(PERSIAN GULF WARS to 1991 – continued)

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PERSIAN GULF WARS to 1991 (5 of 8)

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Saddam Refuses to Withdraw

Saddam Hussein believed that the US would not risk the lives of its young people by going to war. George Bush remained determined to restore Kuwait's independence, and he entertained the possibility that Saddam would withdraw from Kuwait voluntarily – a move that would have been a loss of prestige for Saddam among his supporters in Iraq. George Bush and Saddam Hussein were still on a collision course, but one that would take months to play out.

International diplomacy was working in Bush's favor. The United Nations Security Council condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and called for sanctions. Iraq's old ally, the Soviet Union, voted in favor of the resolution, and so too did Cuba. But Hussein was not about to admit that he had miscalculated or to defer to the United Nations. And he watched as British, French, Egyptian and Moroccan troops arrived in Saudi Arabia to join in protecting Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi attack.

To hold against further hostilities, Saddam offered Iran his withdrawal from all gains he had won during the Iraq-Iran war. But he also postured strength. He sealed his borders, preventing thousands of foreigners from leaving Iraq or Kuwait. On August 16, Iraq ordered 4,000 Britons and 2,500 Americans in Kuwait to Iraq. He called Bush a liar and announced that an outbreak of war could result in "thousands of Americans wrapped in sad coffins."

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister Thatcher

On 17 August 1990, Iraq announced that until threats against it ceased, foreign citizens from "aggressive nations" would be targeted. On 19 August, Saddam announced that he would free all foreigners detained in Iraq and Kuwait when the United States promised to withdraw its forces from Saudi Arabia and when it guaranteed that economic sanctions against Iraq would be lifted. On 21 August he promised "a major catastrophe" should fighting break out in the Persian Gulf. He appeared before the world on CNN with a group of hostages that he described as "guests," and tried to look kind and fatherly.

In Kuwait, Saddam Hussein's forces were executing people. And Bush announced that he was not going to allow the strong to swallow the weak. On 22 August, Bush signed an order to call up 46,000 reservists to add to the military buildup in Saudi Arabia. Four days later the United Nations authorized military action to enforce a trade embargo against Iraq. On 29 August, Saddam responded by announcing that the US could not defeat Iraq and that he did not "beg before anyone."

Giving Peace a Chance

Bush was later to describe the coming weeks as "giving peace a chance." He was hoping that Saddam would realize that he would be forced out of Kuwait one way or another and that Saddam should leave voluntarily. Some were hoping that sanctions would work. But Margaret Thatcher thought they were dreaming. On 6 September she said she was convinced that the only way Saddam would leave Kuwait was by being thrown out. She said that she saw no evidence that sanctions were working.

On 14 September, Iraqi soldiers stormed the French, Belgian and Canadian diplomatic buildings in Kuwait and briefly detained five diplomats, including a US consul. France responded by announcing that it would send 4,000 more soldiers to the Persian Gulf and that it was expelling Iraqi military attaches in Paris.

In mid-September, in an agreement with the US, the Iraqis broadcast an eight-minute videotaped address by President Bush, who warned the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein's brinkmanship could plunge them into war "against the world." In exchange, Saddam Hussein's message to the American people was broadcast on September 25. He targeted the timid, saying that if Bush launched a war against his country, for Americans it would be a repeat of their experience in Vietnam.

The Pentagon was working on plans for a ground offensive against Iraqi forces, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, had an estimation that 30,000 Americans would die in the fighting. Powell met with Bush and tried to talk him into using sanctions for a couple of years if necessary, rather than opt for military action. Like many soldiers, Powell abhorred war. Bush, who had seen action in World War II, thanked Powell, telling him that it was good to hear all points of view but that he was not going to accept Powell's recommendation. [link]

At the end of September, the deposed emir of Kuwait delivered an emotional address to the UN General Assembly, denouncing the "rape, destruction and terror" inflicted upon his country by Iraq, and the following day he visited the White House, reinforcing Bush's opposition to the invasion of Kuwait.

October and November

In early October, Saddam Hussein threatened to strike at Israel with a new missile, and Israel was handing out gas masks to its citizens. On the peace front, the Soviet Union announced that Iraq would be willing to negotiate an end to the crisis if it were assured that it could keep the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields in Kuwait and two offshore islands. Bush rejected any reward for Hussein's aggression and stood by the UN resolution calling for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. Oil rose to over 40 dollars a barrel, and, still trying to appeal to hearts and minds, Hussein offered to sell oil to anyone, including the United States, for $21 dollars a barrel.

By mid-month the build up of US forces in the Persian Gulf reached 200,000. Military strategists, including General Powell, remained concerned about Iraqi forces outnumbering Allied forces by 2 to 1. Powell asked Bush for the activation of the National Guard. Bush agreed. Then on 8 November, shortly after congressional elections in the US, Bush announced that he was increasing US forces in Saudi Arabia to 400,000.

Saddam Hussein was said he was prepared to fight a "dangerous war" rather than give up Kuwait. And British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher followed with a warning to Hussein that time was "running out" for a peaceful solution. Thatcher was worried about delays and did not want to wait for UN support for military action. The US Secretary of State, James Baker, argued that UN authority was crucial to sustain the support of American public opinion.

