abandoning the Kurds and Shi’ites. “Must history remember George Bush as the liberator of Kuwait and the man who saved Iraq for dictatorship?” Safire asked. “U.S. troops will return home with a sense of shame at the bloodletting that followed our political sellout.”[55]Safire, “Bush’s Moral Crisis,” New York Times, April 1, 1991, p. A- 17. See also: Safire, “Follow the Kurds to Save Iraq,” New York Times, March 28, 1991, p. A-25; and Safire, “Bush’s Bay of Pigs,” New York Times, April 4, 1991, p. A-23.

Krauthammer would blame Bush’s failure to intervene to save the Kurds and Shi’ites on the president’s risk-averse personality, in respect of which his war on Iraq represented an aberration:

After seven months of brilliant, indeed heroic, presidential leadership, George Bush’s behavior after the Persian Gulf War — his weak and vacillating hands-off policy — is a puzzle. The best explanation is this: Bush was like the man who wins the jackpot in a casino and walks right out the front door refusing even to look at another table. There are many reasons Bush decided to cash in his chips even if that meant abandoning the Iraqi rebels to Saddam Hussein’s tender mercies — a policy partly reversed when the extent of the Kurdish catastrophe became clear. There was the fear of getting dragged into a civil war, a belief that international law and the wartime coalition would support saving Kuwait’s sovereignty but not violating Iraq’s, and his susceptibility to pressure from his Saudi friends, who feared both the fracturing and democratization of Iraq. These were all factors, but the overwhelming one was the president’s persona: A man of pathological prudence, having just risked everything on one principled roll of the dice, was not about to hang around the gaming room a second longer. It was a question of political capital. After 30 years in politics Bush had finally amassed it. He was not about to spend it in Kurdistan. The willingness to risk political capital is not just a sign of greatness in a leader, it is almost a definition of it.[56]Krauthammer, “After Winning Big, Bush Ran Away Fast,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 5, 1991, p. 3-B.

But the fact is that while the Bush administration maintained the traditional concern of American foreign policy for stability in the Middle East, it was willing to risk political capital: it was willing to return to pressuring Israel to move away from its effort to colonize the West Bank. In defying the powerful domestic Israel lobby, that policy was bound to stir up a hornet’s nest for the Bush administration. But the postwar public-opinion polls showed overwhelming support for President Bush. In early March 1991, just as the war ended, Bush’s approval rating stood at a stratospheric 90 percent.[57]Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 399. That seemed to provide enough political cushion against the inevitable damage that Bush and Baker would suffer in pursuing their foreign-policy agenda.

Essentially, that policy sought to fit U.S. policy toward Israel within the overall framework of maintaining stability in the region. It saw Israel as the unstable element. If the Jewish state would make concessions to the Palestinians, tension would subside across the entire Middle East, for it was the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians that created a major Arab grievance exploited by anti-American destabilizing elements in the region.

The Bush regime returned with vigor to its effort to curb Israeli control of the occupied territories.


The Bush administration now was especially desirous of placating the Arab coalition that had supported the war, by making American policy in the Middle East more even-handed. In supporting a Western attack on a fellow Muslim and Arab country, the leaders of the Middle Eastern states had risked engendering internal opposition from religious and nationalistic elements, and those rulers expected some reward for their loyalty to the United States.

ORDER IT NOW

Bush and his people thus returned with vigor to their pre-war effort of trying to curb Israeli control of its occupied territories. They focused on a demand that Israel stop constructing new settlements in the occupied territories, as a condition for receiving $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Despite Washington’s objections, Israel had launched a building boom in the occupied territories intended by Prime Minister Shamir’s rightist government to ensure permanent Israeli control there. The plan would boost the Jewish settler population by 50 percent in two years. Asked in early April 1991 how Israel would respond to a U.S. request to freeze Jewish settlement activity, Ariel Sharon, then housing minister, adamantly stated that “Israel has always built, is building, and will in future build in Judea, Samaria [biblical names for the West Bank], and the Gaza Strip.”[58]Tom Diaz, “Israelis aren’t making Baker’s job any easier,” Washington Times, April 8,1991, p. A-9. In May 1991, Secretary Baker harshly condemned the Jewish settlements in testimony before the Foreign Operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee, asserting that “I don’t think that there is any bigger obstacle to peace.”[59]Warren Strobel, “Baker condemns Israeli settlement policy,” Washington Times, May 23, 1991, p. A-8.

