Fouad Ajami: The Guns of August, 1990

Roundup: Talking About History

[Mr. Ajami is professor of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies and an adjunct senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.]

He struck in early August, 20 years ago, at a time when the Cold War had just ended, and the world was replete with claims that wars of conquest had become a thing of the past. This was Saddam Hussein's summer, and his conquest of Kuwait, the rich principality next door.

He came for the loot; his soldiers headed to the gold souk and the central bank. He also dispatched his armies right up to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, making a bid for mastery over the Persian Gulf and its oil supplies. He didn't worry about the Americans, since he was sure they did not have the stomach for a fight. But American power would call Saddam's bluff, it would shatter his army, and with it the myth of Iraq as a mighty power—the Prussia of the Arab world.

In many ways, we still live in the grip, and in the shadow, of that summer. A vast force is still in Iraq, 50,000 American soldiers will be there, even as the "combat troops" are withdrawn by the end of this month. A meandering trail led from that summer right up to 9/11 and to the second American campaign against Saddam Hussein in 2003.

For nearly two decades, the Persian Gulf had been left to find its own balance of power. The British had pulled out of "east of Suez" by 1971. They had grown weary of empire, the calling and the wealth needed for imperial burden having ebbed away. The Americans had been reluctant to fill the void.

The interregnum between the British and the Americans had been an unmitigated disaster. Arab "brotherhood" had turned out to be a sham, Saddam had sacked Kuwait to widespread Arab approval. It was an oil well with a flag, radicals said of Kuwait, a rich, selfish place better folded into a new Iraqi power.

The desert Arab powers had no answer to Saddam's brazen aggression...

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Arnold Shcherban - 8/24/2010

What the author is actually saying is that the USA replaced the UK as colonial imperial power in the Middle East..., 'cause the nations living in that region of the world cannot manage
without Western imperial interference.