The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Michael Maiello's picture

    Happy Gulf War Day

    Maybe that's a flip way to say it, but the one thing I remember most about the first Gulf War was all of the hyperbole around it.  Saddam Hussein was Hitler.  Kuwait was Poland.  If we didn't stop him then, we'd never be able to stop him as he rampaged throughout the region, taking over Saudi Arabia and Iran in the process.  Saddam Hussein had, we were told again and again, the fourth largest army in the world.

    The U.S. was meanwhile enjoying its newly unconstrained role as the world's only intact super power.  Sure, we were all going to be economically subjugated by a rising Japan (Michael Crichton even wrote a book about it) but we were otherwise able to do whatever it was that we wanted.

    George H.W. Bush had many faults.  Raised and reared with old money wealth, he just didn't understand how arecession sparked by bank failures had so badly affected the average American.  Optimism was not running high back then.  Somewhere in Vancouver, Douglas Coupland coined the phrase "McJob."  But one thing Bush did well, after spending a lifetime in intelligence circles and ultimately on the world stage, was building international coalitions.  He really did win official global support for the first Gulf War.  He then unleashed the U.S. military on Iraq and proved quite quickly and decisively that the gulf of strength between the premier and the fourth largest military in the world was astonishingly wide.  Then Bush called a stop to it all.  There would be no mission creep.  He would not risk losing global or domestic support by engaging in a long, costly and risky occupation.

    Under Bush the U.S. really did act as a global police force, mostly dealing with uprisings from former U.S, clients like Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein.  On his way out of office a seemingly bitter Bush sent U.S. soldiers into harm's way in Somalia, and then left the mess from Clinton to deal with.  If the lightning victory of the Gulf War cured us of Vietnam Syndrome and gave us confidence to lead "the new world order" our experiences in Somalia, where we had no business or pressing need, brought us back down to Earth.  Clinton wisely stopped that adventure and for the rest of his Presidency, Clinton preferred to bomb from up high.  From very high.  If he could have done it from space, he would have.  Containing Saddam Hussein was a major part of Clinton's foreign policy, so much so that some of us on the left thought that things had been taken too far and that the global economic sanctions aimed at Hussein's regime were too cruel a punishment for Iraq's people.

    Josh Marshall writes really well here about how the first Gulf War was so central to current events.  What I see, looking back, is that we thought we had fought a war without consequence.  But there's really no such thing.  I'm also, just working through memories in light of recent experiences, now very skeptical about what we were told back then.  Would Hussein have invaded Saudi Arabia next?  Really?  Were they trying to scare us with that "fourth largest Army in the world" crud?  Did we actually have to fight the first Gulf War at all?  One of the more startling things that we learned later (to me, anyway) is that Hussein thought that the U.S. would likely tolerate an invasion of Kuwait.  We had been allies up until that point, after all.

    There's not much thesis to this, I guess.  But boy, if I'd been asked back in 1975 when I was born how much I'd expect to hear about Iraq during my lifetime I'd have gotten that one wrong.



    I don't know if flippant way to say it, but at least you're making an effort to keep this event in the forefront.  I had to admit that it has in many ways faded, a skirmish that had minimal consequences for the US and its allies during the actual fighting.  Just thinking back to what memory comes forth strongest, it would be scenes of the Kurds we left behind to fend for themselves in the aftermath.  While it definitely was not a primary drive in the lead up to invasion the second time around, I think there was a thread of guilt in the US consciousness about that, and the invasion led by W. was an opportunity to right that particular wrong.

    I do remember in the lead up to the H.W.'s war, there was a general sense that Saddam was out to control as much of the oil in the region that he could.  So there was an economic panic if nothing else.  And then there was the feeling that Israel was going to act if noone else did, sparking a total meltdown in the Middle East.  Again, another economic panic if nothing else.  Some in the US may have given Saddam the green light, but once one oil country invading another oil country in the ME became a reality, the fear of chaos in the region took over.  Which is why the invansion by W. seemed so out of whack, because it seemed that the top priority for the US (and some of its allies) has been to maintain stability at all costs.  Even if it means supporting dictators who torture and brutalize their people.   