Shamir’s Likud government and Israel’s American supporters strongly resisted the Bush administration’s efforts. In his news conference of September 12, 1991, Bush went before the TV cameras to ask Congress to delay consideration of the $10 billion in loan guarantees being demanded by Shamir. The president dared to speak directly of the pro-Israel pressure, saying that “I’m up against some powerful political forces, but I owe it to the American people to tell them how strongly I feel about the deferral…. I heard today there was something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We’ve got one lonely little guy down here doing it.”[60]George H.W. Bush, The President’s News Conference, September 12th, 1991, Public Papers of George Bush: 1989-1993, The American Presidency Project; Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state,” Washington Times, March 18, 1992, p. A-7; and Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 218-23. (My review-essay on Ginsberg’s book is posted at The Last Ditch: “Deadly enemy, deadly friend.”)

In performing an end run around the Israel-friendly mainstream media and appealing directly to the American people, however, Bush struck a responsive chord. A public opinion poll two days later found that 86 percent of the American people supported the president on the issue. But that public support apparently rendered some members of the administration complacent about the political power of the pro-Zionist lobby. When the danger of alienating Jewish-Americans was broached to Baker, he was alleged to have uttered that most taboo-shattering of profanities: “F*ck the Jews. They didn’t vote for us.”[61]Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state”; Michael Hedge, “Israeli lobby president resigns over promises,” Washington Times, November 4, 1992, p. A-3; “Loan Guarantees for Israel,” Washington Times, September 11, 1992, p. F-2; Frank Gaffney, Jr., “Neocon job that begs for answers,” October 13, 1992, p. F-1; Andrew Borowiec, “Group counters Bush on Israel,” Washington Times, February 27, 1992, p. A-1; and Ginsberg, pp. 218-23.

Baker is quoted in John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 197.

An interesting side note. In Jewish Power: Inside the Jewish Establishment (Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1996), J.J. Goldberg observes (p. 234): “In 1991, at the height of the Bush administration’s confrontation with Israel, no fewer than seven of the nineteen assistant secretaries in the State Department were Jews.”

Bush’s opposition to Shamir’s policy probably contributed to bringing down the Likud government in January 1992. In the subsequent Israeli national election in June 1992, Shamir lost to the Labor Party led by Yizhak Rabin, which ran on the popular slogan “Land for Peace.” (While Rabin was amenable to pursuing a peace process with the Palestinians — for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1994 — the extent to which Jewish settlements on the West Bank would be reduced and the chances for a future viable Palestinian state were always questionable.)

As the election approached, the Bush administration, seeing its popularity plummet, tried to mend fences with its Zionist critics.


However, while the situation changed in Israel, supporters of Israel in the United States remained intransigent. They were outraged over the administration’s public pressuring of Israel. The neocons set up an organization to back the Israeli position on settlements, giving it the Orwellian moniker Committee on U.S. Interests in the Middle East. Members included such neoconservative stalwarts as Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, and Elliot Abrams.[62]“Committee on U.S. Interests in the Middle East,” SourceWatch, Center for Media and Democracy, April 1992; and “New Committee Explains Israel as U.S. Asset,” The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, April 1, 1992.

As the 1992 election approached, the Bush administration, seeing its popularity plummet, tried to mend fences with its Zionist critics. In July 1992, Bush announced that Washington would provide the loan guarantees after all. His concession won him no pro-Israel support.

The role of Israel’s chief lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in the loan-guarantee controversy was starkly revealed in a private conversation in October 1992 between the president of AIPAC, David Steiner, and potential contributor Harry Katz, which the latter secretly taped. Steiner boasted about AIPAC’s political sway, saying he had “cut a deal” with James Baker to give more aid to Israel. He had arranged for “almost a billion dollars in other goodies that people don’t even know about.”[63]“The Complete Unexpurgated AIPAC Tape,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December/January 1992/93.

When Katz brought up the concern that Baker had cursed the Jewish people, Steiner said, “Of course, do you think I’m ever going to forgive him for that?” He acknowledged that AIPAC was backing Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, and had supported him before he received the nomination. Steiner boasted that AIPAC had numerous supporters in the Clinton campaign and that Clinton would put their people in top positions when he entered office. In fact the Democratic platform contained a strong pro-Israel plank (proving that not all platform planks are just for show), and the Clinton campaign attacked the Bush administration for “bullying” Israel.

