Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/293/13990
Quick Victory But Lasting Turmoil
THE LAST Gulf War in 1990-91 started after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait in August 1990, largely to divert angry protests at mass hunger and poverty after eight years of war with Iran.
This occupation threatened vital interests - two-thirds of the West's oil supplies come through the Gulf region. Kuwait's oilfields would have given Iraq a fifth of all world reserves.
Saddam was considered too unpredictable a dictator to have so much of the world's oil supply in his charge. George Bush senior, then the US president, threatened to go to war unless Saddam's troops withdrew.
As his son George W is doing in the present war, Bush senior said he was fighting to rid the world of vicious dictators. But his main intention was to defend US imperialism's power and prestige and oil company profits.
Officially the war was fought by a United Nations (UN) alliance but in reality US forces, with token help from allied countries, controlled operations. However other nations - particularly Japan and Germany - were allowed to contribute large sums of money to fund the war!
A journalist said "I spent months with Western and Arab troops in the Gulf but never once saw a UN flag. With the Soviet Union on its knees, they simply didn't need the fig-leaf of the blue banner."
Bush senior cobbled together a coalition of 25 countries, included despised Arab dictatorships such as Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, whose allegiance was bought with bribes worth billions of dollars.
Ethiopia was offered an investment deal, Zaire military aid. Yemen, which refused to back the US, had its $70 million aid programme from the US stopped while famine-hit Sudan - which voiced backing for Iraq - was denied a food shipment.
In this present war, because of anti-war opposition, the US tried to legitimise the war by building a new consensus based on the UN, again bribing the poorest countries on the UN Security Council and threatening the rest.
But this time many countries such as France and Germany - mainly for their own national interests - opposed Bush and Blair's attempt to railroad the UN into supporting this adventure. Eventually the US had to go it more or less alone.
Power and profits
IN 1990 Saddam, the former US armed and financed puppet, invaded Kuwait and enraged his former paymasters. He was desperate to force up the price of oil which Kuwait was keeping down.
The Arab masses hated Kuwait, a royal dictatorship and client state of the US with little democracy. Kuwait had been used for decades to keep oil prices down in the West's interests.
Nonetheless Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was brutal - entire families disappeared after Iraqi soldiers knocked on their door. The US used the invasion to justify the war although when it came, Bush's 'liberation' certainly didn't liberate the foreign workers with few civil or political rights in the emirate.
Even in 1990-91, 58% told an opinion poll in Britain that this was a "war motivated by oil and money". Today, without the excuse of an invaded Kuwait, the real reasons for this war are much clearer and the anti-war opposition has therefore been far greater.
Many people now see what kind of new world order Bush wants to bring about. Long before the 11 September attacks, a right-wing think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), prepared a blueprint for this invasion and plans to take military control in the Gulf - whether Saddam was in power or not.
On top of that there is the widespread suspicion that US oil companies aim to snap up Iraq's oil. Nobody wants to die in a battle for US prestige, power and profit.
US imperialism's intention to gain full spectrum dominance worldwide pushes all other considerations far into the background.
In 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, Bush appealed on radio for Saddam's opponents to overthrow him. But when Iraq's Kurds took him at his word and rose up against the dictator, the US stood by as they were crushed. American and British governments said they couldn't intervene in Iraq's internal affairs!
In reality, Bush feared what could happen if Iraq broke up. A top US official explained: "Our policy is to get rid of Saddam Hussein himself, not his regime". US imperialism was fighting to defend its interests - it didn't want revolutionary change, especially any involving the workers and peasants of Iraq or Kurdistan.
Today the US leaders are equally wary. Why else do they propose a military occupation for a period after they beat Saddam? They expect enormous regional insecurity post-war and will only allow 'democracy' if it guarantees their interests.
However, Bush junior won't necessarily have it all his own way. In 1991, his father's warmongering couldn't even win him a second term of the US presidency. He lost the 1992 election as the war helped push America's economy into a recession. Bush junior should ponder his father's fate whatever the outcome of his invasion.
Bush might even consider how defeating Iraq in the Gulf War helped build up Arab people's anger at US imperialism. He pledged a new world order, including a Middle East free of armaments, if the Arab and Muslim people helped get Saddam out of Kuwait.
Not long after the war, a summit sold more guns and missiles to both Arab and Israeli armies than ever before. Bush's 'new world order' is purely concerned with keeping capitalism - particularly US imperialism - in control.
Saddam won support from the Arab masses by standing up to US imperialism. Many countries held huge demonstrations against their leaders for joining Bush senior's coalition. However, militarily there was little contest.
US imperialism managed to force Saddam out of Kuwait without committing huge numbers of ground troops. There were 90,000 bombing sorties before the short (100-hour) land battle, where at least 100,000 Iraqis were killed or injured.
US imperialist forces kept bombing Iraqi troops even as they retreated. The US was telling the "developing world' that the US was big enough and relentless enough to crush any country that threatened its interests or its prestige.
THE 1991 Gulf War was a quick one for the US with very few casualties on its side. US commanders talked of advancing to Baghdad and deposing Saddam, but this never happened. If they had entered Iraq's cities they would have met resistance from a roused and determined population. The Arab masses in other countries would also have rebelled.
Rather than remove Saddam and risk instability throughout the Gulf and Middle East, the US ruling class thought it better to leave him be. After all, the US and other capitalist powers weren't fighting the Gulf War for the Iraqi masses' or the Kurdish people's freedom.
The US attacks - Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Sabre - did not dethrone Saddam. But the Bush dynasty and others in the US political elite have resented this political failure ever since. After the Gulf War, years of hostile sanctions interspersed with sporadic bombings have killed thousands of Iraqi children. Now comes the present conflict.
How many more wars will there be in the Gulf? Who can tell? All we know is that nobody can trust capitalism to give ordinary people a decent future.
Capitalism only looks after the rich oil magnates and millionaire politicians in the imperialist countries and the pampered ruling elites within the Gulf and Middle East. We place our confidence in the working class and oppressed, and in a struggle for socialism internationally.
In The Socialist 28 March 2003: