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Questioning the liberation of Kuwait

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Some people may have a short memory, but the invasion of Kuwait 27 years ago was a huge event which affected the lives of many, not just the people of Kuwait, with its repercussion still seen today.

Kuwait is an open arena for political and intellectual differences in general, but not all people have good intentions when it comes to Kuwait. The latest propaganda promoted by some Muslim Brotherhood members and Iran loyal is marginalizing the role of the coalition countries, such as Saudi Arabia, in the liberation of Kuwait.

First, to think that one force can confront and defeat an army of a quarter of a million Iraqis is very shallow. The American forces have been in Afghanistan for 16 years but they did not succeed. Eight years in Iraq had ousted Saddam's regime, but could not even keep the mayor of Baghdad! The liberation of Kuwait restored a political system with all its pillars, and a people to their homes in only six months. I do not know of any liberation process which has the same magnitude, efficiency, quality and success as the liberation of Kuwait. Everyone loves to claim credit, and has the right to do so, because it was a huge, multi-role, political, diplomatic, legal and media effort.

Allow me to place the events of the occupation of Kuwait and its liberation within a certain time-frame. The summer of 1990 had a worldwide impact, not just for our region. Eight months before the collapse of the borders of Kuwait, the eastern wall of Berlin fell followed by the collapse of the regime of Yugoslavia. Three months before the occupation of Kuwait, the regime of Lithuania fell. One month before Saddam sent his troops to Kuwait, the Soviet Union lots it’s most important republic, Ukraine. In the ensuing months, great events occurred; western Germany spread its influence over the east in the name of unity and historical right, only two months after, Saddam claimed that Iraq had a historical right to Kuwait. In this chaos and dust caused by the landslides of the Eastern European countries and the Soviet republics of Asia, we can understand why Saddam did what he did, believing that he was in tune with the new historical movement.

Contrary to what some believe, Saddam was not a rival to the United States. He actually had a good relationship with them developed by military and intelligence cooperation in the war against Iran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

I have no doubt that the position of Saudi Arabia in particular, and this does not diminish the value of others in those events, held the key role in stopping the movement of history, which was planned by Saddam at the time. I say this because I consider myself a student of political history, looking beyond one event without getting involved in conspiracy theories. What happened in Kuwait could have ended with different scenarios, not necessarily its liberalization, all of which are logical endings.

Contrary to what some believe, Saddam was not a rival to the United States. He actually had a good relationship with them developed by military and intelligence cooperation in the war against Iran. It was not unlikely that Washington would deal with the event in accordance with its interests, whether by reaching a partial solution, such as recognizing a puppet Kuwaiti government there or accepting the occupation especially if it did not threaten its strategic interests. This is what Saddam Hussein tried to deliver to the Bush administration. He even sought to persuade the Saudis into the matter. The mediators, on behalf of Saddam, most notably the late Jordanian monarch, who was close to Washington, called for a political solution.

Risking everything

Fortunately for Kuwait, and unfortunately for Saddam, the Saudi monarch, King Fahd, may God have mercy on him, decided to stand up to Saddam and risk everything. He was lucky to have an ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who is no doubt an extraordinary diplomat. There was a race between Saddam's allies and Kuwait's allies, all of whom tried to persuade the US government. Bandar incited British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who told Bush: “This is no time to go wobbly, George.” The political conflict between the two Arab groups in Washington continued for five months swinging between occupation and liberation while Washington left the door open for a political solution until next year. In January 12th, 1991 Bush asked Congress to approve the war, and got only a small majority to approve it.

There are many scenarios in which Kuwait could not have been liberated, most notably the possibility of Washington abstaining from war if Saddam persuaded it not to compromise its interests, convinced it with a partial solution, already preoccupied America's forces in the Soviet Union or postponed the issue of Kuwait for years. The Soviets at the Helsinki meeting tried to convince Bush of a political solution, as did France. Two days before the January 17th attack, Saddam announced his willingness to withdraw on condition. He did not believe that the war would be declared until he saw it on CNN. There is no doubt that Saudi pressure made the war possible, which facilitated all that came after.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.