Like other supporters of Israel, some neoconservatives were trending toward Clinton. Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights under Reagan and the first Bush (until March 1992), had become a senior foreign-policy advisor for the Clinton campaign. Schifter was also working with AIPAC’s David Ifshin to bring fellow neocons back into the Democratic Party.[64]Robert I. Friedman, “The Wobbly Israel Lobby,” Washington Post, November 1, 1992, p. C-1; and Cathryn Donohoe, “Defection of the Neocons,” Washington Times, October 27, 1992, p. E-1. And a number of other neocons such as Joshua Muravchik, Penn Kemble, Morris Amitay, Edward Luttwak, and R. James Woolsey would openly back Bill Clinton. Many others remained at least cool to Bush’s re-election.[65]Fred Barnes, “Neocons for Clinton: They’re Back!” New Republic, March 7, 1992, pp. 12-14; and Stephen S. Rosenfeld, “Return of the Neocons,” Washington Post, August 28, 1992, p. A-23. Even longtime conservative commentator William Safire would back Clinton. Moreover, Clinton appealed to neocons by virtue of his support of the neoconservative idea that promoting democracy should be a central feature of American foreign policy.[66]Krauthammer, “Name Neocon to Post at State Dept.,” Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 1993, p. 27; and “America and Israel: For love of Zion,” The Economist, November 14, 1992, p. 27. The neocons would see promotion of democracy as a means of undermining Israel’s enemies in the Middle East, none of which was ruled in a democratic manner.

Clinton received the highest level of Jewish support of any Democratic presidential candidate since Roosevelt.


Many neocons with strong Republican connections were hesitant to completely make the switch to Clinton, but they would at best be lukewarm Bush supporters. Even a defense of Bush by one of those supporters, Daniel Pipes, acknowledged the difficulties in supporting the president. “If there’s a lot of agreement on anything this election year,” Pipes wrote, “it’s that friends of Israel should not vote to re-elect George Bush. The mere mention of his name in Jewish circles evinces strong disappointment, even anger.”[67]Daniel Pipes, “Bush, Clinton, and the Jews: A Debate,” Commentary, October 1992.

Clinton received the highest level of Jewish support of any Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to an American Jewish Congress exit poll, 80 percent of American Jews voted for Clinton, compared to 11 percent for Bush. In 1988, 35 percent of American Jewish voters had backed Bush.[68]“Jewish Vote In Presidential Elections,” Jewish Virtual Library. And the George H.W. Bush who emerged from the Gulf War with an astronomical 90 percent approval rating went down to a humiliating defeat.

What one sees in the first Gulf War is a temporary and partial shift from America’s traditional policy of working to maintain stability in the Middle East to a policy firmly aligned with that of Israel to militarily defeat Israel’s greatest enemy at the time. While Washington had previously provided arms to Israel to enable it to defeat its enemies — most conspicuously in the arms airlift during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 — the United States had never before gone to war against a primary enemy of Israel. In fighting an enemy initially identified by Israel and its American supporters, American policy in the 1991 Gulf War prefigured the Bush II administration’s war on Iraq, which would be on a much grander scale.

The very establishment of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East had a destabilizing effect.


Under the Bush I administration, the war and the defeat of Saddam still took place within the overall foreign-policy framework of maintaining stability — and in its rejection of an American occupation of Iraq, the administration certainly did everything it could to try to restore the status quo, to the great consternation of the friends of Israel who desired regime change and continued destabilization. However, as it happened, the very establishment of the American military presence in the Middle East had a destabilizing effect. It would feed into the popular grievances exploited by Islamists such as Osama bin Laden. America would become a primary enemy on a par with Israel.

The drastic American military intervention into Middle East affairs had unleashed forces that could not be reversed. The tinder was dry and needed only the neocons of the Bush II administration to light the spark of a new American war, utterly transforming American policy. To avoid the likelihood of a future war, the United States would have had to pull out of the region after 1991, and that was an approach alien to all Establishment geostrategic thinkers, wedded as they have been to a policy of international intervention on the part of the U.S. government.

The second, greater war would not have started when it did had the neocons not been able to gain control of foreign policy in the George W. Bush administration, a seizure of power that resulted from the 9/11 terrorist disaster. However, the neocons, though newly empowered, could not have initiated the 2003 war if the earlier war had not taken place. In that sense the 1991 Gulf War was a prelude to the 2003 war on Iraq, in which the U.S. government would pursue a policy in complete harmony with the thinking of the neocons and the Israeli Likudniks to precipitate regime change and destabilize the Middle East.