    One of the challenges we all face is trying to understand how things really were when we were living through them after we know how it all turned out, from the ease by which the Iraq Army was demolished to Osama's campaign based on the US military coming into Saudi Arabia.  But one thing I think one can say that up til the first Gulf War, the ME had been for most Americans simply Israel vs. the Arab states, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and oil.  The Gulf War, and the events that led up to it and followed it, changed the ME in American consciousness much as the Vietnam War changed how Americans saw Asia.

    "The Gulf War, and the events that led up to it and followed it, changed the ME in American consciousness much as the Vietnam War changed how Americans saw Asia."

    Thanks for that insight, AT.  I mean, the whole comment is great but this seems particularly correct.

    He then unleashed the U.S. military on Iraq and proved quite quickly and decisively that the gulf of strength between the premier and the fourth largest military in the world was astonishingly wide.  Then Bush called a stop to it all.  There would be no mission creep.  He would not risk losing global or domestic support by engaging in a long, costly and risky occupation.

    That, to me, was Bush41's really big mistake.  Maybe not that he stopped but that he never explained why satisfactorily.   He went to great pains to sell the public on the need to go to war then just stopped and left Saddam in power.  There were and still are a lot people wondering,  'WTF was he thinking?!?'  Apparently, even Bush43.  If he had taken as much pain selling the withdrawal as he did the invasion, maybe we would not be there now.  Just saying.

    I don't have a good answer for that, or at least I don't have an original answer.  Part of it was the risks of occupying the place, right?  Also, we didn't have a credible person to install as leader.  Our allies on the ground back then were the Kurds.  I wonder how much of the global coalition would have stuck with Bush if he'd expanded the mission beyond getting Iraq out of Kuwait.

    The problem is that afterwards, under Bush and then Clinton, we continued to treat Iraq as some sort of unsolved problem.  We probably should have just walked away with the warning that we can be back very quickly if anyone misbehaves.  But hanging around there, enforcing sanctions and no fly zones kept us in a state of physical hostility that made eventual war seem inevitable if Hussein didn't die or get overthrown.

    What I remember is going to choir practice and finding out there was a war on when the director started talking about us fighting, "So Damn Insane." Afterwards we all went to someone's house, one of the altos, and watched the precision bombing on TV.

    At work, one of my cycling buddies, an Iraqi whose father lived in Kuwait, told us that Kuwait had provoked attack trying to destabilize Iraqi currency. He even went on local TV to debate the issue. It was a bad night because a Scud had just hit Israel. People started calling our office with death threats, so we started locking the doors during the day. Later I read that Iraq had also accused the Kuwaitis with drilling for oil under and across their borders.

    At the time we were told, and believed, that Patriots were actually intercepting most of the Scuds. That seems to have been greatly overstated.

    The war seemed like a mismatch from the get-go, and then Hussein had to go and spill all that oil into the Persian Gulf.

    Remember that story about Hussein's soldiers killing babies in incubators?  Hill & Knowlton PR, working on behalf of a bunch of wealthy Middle East oil barons who wanted to goad us into kicking Hussein's butt for them.  And Hill & Knowlton is somehow still even in business!

    It also seems to me that I read somewhere, much later on, that Kuwait was also slant drilling in to Iraq's oil fields as well. Which is why Iraq destroyed the fields close to their border.

    Thanks for this, Destor - even though it brings back really baaaaad memories. I was not long out of college, where the intimate lies of Reagan and Bush 1 were discussed all day, everyday. Which pretty much led me to the conclusion that we were being buried under a load of hooey by people who wanted another war, a good war, a winnable war, and that this was the one. 

    O there I was, with 3 others, placards in hand, marching up and down the streets of this steeltown. Then 2 others, then 1, then me.  

    It never made sense, see? But hardly anyone in the US media - after 10 years of RWR and Bush1 - felt strong enough to challenge it. I mean, Saddam was OUR guy. We just don't seem to grasp that. HE was the guy standing up against bad Khomeini. HE was the guy we took cake to! No way on God's good earth he would have moved, knowing the US was serious about opposing him. No way. He KNEW the capabilities of his own military for God's sake, and he KNEW the US's capabilities - partly because we were selling arms to him! 

    But once that fact is fully grasped - that Saddam was our guy - the stream of lies just became impossible not to see: the incubators.... our friends the Kurds and how much we hated gas.... the invincible Guard... on and on.

