This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the Persian Gulf War, which began February 23, 1991. A typo in the original print version of this article led to an ongoing flame war with a local crank regarding my conspiracy theory outlined below. I eventually offered a bet, to be settled 30 years after the war's anniversary - which means we have just ten years to go. Meanwhile, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the Gulf War - and Saddam may taken answers to some of them to his grave:
• The London Observer reported October 21st that Iraq's policy of military intimidation of the Kuwaiti royal family to bring about higher oil prices was begun at the behest of the United States. Saddam, at that point the kind of guy we could do business with, was simply repaying a favor - the billions in arms, foodstuffs, and credits we had tossed his way during the '8Os. While higher oil prices might not be the healthiest thing for the US economy, they would certainly be in the interests of George Bush, a major Texaco shareholder.
• But wait - the September 17th Nation said that the Kuwaiti policy of overproduction to keep oil prices low was also the result of US urging. Beginning in mid-1989, the Kuwaitis began violating OPEC agreements and pumping millions of gallons beyond their quotas. This put the squeeze on the Iraqi economy to the tune of $l billion a year for each $1 drop in the price of a barrel. The Iraqis were already reeling from their eight-year war with Iran, a war that saw the US selling arms to both sides. Saddam apparently came to believe that the Kuwaitis were conspiring to wreck his economy. He tried negotiating with them at the May 1989 Arab summit, but grew increasingly belligerent as the overproduction continued.
• The Kuwaitis, meanwhile, became increasingly fearful of their powerful neighbor, and were willing to appease him by July of 1990. On July 31st, however, they abruptly broke off talks with Iraq, again at the insistence of the United States. According to the 8-29-90 Intelligence Newsletter, Washington was fully aware of Iraq's intention to invade if negotiations failed, but opposed the deal on the grounds it would give Saddam regional "hegemony" - something we reserve for ourselves.
• Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, our Ambassador, April Glaspie, told Saddam one week before the invasion, that Washington took "no position whatsoever" on Iraq's dispute with Kuwait. As if to further illuminate the green light, two State Department officials made a point of mentioning, while Iraq massed troops on the Kuwaiti border, that America had no treaty that would obligate us to come to Kuwait's defense. Saddam moved his troops on August 2nd; Bush moved his on August 6th.
It is obvious, to this observer at least, that our President has been uncommonly eager for this war to take place. Certainly a great number of stones were left unturned before diplomatic efforts were declared "exhausted." From the ludicrous quibbling over scheduling the Baker-to- Baghdad summit to the ultimatum laid down in Geneva, the Administration has shown an arrogant unwillingness to compromise that is antithesis of true diplomacy. Saddam has indicated from the very beginning his willingness to withdraw from Kuwait - one of our stated goals – in exchange for a regional peace conference. Iraqis and Americans are now dying because George Bush rejects "linkage" between the various military occupations in the Middle East. Accepting this linkage would of course be "rewarding aggression," a concept that our President (and our country) has shown a rather selective aversion to in the past.
Once the 1990 midterm elections were behind him, Bush altered our supposed mission in the Gulf from defensive to offensive – from deterring an attack on Saudi Arabia to Kicking Butt – and he has never looked back. A resolution of impeachment offered by Rep. Henry Gonzalez of Texas charges Bush with "bribing, intimidating and threatening" member nations of the UN Security Council to authorize him to use force. So what's in it for him? What does Bush (and the power structure that backs him) gain from this war?
• The War Dividend: For fifty years, the United States economy has been operating on a permanent wartime basis. An ever increasing sector of the economy has become depend ant on Pentagon spending to cover the balance sheets. The oil companies, aerospace and automotive industries, computer firms, and countless others have been the recipients of government largesse, subsidies and bailouts - a kind of welfare for the rich running into the trillion s. The institutionalization of graft in this system was painfully apparent in the endless Pentagon procurement scandal s, and the recirculation of these companies' profits into the electoral process has led to a cancer on the body politic.