References

[1] Dilip Hiro, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 14-15.

[2] Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” Washington Post, December 30, 2002, p. 1.

[3] Hiro, p. 119.

[4] Dobbs.

[5] Dobbs.

[6] Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Iran-Iraq War,” Z Magazine, February 1990; Jeremy Scahill, “The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet,” Common Dreams, August 2, 2002; and Chris Bury, “A Tortured Relationship — U.S. and Iraq Were Not Always Enemies,” NucNews, September 18, 2002. (Note: Possible copyright problem; the Bury piece seems to have been originally posted at ABC News, September 18, 2002. It is no longer available there, however.) Also Dobbs.

[7] William Blum, “Anthrax for Export,” The Progressive, April 1998.

[8] Dobbs.

[9] Dobbs.

[10] Hiro, pp. 83, 117-18.

[11] Steven Hurst, The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration: In Search of a New World Order (London: Cassell, 1999), p. 86.

[12] Jackson Diehl, “New Arab Arsenals Challenge Israel’s Long Regional Dominance,” Washington Post, April 3, 1990, p. A-35.

[13] Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, “Iraq’s Arsenal of Horrors: Baghdad’s Growing Menace Alters Israeli Strategy,” Washington Post, April 8, 1990, p. B-1.

[14] Quoted in Diehl.

[15] Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn, Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), pp. 350-51.

[16] Majid Khadduri and Edmund Ghareeb, War in the Gulf, 1990-1991: The Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and Its Implications (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 99-100.

[17] Khadduri and Ghareeb, p. 100.

[18] Hurst, pp. 29-34, 72-76.

[19] William Safire, “Bush Versus Israel,” New York Times, March 26, 1990, p. A-17.

[20] Ted Thornton, “The Gulf Wars, 1990-1991,” History of the Middle East Database, March 19, 2003; and Sam Husseini and Jim Naureckas, “Zuckerman Unbound,” FAIR, January/February 1993.

[21] Murray Waas, “Who lost Kuwait?,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, January 30, 1991.

[22] Dilip Hiro, Iraq in the Eye of the Storm (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002), pp. 32-34; Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 105-108.

[23] Hiro, Iraq in the Eye of the Storm, pp. 32-34; Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 105-108.

[24] Khadduri and Ghareeb, pp. 234-36.

[25] Hurst, p. 88.

[26] Charles Krauthammer, “Nightmare From the ’30s,” Washington Post, July 27, 1990, p. A27.

[27] Hurst, p. 90; H. Rahman, Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait’s Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq (Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 1997), pp. 298-99.

[28] John Edward Wilz, “The Making of Mr. Bush’s War: A Failure to Learn from History?,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Summer 1996.

[29] Wilz.

[30] Mitchel Cohen, “How the War Party Sold the 1991 Bombing of Iraq to U.S.,” Antiwar.com, December 30, 2002.

[31] William Thomas, Bringing the War Home (Earthpulse Press, 1996-99), Chapter 2, Earthpulse.com.

[32] Scott Peterson, “In war, some facts less factual,” Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2002; and Jon Basil Utley, “Questions About the Supposed Iraqi Threat to Saudi Arabia in l990 — Aerial Photos Were Never Released!!,” Americans against World Empire, 1990.

[33] Jackson Diehl, “Gulf Crisis Boosts Israeli Confidence over Relations with U.S.,” Washington Post, August 5, 1990, p. A-13.

[34] Cockburn and Cockburn, pp. 353, 356.

[35] “Solarz Forms Group Backing Gulf Policies,” Washington Post, December 9, 1990, p. A-36.

[36] Christopher Layne, “Why the Gulf War Was Not in the National Interest,” The Atlantic, July 1991. (Web access restricted to subscribers.)

[37] E.J. Dionne Jr., “Gulf Crisis Rekindles Democrats’ Old Debate but with New Focus,” Washington Post, January 3, 1991, p. A-16.

[38] Patrick J. Buchanan, “A.M. Rosenthal’s Outrage Reeks of Fakery,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 1990, p. 3C.

[39] Richard Cohen, “Those Calls for War,” Washington Post, August 28, 1990, p. A-17.

[40] Thomas L. Friedman, “Confrontation in the Gulf: Behind Bush’s Hard Line,” New York Times, August 22, 1990, p. A-1.