    It was a bit like Noriega. I mean, the guy was a drug-running CIA punk, OUR guy, and we decided to take him out, and he didn't want to go. But we did so while burying the world under lie after lie after lie. I mean, how nutso was that invasion, after all? To read that, after Iraq and Afghanistan, is like reading a really cracked comic strip. But THAT was the mood - I mean, Bush1 actually PULLED THAT ONE OFF! People LIKED it! The key was that WE wanted to fight, and win, publicly.  

    The 1st Gulf war itself was butchery, and the most monstrous thing of it is, to this day, that most Americans, when they hear of that war, think of SADDAM as the butcher. But remember the Highway of Death? The bulldozers? The executions of soldiers trying to surrender? The absolute incompetence of the vaunted Iraqis war machine? (The only reason we were all surprised at how badly the Iraqis fought is the fact that WE'D BEEN TOLD how great they were, and how frightening!) 

    And after the war, the endless pain and suffering we co-inflicted on the Iraqis.

    We were monsters. Nothing we said turned out to be true. We never got democracy in Kuwait. We never gave a damn for the Kurds or Shiites or Swamp guys.

    But we made it allllllllll about Saddam. He became our cartoon baddie. THE cartoon baddie. Even today, liberals and lefties think that 1st war had something to do with him. 

    We wanted to show off some expensive equipment. Show the world we weren't to be fucked with. Remember, the USSR was just falling to pieces at the time, and we were looking for a way to make it clear that NOBODY was gonna fuck with us.

    It was butchery. And the asinine response of the Left-Liberals in the follow-up, whereby that war came to be seen as sensible, where Saddam ate all the blame and became the individual face we focussed on, where Bush1's Coalition was praised, where we supported and led the post-war starving out of that nation - it laid the groundwork for the Iraq War. 

    I shoulda stuck to my placard.

    I hadn't even really considered that we were just flexing our muscles for the world but it makes a bunch of sense, and against an enemy we owned, no less.

    After the 2003 invasion I was working on a story about the Oil For Food program that relied heavily on work done by CIA agent Charles Duelfer.  It was Duelfer's contention that in the lead up to the war Hussein found himself in a bind.  He didn't want his people or the Iranians to find out that he had no damned WMD program and, at the same time, he desperately wanted to get back into the good graces of the U.S. and he really believed the old alliance could be rekindled.  I don't think he, or Noriega for that matter, ever realized how disposable they were.  They made deals with a hyper power that gave them tremendous license to do whatever they wanted without realizing that they would one day be disposed of quite cruelly.  I'm not trying to write sympathetically about either of them.  Once given the power they abused it terribly.  That is, of course, part of the U.S.'s plan.  Even I first reacted to the news of Hussein's execution with "couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."

    But I'm with you, Quinn.  I don't see how he would have moved on Kuwait in the first place if he didn't have reason to believe we would turn the other way and there was no way on Earth he was going to try to restart a war with Iran or invade Saudi Arabia with what was left of his army at that time.  He walked right into a trap.

    Even a scan of the Wiki on US support for Iraq makes clear how deep we were in behind Iraq in their war with Iran. And the fact is that Iraq did all the heavy fighting against Khomeini, and ran up huge debt - against the nation we were MOST worried about - and then wanted either debt relief OR higher oil prices.

    But neither the US nor Kuwait wanted to relieve the debt or shove oil prices up. Saddam was pissed, and - like many - he never believed Kuwait was a real nation anyway. So.... he went and took it. He'd get his oil - and his oil price - one way or another, and the finances would be fixed. Plus, Iraq would retrieve its severed province, and he'd look tough again - after failing to beat Iran.–Iraq_war

    But WE made it into a story of incubators, and bold Kuwaitis fighting for democracy, of another Arab baddie (Khomeini had just died the year before) - and Saddam couldn't figure out which way we were really going. And then... we started stomping him.

    And we looked great doing so.

    And millions are dead because of it. 

    Nice TV though. 

