In the summer of 1990, by which time the Soviet bloc had collapsed and the Soviet Union itself was in its death-throes, Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded and quickly overran the adjacent southern micro-state of Kuwait, mainly composed of desert but with lots of oil under its sand. By this time too Soviet forces had been pressured into withdrawing from Afghanistan (their losses had contributed to the Soviet unravelling) though the civil war there continued until 1996 when Kabul fell to the Taliban.
During the eighties Saddam had been a close Middle East ally of the United States, despite the aggressiveness of his rhetoric against her even more important ally, Israel, a state which like Ba’ahist Iraq invaded its neighbours and seized their territory, defied UN resolutions, cruelly persecuted populations under its control and possessed weapons of mass destruction (even more devastating ones).
He had been willingly sold weaponry light and heavy by the USA, supplied with intelligence, protected at the UN (and readily forgiven for mistakenly attacking a US warship and killing 37 personnel) for he was at that time engaged in an all-out military assault on the Iranian Islamic Republic, an American bête noire ever since the 1979 revolution which had destroyed Western influence and compromised oil access in a very strategically important area – and was also a sponsor of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Israel’s most effective enemy. The war was immensely destructive both in life and materially, yet Saddam (and the US) failed in their objective and Iraq was counter-invaded, the war eventually ending in stalemate.
Saddam thereafter was a busted flush. The Iranian regime remained in place and no less a source of annoyance to Washington. The Iraqi dictator by now was an embarrassment to his sponsors for his abominable human rights record, but refused to tone down his anti-Israel rhetoric and continued threatening to use force against it as well as the USA’s other Middle East client, Saudi Arabia.
Iraq had suffered grievously from the war, its economy was in a mess, its oil revenues insufficient. Not surprisingly the regime’s attention turned to Kuwait, slopping with oil and effectively defenceless. There was some justice in the argument (so far as these things are ever a subject of justice) that it should have been part of Iraq from the start. There is certainly evidence that the US hinted to Saddam that it would have no objection if he repaired his fortunes by seizing it, knowing well what this would mean and the opportunity it would open up. It is a plausible scenario. In any case, Saddam fell into the trap, whether or not it was deliberately set. He could not then meet the demand for withdrawal without hopelessly losing face.
In early 1991, having annihilated the Iraqi forces in Kuwait, a ‘turkey shoot ‘ as one US officer described it, the elder George Bush failed to follow up by moving on Baghdad, or by supporting the Kurdish uprising in the north or the Shia insurgency in the south. The reason was that the Americans reckoned that popular overthrow of the regime would result in Iraq being dominated by forces friendly to Iran or, in the north, hostile to its Turkish NATO ally. What Washington were hoping for was that Saddam, disgraced by defeat, would be removed in a coup by more accommodating elements in his military. When that failed to occur, the pressure was continued by a regime of economic sanctions and occasional ariel attack, occasioning over the years civilian deaths running into the hundreds of thousands. Meantime an enormous US military base appeared in Kuwait.
The same kind of thing happened in Kosovo, where Slobodan Milosevic’s persecution of the ethnic Albanian community under Serbian rule supplied the pretext for military intervention. The humanitarian justification would look more convincing and less opportunist if another massive US military base had not subsequently been established in Kosovo, on the border of Macedonia.
US success in Afghanistan at first appeared to be comprehensive when Islamist clients it had armed and funded throughout the war destroyed the modernising communist regime. The success was greatly compromised however when these in their turn were replaced by the hyper-Islamist Taliban, sponsored by another US client government, that of Pakistan, or more specifically by its security service, the ISI. The Taliban had their own agendas, and moreover gave sanctuary to the Al-Qaeda network of the Saudi Osama bin Laden, which though also a US creation had turned against its sponsor because of the presence of the latter’s infidel troops in the holy Saudi state.
Then came 9/11. Without any suggestion that the US state itself engineered the atrocity it is nevertheless true that it did for the Bush presidency what the Reichstag Fire did for Hitler, enabling it, under the ‘war on terror’ pretext, to launch a furious attack upon civil liberties in the USA itself, extend the powers of the secret state and generate the public momentum for war in Afghanistan – and Iraq as well, though there was of course absolutely no connection except hostility between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. However the subjugation of Iraq, resulting in a few more hundred thousand deaths, was central to the neoconservatives’ ‘Project for a New American Century’ as well as the Israeli lobby, and they had been advocating it since 1997.
Tariq Ali as long ago as 2002 quoted a former Washington insider, who asserted that ‘Blowback is shorthand for saying that a nation reaps what it sows, even if it does not fully know or understand what it has sown’. Whether the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election will lead to any substantial reorientation is still too early to say, though the signs are not particularly hopeful – but what can be assumed with certainty is that the world financial meltdown of that year marks the end of the ‘end of History’.