[41] Sami Yosif, “The Iraqi-U.S. War: a Conspiracy Theory,” in The Gulf War and the New World Order, edited by Haim Bresheeth and Nira Yuval-Davis (London: Zed Books, 1991), pp. 51-59.

[42] Hurst, pp. 95-96.

[43] Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (New York: Doubleday, 2004), p. 394.

[44] Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 393.

[45] Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 394.

[46] Joshua Muravchik, “At Last, Pax Americana,” New York Times, January 24, 1991, p. A-23.

[47] Bruce Fein, “No quarrel with the people of Iraq?,” Washington Times, February 20, 1991, p. G-4.

[48] Arnold Beichman, “How the divide over Iraq strategies began,” Washington Times, November 27, 2002, p. A-18.

[49] George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), p. 489.

[50] James A. Baker III, with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989-1992 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), p. 435.

[51] Norman Podhoretz, “World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win,” Commentary, September 2004.

[52] A.M. Rosenthal, “Why the Betrayal?,” New York Times, April 2, 1991, p. A-19.

[53] Rosenthal, “The Way Out,” New York Times, April 23, 1991, p. A-21.

[54] Rosenthal, “The Fear of Morality,” New York Times, April 16, 1991, p. A-23.

[55] Safire, “Bush’s Moral Crisis,” New York Times, April 1, 1991, p. A- 17. See also: Safire, “Follow the Kurds to Save Iraq,” New York Times, March 28, 1991, p. A-25; and Safire, “Bush’s Bay of Pigs,” New York Times, April 4, 1991, p. A-23.

[56] Krauthammer, “After Winning Big, Bush Ran Away Fast,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 5, 1991, p. 3-B.

[57] Schweizer and Schweizer, p. 399.

[58] Tom Diaz, “Israelis aren’t making Baker’s job any easier,” Washington Times, April 8,1991, p. A-9.

[59] Warren Strobel, “Baker condemns Israeli settlement policy,” Washington Times, May 23, 1991, p. A-8.

ORDER IT NOW

[60] George H.W. Bush, The President’s News Conference, September 12th, 1991, Public Papers of George Bush: 1989-1993, The American Presidency Project; Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state,” Washington Times, March 18, 1992, p. A-7; and Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 218-23. (My review-essay on Ginsberg’s book is posted at The Last Ditch: “Deadly enemy, deadly friend.”)

[61] Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state”; Michael Hedge, “Israeli lobby president resigns over promises,” Washington Times, November 4, 1992, p. A-3; “Loan Guarantees for Israel,” Washington Times, September 11, 1992, p. F-2; Frank Gaffney, Jr., “Neocon job that begs for answers,” October 13, 1992, p. F-1; Andrew Borowiec, “Group counters Bush on Israel,” Washington Times, February 27, 1992, p. A-1; and Ginsberg, pp. 218-23.

Baker is quoted in John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 197.

An interesting side note. In Jewish Power: Inside the Jewish Establishment (Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1996), J.J. Goldberg observes (p. 234): “In 1991, at the height of the Bush administration’s confrontation with Israel, no fewer than seven of the nineteen assistant secretaries in the State Department were Jews.”

[62] “Committee on U.S. Interests in the Middle East,” SourceWatch, Center for Media and Democracy, April 1992; and “New Committee Explains Israel as U.S. Asset,” The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, April 1, 1992.

[63] “The Complete Unexpurgated AIPAC Tape,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December/January 1992/93.

[64] Robert I. Friedman, “The Wobbly Israel Lobby,” Washington Post, November 1, 1992, p. C-1; and Cathryn Donohoe, “Defection of the Neocons,” Washington Times, October 27, 1992, p. E-1.

[65] Fred Barnes, “Neocons for Clinton: They’re Back!” New Republic, March 7, 1992, pp. 12-14; and Stephen S. Rosenfeld, “Return of the Neocons,” Washington Post, August 28, 1992, p. A-23.

[66] Krauthammer, “Name Neocon to Post at State Dept.,” Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 1993, p. 27; and “America and Israel: For love of Zion,” The Economist, November 14, 1992, p. 27.

[67] Daniel Pipes, “Bush, Clinton, and the Jews: A Debate,” Commentary, October 1992.

[68] “Jewish Vote In Presidential Elections,” Jewish Virtual Library.

(Republished from The Last Ditch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Classic, Iraq War 
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