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Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait

The Jewish Humanist, September 1990

Iraqis invasion of Kuwait came as quite a surprise to the world. No one believed that Saddam Hussein would be mad enough to defy the Western alliance at a time when he could no longer count on the support of the Soviet Union. Was this deed the action of an irrational man, a dreadful miscalculation? Or was it a shrewd plan to expose the weakness of the West and to mobilize the Arab world behind the might of Iraq? Only the unfolding of events will answer that question.

However, the current crises has made us aware of certain important realities that were obscured by the euphoria that followed the death of the Cold War. In the heady atmosphere of the collapse of Communism many naive people came to believe that major wars among nations would disappear and that military budgets would become irrelevant. But the Iraq crises has reawakened us to reality.

What is reality?

The end of the Cold War does not mean the end of war. Natural and regional conflicts will continue throughout the world, especially in the Third World. The manufacture of weapons is still a profitable industry. Small ambitious nations will continue to purchase arms. Some of them will even seek to develop nuclear arms. The former easily divisible world of Soviet-American confrontation may be replaced by much more chaotic and dangerous hostility.

The Middle East is replacing Europe as the setting of future confrontations. Muslim fundamentalism combined with Arab and Persian nationalism is a powerful spark to war. Add the economic importance of oil to the Western world and the intense Muslim resentment of the old Western imperialism and you have the makings of violent terrorism and war.

Despite victory in the Cold War, Western powers are very vulnerable because they are dependent on petroleum from Middle East. Even the trauma the 1973 boycott did little to persuade the Americans, Europe and the Japanese to reduce their reliance on Muslim oil. The fall in oil prices made it convenient to forget the danger. But danger remains. The West cannot allow the oil fields to fall into the hands of unfriendly powers. In a time of crisis, military intervention is unavoidable.

America remains the policeman the world. While the United Nations acted nobly in declaring sanctions against the Iraqis, enforcement of the sanctions been left up to America. Both the Europeans (with the exception of the British) and the Japanese, despite their economic power, continue to use American military might as their shield protector. This parasitic reliance is unfair. It gives America more responsibility t it can afford and more negative criticism than it deserves.

Iraq is the first Arab nation become a formidable military power. The Iraqi army I million strong) is the fourth largest army in the world, right behind Russia, China and America. For a nation of seventeen million people that reality is an amazing achievement. And if you add experience of eight years of war with the Persians you have a tough military force. America will find it difficult to field an equal number of battle-trained soldiers. As with Israel, size is no indication of military might.

In war almost anything is possible. Even enemies can become temporary friends, witness Hitler and Stalin, the Americans and the Russians in World War II. The possible reconciliation of secularist Iraq with fundamentalist Iran is a frightening prospect. Both nations feed on anti-American and anti-Israeli passion. Both nations are opposed to the establishment governments of the Middle East, especially feudal regimes of the Arabian Peninsula like Kuwait. Both nations want to raise the price of oil and humiliate the West through economic warfare. Both nations are in favor of terrorism and extra-legal violence to achieve their aims. If Iran accepts Iraqi peace offers and cooperates with Hussein, the American blockade will become impossible.

The Arab nation is, to a large degree, an illusion. There are deep divisions in the Arab world. These divisions were dramatized by the response to the moderate Arab regimes to the Iraqi invasion. A strong alliance of Egyptians, Moroccans and Syrians merged to offer its support to the endangered Saudis. Regional and personal hostilities are also aggravated by class hostilities. The have-not Arabs, like the Palestinians, are deeply resentful of the affluent Arabs, like the Kuwaitis. Hussein intends to see class warfare as. a weapon to Le-stabilize existing conservative Arab regimes and to mobilize the Arab masses to his side.

Oil and democracy do not necessarily go together. While the political system of the aggressor Iraqis is an internal socialist dictatorship, the political system of the victim Kuwaitis was an anti-democratic feudal monarchy. Defending the integrity of Kuwait, whose boundaries were determined by colonial administrators, is less an exercise in the defense of democracy than in the preservation of Western economics and world order. The endangered Arab states are no more respectable than was South Vietnam.

The crises has restored Egypt to a position of Arab leadership. President Mubarak has emerged as the consummate politician who has mobilized an Arab coalition against Hussein. For a long time Egypt was a pariah state in the Arab world because of its peace settlement with Israel. Now the Iraqi confrontation has put Egypt back in first place. If it succeeds in helping the Americans defeat Iraq, it will return to its former role as the center of the Arab world.

The peace movement in Israel has been dealt an almost fatal blow. The emergence of an Arab foe has revised the notion that Israel is an important American ally. Especially now that the PLO and the Palestinians have sided with the Iraqis, the Americans will be reluctant to push for the creation of a Palestinian state. Arafat, by backing Hussein, has given new strength to the Israeli right wing, who has continuously claimed that Arafat and his cohorts are unreliable and dangerous radicals.

The Jews are again in the center of world controversy. Hussein’s threat to punish Israel if he is attacked ties American military intervention to the defense of Israel. If the confrontation with Iraq is short, Israel will benefit from the victory. If the confrontation is prolonged, American frustration could redirect American hostility to Israel as the major cause of Middle East turmoil and Muslim resentment.

Hopefully, the confrontation will be short. But there are no guarantees.

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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