    There is also this at wiki supporting your views:

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan

    Prince Bandar has formed close relationships with several American presidents, notably George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the latter giving him the affectionate and controversial nickname "Bandar Bush" [6] The close relationship with the Bush family is described in Craig Unger's book House of Bush, House of Saud and is highlighted in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.) Bandar was so close to the President's father, George H. W. Bush, that he was considered almost a member of the family.[4]

    Bandar was a strong proponent of Saddam's overthrow.[7] He wanted confrontation and a show of force. He was in support of Dick Cheney's policy of "The New Middle East" that called for pro-democracy programs in Syria and Iran.[7] (Bandar's children also attended school with Cheney's grandchildren.)[citation needed]

    Bandar wanted George W. Bush to see what Arabs saw daily on Al Jazeera, hoping that it would open his eyes, and so his aides were trying to get photographs. Eventually, they were able to find some, mostly pictures of dead Palestinian children-a five-year-old with a bullet wound to his head, a child cut in half.[4]


    I can't give any links and might be completely wrong, but I always figured that one of the reasons that the U.S. played both sides of the Iraq/Iran war was to break the cohesiveness of OPEC. Both countries ran up so much debt that they broke their allotments and sold all the oil they could as fast as they could.

    My understanding is that Duelfer got it exactly right.

    The First Gulf War was justified.  The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a UN member state, was a clear and unambiguous act of territorial aggression.  UN Security Council resolution 678 authorized UN members to use all necessary means to uphold UN 660, which had unambiguously condemned the invasion and called for Iraq’s withdrawal.  This was the way the international world order was supposed to work under the UN system: the chief rule is the sovereign equality of states and the absolute prohibition on territorial aggression; and member states were supposed to engage in collective self-defense to uphold the territorial integrity of its members and counter threats to the peace.

    The US and its very broad coalition of allies won the war.  The US then went off on its own and proceeded to destroy everything that it had built.  It wrecked the dream of the international legal regime it had done so much to create and underwrite.  The 2003 Iraq War was the very opposite of the Gulf War.  That 2003 invasion was a rank criminal and unilateral act of mass state murder carried out against a population that was not engaged in aggression.   It was an atrocity, based on lies and bad faith, and on sheer, wanton lust for expanded power.  It was the triumph of everything the UN was created to stop.   And the assassin of the international order was the very country whose leading statesmen and stateswomen had brought that order into existence in the postwar period.

    The destruction of the international order was not a mere by-product of the Iraq War; it was one of the war’s chief aims.  The plotters of the destruction were curdled neoconservative ideologues who hated the United Nations with a passion, hated Europe with a passion, and sought to replace the one and radically demote the other for the sake of a criminally misguided and historically illiterate gambit for US “hegemony” and “unipolarity”.  The perpetrators of this state crime were morally degenerate and emotionally sick men who sought to spread their sickness on the world they hate by murdering the vulnerable and traumatizing the survivors into submission through “shock and awe”.  These malefactors have not yet been brought to justice, and probably never will be.

    I know we’re all supposed to behave ourselves better in the new Age of Civility, and not speak so harshly of our opponents.  But I despise the architects of the Iraq War, and think they are evil men.   I think we have all yet to fully appreciate how much they destroyed, but that so long as honest scholarship manages to survive into the future, history will bitterly judge the magnitude of the loss.

    I agree that dismantling of the international order was intentional. But even if I didn't, the quality and intent of the architects of the occupation of Iraq wouldn't have to be completely known to see how a series of conflicts that once was carried out as covert operations became wars done in the people's name. If the development wasn't the intent of the people who set the wars in motion, what does explain the phenomenon?

    Thanks for this, Dan.  In retrospect, the integrity of Kuwait's monarchy was never worth fighting for but if they had just done that job and left the region, no sanctions no continued aggression, things would have turned out much better.

    Hi Destor,

    They way I understand the aspiration behind the UN Charter, a noble and idealistic compact among nations to which the United States is a signatory, it doesn't matter whether Kuwait is a particularly good place or a bad place, or whether it's government is a good government or a bad government.  Kuwait was a UN member state with recognized borders, and it was invaded and occupied in a breach of international peace and order.

    As is stated in Article 2, the UN is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members, and all of its members are entitled to its protection and support if their territorial integrity is violated, and had the right to call on the rest of us in international community to "unite our strength to protect international peace and security" and use armed force in "the common interest" of protecting the world's peace.

    I wish more Americans were required to read and study the UN Charter in school (I know I wasn't so required.)  It is quite inspiring.  Here's just the beginning:




        * to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

        * to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

        * to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

        * to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,



        * to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and

        * to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

        * to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

        * to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,



    Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.


    Article 1

    The Purposes of the United Nations are:

       1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

       2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

       3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

       4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.