The end of the Cold War threatened the existence of this lucrative system like nothing in the last half-century - and now that threat is removed. After World War II, the Red Scare and the Cold War helped to guarantee massive military expenditures for generations to come. Senator Arthur Vandenberg had told President Truman that if he wanted huge Pentagon budgets, he should "scare the hell out of the American people" - advice that each of Truman's successors continued to follow. The beauty of the current crisis, from the standpoint of the power structure, is that it also scares the hell out of the Saudi royal family.
• Saudi Bases: Despite our long covert involvement in Middle East geopolitics and several interventions, the US has never had a major military presence in the region. Both the Saudis and the Kuwaitis have consistently refused to allow US bases on their soil. While neither regime has ever been overwhelmingly viable in terms of popular support, each had apparently concluded that US troops within their borders would do them more harm than good. Both royal families were widely resented throughout the region for their corruption and decadence. Now that the Saudis have allowed 'infidels' onto lands sacred to Islam, in order to baffle fellow Arabs, all that has obviously changed. The Saudis will certainly be requiring our "protection" for the foreseeable future, as will the re-installed Emir of Kuwait in any credible postwar scenario for the dangerously destabilized region.
The Administration has offered a bewildering array of barely plausible rationales for our intervention, but in moments of candor, James Baker has confirmed that Saudi Arabia is the key. Not only does it cover one quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, (including a freshly discovered field said to be so pure you could run your car on it unrefined) but large deposits of gold, an element of some interest to international finance, are also found within the kingdom. Insuring the tenuous hold on power of the House of Saud would be in keeping with our long-term foreign policy habits: bankrolling tinhorn dictators and strongmen in order to control the supply of "our" resources - which just happen to be sitting in other people's countries.
• A Scapegoat: whatever happens now to the moribund US economy, we can blame it on Saddam - not the tremendous indebtedness and crumbling infrastructure that is the legacy of the Reagan era. Additionally, the Administration gets a chance to change the subject. The talk of the town last August was the burgeoning S&L scandal – including the possible involvement of President's sons Neil and Jeb with organized crime figures. The degree to which the CIA was responsible for S&L embezzlements, the half-a-trillion-dollar cost of the bailout, or the possible insolvency of major banks - these are topics of discourse the power structure would prefer to avoid. The more we focused on events in the Mideast, the less attention we have for criminality in high places.
• Higher Oil Prices: As mentioned above, this crisis began when Washington pressured Baghdad to pressure Kuwait for higher oil prices. It’s important to remember that the President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Commerce are all Texas oil millionaires. In terms of the national economic picture, policy makers may hi felt they had little to lose, but higher prices for crude would be a definite shot in the arm for Texas, as well as for allies in the Gulf. And in a perverse vicious circle, the windfall profits the Saudis reap from higher oil prices are kicked back our way to help defray costs of Desert Storm. This constitutes an invisible war tax that US commuters pay at the gas pump.
While oil prices plummeted in the initial euphoria over our glorious assault on Baghdad, the Pentagon now concedes its claims of success may have been a bit, shall we say, inflated. Prices have already started creeping back up. The carnage of a ground war – which is virtually inevitable if we intend to fulfill our latest goal of putting Saddam on trial for war crimes – is bound to cause an upward trend on the price of a barrel. As the saying goes, war is good for business.
The publicly offered reasons for the coming devastation – restoring the Emir, “the New World Order,” our devotion to international law – are so irrational as to be ludicrous. When we ask cui bono? – who benefits – the answer is the ruling elite of the United States. It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that this Administration manipulated the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis into confrontation for their own reasons. And if you don't think the motives offered above - oil company profits, continued militarization, regional hegemony in the Mideast, and a jingoistic distraction from economic mismanagement at home - are sufficient reasons for grinding up our youth in the sands of Arabia, well, then, you don't know George H. W. Bush.