Debate in the US was intensifying. On 13 November, members of Congress demanded a larger role in US Gulf policy. Trying to explain Bush's position, Baker told reporters that Bush was acting in the interest of American jobs. The next day, Bush told congressional leaders he had no immediate plans to go to war in the Persian Gulf. And a few days later he was in Europe trying to solidify support for his Persian Gulf policies. A suit filed by Congressional Democrats to force Bush to have congressional approval for military operations was failing, and on Thanksgiving a happy Bush and his wife Barbara were viewed on television visiting joyous US troops in Saudi Arabia.

The Final Peace Offensive

On November 27, the US Senate Armed Services Committee opened hearings on the Persian Gulf crisis. The former Secretary of Defense and architect of US involvement in Vietnam, Robert McNamara, demonstrated his change of heart before the committee. "The point is that it is going to be bloody. There are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of casualties" – a repeat of Hussein's warning. McNamara favored sanctions against Hussein, as did retired Admiral Crowe, who said he was opposed to Hussein having more patience than the United States. The conservative arms advisor to former President Reagan, Paul Nitze, also preferred sanctions, saying that he thought that we could outlast Hussein.

Members of the UN Security Council proved tougher. The resolution that Thatcher feared would be too slow in coming from the United Nations arrived on November 29. On that day the Security Council authorized "all necessary means," including military force, against Iraq if it did not withdraw from Kuwait by 15 January 1991. It was the first such resolution since UN sponsorship of the Korean War in 1950.

Armed with this resolution, Bush tried again to demonstrate his peaceful solution to the crisis. He proposed a meeting between US and Iraqi foreign ministers, hoping that Hussein, faced with overwhelming world opposition would come to his senses and agree to withdraw from Kuwait – wishful thinking. Hussein was not about to admit that he was anything but a great and infallible leader.

Hussein did try his nice-guy approach, announcing on December 6 that he was releasing all foreign hostages – including Americans. This was not about to alter Bush's longstanding determination to drive Hussein out of Kuwait. Hostages were released and poured out of Kuwait. Then Saddam's regime announced that it was "ready for the decisive showdown." The 15 January deadline was approaching, and Iraqis were holding evacuation drills and stockpiling oil supplies. On 30 December, Iraq's information minister said that Bush "must have been drunk" when he suggested Iraq might withdraw from Kuwait, and added: "We will show the world America is a paper tiger." The following day, Saddam's regime began drafting 17-year-olds.

The American public was awakening to the reality that war could be just around the corner. On 3 January 1991, Congress returned from holiday recess, and some Democrats plunged into acrimonious opposition to Bush's policy regarding Iraq. Debates continued in the coming days, and, across the US, hundreds of thousands demonstrated for peace and against war.

Among the demonstrators were those carrying signs with a message that had come late in the Vietnam War: "give peace a chance." There were those opposed to all violence, including some clergymen who held all warring to be immoral. One such clergyman was Bush's Anglican minister, who demonstrated in front of the White House. He was called in to meet with Bush and told Bush in so many words that he was pursuing an immoral policy. Bush spoke to him about atrocities committed in Kuwait.

Among the demonstrators were university students – many of them the sons and daughters of Vietnam era protesters. They were eagerly taking up the cause that they believed had added significance to the previous generation. Among them were those who were confusing the US war in Vietnam and its circumstances with a different kind of war that was coming against Saddam Hussein.

Some took the position that the US should let the Arabs settle their own disputes – and if Hussein became the dominant power in the Middle East so be it. And there were those who believed that Bush's policy was a manifestation of US imperialism. Some reduced the conflict to an over-riding simplicity, claiming that it was all about oil. They ignored the issue that made US entry into the war politically possible: that the Iraqis had invaded and forced themselves upon the Kuwaitis. Demonstrators chanted "Hell no, we won't go. We won't fight for Texaco." One sign carried by a middle-aged woman read, "No blood for oil. Bush, send your sons not ours." Bush was accused of gunboat diplomacy. The acid test of any progressive, wrote one Leftist, was taking a stand against US imperialism. Some Leftists were assuming that at the center of US foreign policy motives was access to resources and that Bush, therefore, had to be lying, that his motives for going to war could not be motivated by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Inadvertently the demonstrators were siding with Saddam's military aggression, and his scare talk. On 11 January, Saddam Hussein assured his nation that victory would be theirs. The US, he said, relied too much on technology and that it "can never win the battle." Saddam saw the US as hung-up on Vietnam and unwilling to shed the blood of its youth.

On 12 January the US Congress authorized Bush's offensive against Iraq. The vote in the Senate was 52-47. The House of Representatives voted 250-183. The pacifistic lost.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, was moving to and from Baghdad and other capitals, hoping that pressure would force Hussein to back down. Gorbachev tried to broker a peaceful settlement. Then Pope Jean Paul weighed in. On 16 January, one day after the deadline for Hussein had passed, the Holy Father telephoned Bush and asked that Bush postpone his offensive. Bush refused.

The showdown against Saddam's Hussein's brutalities and tough posturing was about to begin.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.