    Article 2

    The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.

       1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

       2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.

       3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

       4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

       5. All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.

       6. The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.

       7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.

    The Chapter VII measures referenced in the preceding paragraph can be found here:

    Here is the proclamation issued by President Truman following Senate ratification of the UN Charter:

    It includes these words:

    Now, THEREFORE, be it known that I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim and make public the said Charter of the United Nations, with the Statute of the International Court of Justice annexed thereto, to the end that the same and every article and clause thereof may be observed and fulfilled with good faith, on and from the twenty-fourth day of October, one thousand nine hundred forty-five, by the United States of America and by the citizens of the United States of America and all other persons subject to the jurisdiction thereof.

    I'd like to add, Dan, to some of the points you make, some historic context without all the hindsight 20/20 pronouncements. Not everyone joining in was doing it falling for stories about dying babies without incubators in Kuwait, that was for uninformed public consumption/propaganda in war.. Rather at the time, it was not out of love for Kuwait, it was the hope of the MULTILATERALISM stupids, all working in concert with the UN agreements, so soon after the events of 1989: The world was changing, and someone was putting his toe in the water to see if he could get himself some more oil and maybe some more after that, and maybe some more after that.

    And as this cartoon of the time puts it blatantly (and admittedly, Poppy Bush blatantly used the same theme to sell it,) the "never again Munich appeasement" thingie was in the back of many minds, where after WWI.nobody wanted to put their foot down to anyone trying to get himself some more valuable land and more power when a new world order was afoot, not until it got really really bad.

    Mikhail Gorbachev on it, to Frontline

    Q: You issued a joint Soviet-American statement condemning Iraq within two days of the invasion. What led you to do that?

    Gorbachev: The world had become different and the two superpowers were in the situation where we had to show whether we were able to cooperate in this new situation, especially on such a critical issue like aggression. A country was occupied. If we were not able to cope with that situation, everything else would have been made null and void.

    Q: How difficult was that decision to throw your lot in with the United States?

    Gorbachev: We were quite firm about it. Similar steps were made by other countries. We called for an immediate end to the aggression and solving the problem politically. But, we did not declare that we were breaking all our relations with Iraq at once. On the contrary by this firm demand we gave them a clear-cut signal that we would be together with the UN and what they did was unacceptable. But on the other hand, we were also acting as friends of Iraq. There was no contradiction in it. We were throwing a life ring to Iraq. If they reversed the situation, they could have preserved the relations. We didn't say we were breaking everything at once...


    That's also here,my bold:

    Mustering the World, A Case Study of the Desert Shield Coalition, page 66;

    Despite the public endorsement of the growing coalition against Iraq, Bush and
    Scowcroft did not want Soviet participation in the Kuwaiti crisis to include military involvement
    in the region. The United States had worked throughout the Cold War to limit Soviet military
    activity in the Middle East, and Scowcroft did not want to invite them to participate in the
    military coalition. He could not, however, leave the USSR out of the loop either, for fear of
    offending Gorbachev. Baker suggested that the United States invite the Soviets to participate in
    a naval blockade of Iraq; Moscow agreed and sent a few ships, and that was the extent of their
    military involvement in the coalition.46

    On 22 August, President Bush called again on the Soviets to support another UN
    condemnation of Iraq, Resolution 665, the approval for U.S. military action against Iraq, but
    Shevardnadze told Bush that the Soviet government could convince Saddam to withdraw his
    troop from Kuwait. Unconvinced, Bush gave the Soviet government three days to diplomatically
    persuade Saddam to retreat, but if failing that, to support the latest UN resolution against Iraq.
    Moscow failed, and participated in another unanimous UN vote against Saddam’s occupation.
    Soviet participation in the coalition represented a major victory for Bush. They were able to
    align the United States’ and Soviets’ diplomatic interests, but also limit Soviet military
    involvement to a level with which Bush and his staff were comfortable. Such an agreement between the two superpowers, Scowcroft felt, represented a shift in the world order, for it was a very unique episode in Cold War diplomacy.47

    And I think the moment that Bush II's UNILATERAL Pre-Emptive Doctrine splashed across the International Relations world was when that hope died. Do I need mention the disdain with which the Bush II administration tried the United Nations from day one, as well as their disdain for the IAEA and the idea of maintenance with IAEA, sanctions, and no fly-zones until nature took its course (Saddam's natural death.) That was basically: "everyone out for himself," there ain't no new world order.

