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PERSIAN GULF WARS to 1991 (4 of 8)

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Saddam Annexes Kuwait

Some have speculated that if Saddam Hussein had merely taken the strip of land just within Kuwait's border where oil wells had been sucking up Iraqi oil and had taken a couple of small Kuwaiti islands, the US and Britain would not have pursued war against Iraq. But Saddam Hussein went further. He thought of his supposed great ancestor Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king from a time when greatness was measured by military conquest and huge palaces. Hussein was moving against all of Kuwait. 

At 8:30 on the evening of August 1, 1990, a disturbed President George H. W. Bush was on the telephone hearing about the invasion and then seeking information about options from his National Security Advisor and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Pentagon had not been off guard. Intelligence officers had been watching Iraqi troop movements. As early as January they had been concerned, and General Norman Schwarzkopf had ordered an exploration of alternative responses to an Iraqi invasion in the Arabian Peninsula.

Now, just before 10 pm, the American ambassador in Kuwait was on the phone with the US State Department, passing on a Kuwaiti request for help. The help they wanted was military assistance.

Bush went to bed late and was up again by 5 am. He signed papers for the freezing Iraqi assets. At 6 am at the United Nations in New York, the Security Council voted to condemn the invasion, and it demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Early that morning, Schwarzkopf arrived at the Pentagon. Iraqi troop movements were described to him, movements he saw as amateurish. While Schwarzkopf and others gathered to meet with the president at the White House, the press arrived and asked Bush whether he was going to authorize the dispatch of US troops to the Gulf. Bush replied that he was "not contemplating such action."

At the UN, the Security Council passed Resolution 660, demanding an immediate and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal.  On 2 August, President Bush kept his appointment for an Aspen Institute conference in Colorado, attended by Britain's prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She was there to address the new era of "global community." There she met with Bush and told him she was appalled that Saddam Hussein had lied about his intentions. She called him a brutal dictator and spoke of the need to defend Saudi Arabia as a priority. If Saddam took Saudi Arabia, she said, he would have 65 percent of the world's oil reserves. "He could blackmail us all," she said – in other words, Saddam would have too much leverage over the price of oil. She announced that "aggressors should never be appeased," that we had learned that in the 30s. "We have to move to stop the aggression," she said, and we have to "stop it quickly." If we let it succeed, she added, "no small country can ever feel safe again [and] the law of the jungle would take over from the rule of law." note67

About her discussions with Bush at Aspen she was to write:

President Bush that day was an altogether more confident George Bush than the man with whom I had had earlier dealings. He was firm, cool, showing the decisive qualities with which the Commander-in-Chief of the greatest world power must possess. Any hesitation fell away. I had always liked George Bush. Now my respect for him soared.note68

The United States had naval forces headed for the Persian Gulf, but they were making slow headway against heavy seas. In Kuwait City, on August 3, some of Saddam's Republican Guards were outside the US embassy and threatening to go over the wall. The twenty or so people inside with Ambassador Howell were terrorized but determined to fight, with shotguns, 357 Magnums, tear gas, gas masks, and with Marine Corps guards at the forefront. But soon Saddam's force withdrew from the embassy wall.

On August 3, the Bush administration announced that it was committing Naval Forces to the Gulf region. On August 4, Bush met with his advisors at Camp David and discussed defending Saudi Arabia. And the following day, he met with the press and, referring to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, announced that "This will not stand."

The US military was scrambling to put together a ground force that it could send to Saudi Arabia, and Bush was starting to put together a coalition force opposed to Iraq. By phone, King Hussein of Jordan told Bush that he was opposed to any US action against Iraq and spoke of Saddam's promise to withdraw from Kuwait soon. King Hussein had much to worry about. Sixty percent of his subjects were Palestinians. Palestinians had been guest workers in Kuwait and had been treated there with contempt. Palestinians in Jordan were siding with Saddam, and many of them were willing to fight side by side with the Iraqis.

President Mubarak of Egypt also spoke by phone to Bush. He had been angered by Saddam having lied to him about his intentions, and of the invasion he had said, "We are at the end of the 20th century. Nobody will accept this in the whole world." But to Bush, Mubarak advised that the US stay calm and give an Arab solution a chance. Bush told Mubarak "fine" but that Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait must involve restoration of the "lawful government of Kuwait."

According to the CIA, the Saudis were considering buying Saddam's good will with a large gift of money. The Pentagon was presenting the Saudi ambassador in Washington with photos of an Iraqi build up of forces on the Saudi border. By August 6, the US Secretary of Defense, with Norman Schwarzkopf and others, was in Saudi Arabia talking with King Faud. That day, Faud agreed to the stationing of US and western military forces on Saudi soil – something never before done.

On August 7, President Bush ordered fourteen aircraft and supporting personnel to Saudi Arabia. And to the press Bush announced that the move was wholly defensive, that he was sending troops to the Persian Gulf "to assist the Saudi Arabian government in the defense of its homeland." Saddam Hussein complained to a US diplomat in Baghdad that he had no intentions against Saudi Arabia, that the Americans were using a fictitious threat to Saudi Arabia as a pretext to put their soldiers into the Gulf region. But he felt victorious regarding Kuwait. He announced publicly that the Iraqis and Kuwaitis were now "one people, one state that will be the pride of the Arabs." In Baghdad the public was delighted. They danced in the streets and guns were fired in celebration.


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