    P.S. A reminder--Brent Scowcroft's opinion of Iraq War II neo-conservates. Full New Yorker piece here..

    Multilateralism, as preached during and about that war, was nonsense. From Day One. A ridiculous piece of pageantry. If it made people feel better, or smarter, because it wasn't as obvious a load of bollocks as the incubator thing, then... so much the worse. Because it then led to everyone feeling like they had to support Clinton in his ridiculous actions regarding Iraq.

    Let me say this straight up. The US was absolutely involved in supporting Iraq vs Iran, so that each side would lose as many men and as much money and machinery as possible. We. Backed. Butchery. And then, when one of the bankrupt butchers turned on the rich neighbour who sat the war out.... we decided they'd make a great showpiece. After all, nobody else was left standing. So... we played Saddam for a sap. Left him no way out, and then.... maybe gave him a wink. One thing "our magnificent diplomatic corps" didn't do was give him a clear "no." 

    Anything that came after that decision to fight, in the way of the UN and multilateralism and all that blah blah, was - and we damned well understood it at the time - window dressing. I donno, maybe Americans actually believed in that Coalition business, but I'm not sure anybody else had any grand ideas about who was the boss and who was running this show. What people decided was that there was only one dog left standing - and just as post-9/11, they really didn't wanna cross that dog. Some "multilateralism."

    I used to say this at TPM. But I think I'm too tired to start it up at Dag. The history of American foreign policy, during the 70's and 80's, really really REALLY needs to be remembered when we're thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just ask Robert Gates. Oh wait - he wouldn't like that. The remembering thing. 

    More from the Gorbachev interview:

    Q: Do you think that the Americans should have gone to Baghdad?

    Gorbachev: I don't think either we, or the Security Council, would have supported such a course of action. And, the Americans would have become isolated -- it would have exploded the international coalition. I don't think the United States had this idea. They had bombed the palace, including targeted bombings. One could see their desire not only to ruin the military objects but also to get Saddam. But to make that kind of decision would have meant to accept Saddam's logic.

    Q: What was your initial reaction on hearing Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq?

    Gorbachev: A surprise. An absurd decision. That action could have been done only by an adventurer or a person who did not have a sense of reality.

    We had Malta behind us....the unification of Germany. The cold war split was being overcome. International relations were being freed from ideological confrontation. Nuclear arms were being reduced. So this action seemed done with an idea to explode all this. This is why it surprised me and angered me. I resented it.

    Ok, that's pretty unequivocal.

    I'd go with you that the UN piece of things was, well, in place, at least.

    (And I share your disgust with the NeoCons, who pretty much said "To hell with multilateralism! Why cooperate when we can run this place based on a crappy, winner-take-all perversion of American ideals?" Even in the Age of Civility, being honest about what those NeoCons did isn't going to sound nice.)

    But, backing up a bit, and bearing in mind that the UN Charter's designation of "sovereign nations" doesn't make distinctions between "made nations" (like "made men") and "handler nations," what's your opinion of the history and diplomacy that predated Saddam's invasion of Kuwait? Did the imbalance of power between the US/Iraq give Saddam a false sense of security? Did the Americans botch the messaging to Saddam about what he was/wasn't allowed to do?

    I'm adding this comment with some trepidation--a) it's long, but anybody who remembers me from TPM knows how I am, and b) Dan K is probably going to knock the pins right out from under my opinion that GW1 had a lot to do with wilful diplomatic ignorance on the part of GB1. (Whenever I find myself not in agreement with Dan Kervik, it usually turns out I'm wrong.) But hey, I've already written the thing, and the overall point isn't how it got started but what I and my fellow globalistas failed to take into account, so here goes.

    Remember that book, A Wrinkle in Time, how the bad planet existed behind a shadow? In retrospect, to me the beginning of the Gulf war was sort of the moment when the shadow that had hovered over the Soviet Union for so many years started to gather around the USA instead.

     It looked great for all of us for awhile there, as the old Soviet Union  walked out into the sunlight. We had Gorbachev and Perestroika,  the “victory of Capitalism,” or at least the collapse of the Soviet experiment with Communism. We experienced the really, really remarkable fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. We had clear skies and decent international long-distance calling—we hadU2, Springsteen AND  Sting: the Russians loved their Children too, for God’s sake. Now that we were the world's sole remaining superpower, honestly, what was stopping us from making the world a better place? 

    Among other things, the tendency of American Presidents named Bush to ignore golden opportunities in favor of dark advice and diplomatic choices at once bumbling and destructive.

    Remember Bush 41’s awkward effort to honor the service of the little people with his “Thousand Points of Light” initiative? You couldn’t help but feel that it was a cute idea but not very deeply-held, coming as it did from a guy who clearly spent so much more time on the golf course than at the grocery store. And sure enough, I remember sobbing through the first night of creepy low-light satellite footage shot from above Baghdad as bombs traced the green sky, thinking “Another thousand points of light…just exploded.” 

    Maybe it was only me, but the contrast between military potency  and moral ineptitude seemed more obvious each day, topped off by the torching of the road back from Kuwait and the failure to even attempt to justify the effort by removing Saddam Hussein. The strangest aspect of the whole experience was how many Americans seemed surprised, bemused and accepting of the whole thing. “Well, he’s the President; if he says we have to go to war who are we to argue?” 

    Nobody did want to argue, I guess, least of all me, and I don’t think we learned much. It seems like we all shook off that war, elected Bill Clinton president, got re-focused on the Victory of Capitalism, and figured we were in the clear. I for one believed that international travel and global trade could succeed where “old school” government had failed, and I backed up that belief by spending the next ten years mostly shopping for shoes. (I wasn’t alone in those stores, believe me.) But now I wish we had paid more attention to the neocons circling in the weird shadowy place where it’s hard to tell the difference between ideology, incompetence and evil, supporting their little fleet of carefully-balanced agendas and waiting for a moment of confusion to arise.

    Why didn’t we pay more attention? That shadow is always tucked in somebody’s cloak, and a moment of confusion is always going to arise. If we had been ready, maybe the days after 911 could have gone differently—we might have told the “with us or against us” crowd to go to hell and taken our place in an ever more interdependent world, shaken but more compassionate in our experience. 

    Instead, here we are--thousands of lives and trillions of dollars later, the bad planet in the shadow, our decline seemingly outpaced only by our irrelevance. A Wrinkle in Time.


    ,anybody who remembers me from TPM


    Hell, yeah, I remember you from TPM! You're the smart, cu...ummm, that is...hi.


    Yup, erica was on my following list there, too. Still is, on Disquis for TPM..

    Hi, erica. I especially like your comments on domestic politics, just by virtue of your knowledge on same you often silenced a lot of crap spewing while raising the discussion level more than one or two notches.. Wink

    Hopeless ignorance alert!

    What's Disquis?

    Long version:

    Short version:

    I'ts the company that TPM hired to handle its comments, it's used by a a lot of other sites, too, like McClatchy or Yglesias or NYReview of Books blogs.)

    Right click on any commenter's avatar on TPM, you'll get a list of all their comments

    If you sign up for an account with them, you can track all your own comments and the replies to them anywhere Disquis is being used. Also follow any other commenter's comments..

    TPM hasn't installed their fullly functional system with all the buttons, hence they don't tell people about it. (In the process of asking inconvenient questions about that was when I was blocked from making comments.  But it works fine, if you know to right click on the avatar. I'm following 96 commenters there. You have to be signed up, then you get the option to follow them when you right click and you get a dashboard with the feed of all the comments at But anyone, even if not signed up, can see all the comments of a user by right clicking on the avatar.)

    Hi artappraiser, thanks for the shout out. Oddly enough, I can't follow my own comments on Disquis--it has something to do with having put punctuation in my new name. Been meaning to follow up with them on that.

    Hey Jolly, glad to see you're over here. More good times to be had, eh?



    Omigod, you're Canadian...Quinn has all the luck....Your profile used to place you in Boston.

    I suppose if TPM is the mother country, this makes us Pilgrims?  No, wait, let's find another analogy, shall we.?

    I live in the USA...I was just channeling Quinn there for a minute.

    I have noticed, though, that a surprising number of TPM commenters seem to be Canadian.

    That's cause they are snowed in with time on their hands, and bored....also.

    Roger's right. Canadian winters are long, cold, dark, cold and even more boring than Canadian summers. And cold, did I mention cold? We gravitate to the blogs because glowing computer monitors are often the sole source of warmth in our miserable, ice-encased hovels.

    And we love our hockey -- not for its fast pace but because it holds out hope for an injury that sends us to hospital, where he will be warm, well-fed and catered to hand and foot (especially if we break both a hand and a foot). Bonus: it's rent-free until they kick us out and we have to find a way to reinjure ourselves (typically, more hockey).

    True hockey fact:

    When I arrived at Brown (then a hockey power in the AAU-they hadn't even invented the NCAA back then) on account of being the capt. of my high school hockey club (I was the only one with pads) the coach sends me a note inviting me to come out for the team.

    Ha, ha, ha.

    The whole team was Canadian, and there weren't ten front teeth amongst the entire bunch.

    And they were mean...also.

    Having most of your teeth knocked out will foster a mean streak in anyone. But they were polite, right?



    As long as they weren't wearing skates...

    our irrelevance

    Aging hyperpowers confronting irrelevance are prone to dangerously violent spasms (cf, The Malvinas & Thatcher, Algeirs and France,)

    Even now, the headline on the collapse of the Lebanese government is our lack of leverage (as if we are entitled to have it...)

    The full-throated (literally .."YOU ESS AYE, YOU ESS AYE) committment to the bigger, better dick, and damn the expense, would be amusing were it not a constant source of  our most ubiquitous exports-death, hatred, misery.


    In an early comment, Trope suggested, "Some in the U.S. may have given Saddam the green light." True dat. A week before he invaded Kuwait, Saddam Hussein summoned U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie to his palace. In her two years as envoy to Baghdad, it was the only time they would meet face to face. Tariq Aziz was present, and the Iraqis recorded the whole thing. Here's an account:

    The U.S. never released an official transcript of the meeting, but the Iraqis apparently leaked theirs, and the New York Times ran a very similar version. The State Department has always claimed it had repeatedly warned Saddam not to attack Kuwait. But amid a massive troop buildup, Glaspie goes on record as reiterating that the U.S. has "no opinion" on Iraq's "border disagreement" with Kuwait -- and that Secretary James Baker wanted that emphasized.

    Her later comment that no one thought Saddam would take "all" of Kuwait is, I think, the most damning bit of evidence. The U.S. was trying to give Saddam a green light -- if diplomacy mediated by Egypt failed -- to occupy the Rumayla oil fields near the Iraqi border.

    The U.S. failed to grasp that, having been fought to a draw in a war with Iran that killed millions, Saddam couldn't resist the domestic boost he hoped to get by annexing Kuwait. Either that or, having failed to defeat Iran, Saddam had simply become expendable -- and destroying his U.S.-built army was seen as a key to driving him from power.

    So the U.S. role in the runup to war was incompetence or calculated betrayal. Or, if you prefer to believe it, a noble rallying to the side of a small, victimized nation. Your call.

    There's cables related to the Glaspie story in the Wikileaks diplomatic dump. I recommend the recent posts on those @ ForeignPolicy,com by Stephen Walt and David Kenner:

    (Walt links to Kenner's piece at the start of his own.)

    Thanks for the links, Art. I think Kenner and Walt are both 100% right: Glaspie was only dutifully mouthing the somewhat muddled instructions she was getting from Washington. Given Saddam's known habit of ignoring ambassadors, State probably doubted she would ever get the chance to state its position to him firsthand.

    Saddam, for his part, no doubt thought that if the U.S. was really adamant about him not attacking Kuwait, Baker would hop a plane to Baghdad and tell him so face to face. I think the U.S. hoped Saddam would get the message, "Take the Kuwaiti oil fields if you must, but be quick and clean about" -- without the fingerprints of anybody higher than Glaspie being on it. When everything went south (or further south than intended), she proved a convenient patsy.

    As The U.S. was gathering its coalition and manufacturing consent it said that Iraqi tanks were massing on the Saudi border. Some years later the Russians, desperate for cash, put many of their satellite  images up for sale. Someone bought the pertinent photos and one more lie was revealed.

    Going back to the question of why Bush 41 departed without taking out Saddam Hussein.  I thought the reason given was that the objective of stopping the invasion was met.  The invasion was stopped, their army was driven back and therefore, it was proper to leave.

    That's certainly what we were told.  But maybe we should have really left instead of maintaining the blockade and no fly zones and all that.

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