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The Bush legacy in the Gulf

The Bush legacy in the Gulf thumbnail

Last Saturday, as world leaders and the international media reacted to news that George HW Bush had passed away, three landmark towers in Kuwait City were lit up with the portrait of the former US president and the US and Kuwait flags.

This was one of many tributes to a man Kuwaitis credit with liberating their country from Iraqi occupation in the early 1990s.

Bush was halfway through his one-term presidency when Saddam Hussein sent 100,000 Iraqi troops and 700 tanks into Kuwait in August 1990. Until then, the Middle East had not been a major focus of his administration, which was preoccupied with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the re-unification of Germany and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

That all changed with the Iraqi invasion of its much smaller and wealthier neighbour.

Bush later recalled that the first 48 hours after Iraqi troops crossed the Kuwaiti border were the “most hectic” of his presidency up to that point.

Over the next seven months, until the Iraqi surrender in late February 1991, the crisis was the top foreign policy priority of the Bush White House.

This had as much to do with the nature, location and timing of the crisis as it did with restoring Kuwaiti sovereignty or “facing down a threat to decency and humanity”, as Bush framed it in his January 1991 State of the Union address.


Obituary: George HW Bush

It was, for example, the first time since Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to end the Cold War in December 1989 that a regional player had tried to swallow a small actor lacking military power.

This challenge to the evolving post-Cold War balance of power was all the more intolerable because it took place in a region that was home to 65 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 45 percent of its net oil exports.

Kuwait’s oil-rich neighbours, in particular Saudi Arabia, were terrified that Saddam would turn on them next. “He who eats Kuwait for breakfast is likely to ask for something else for lunch,” the influential Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is said to have warned.

The crisis also occurred at a time when an anxious world was still struggling to work out what the post-Cold War international order would look like and what role the US, as the only remaining superpower, would play in it.

Many speculated that in the absence of the Soviet threat, US leaders would lack the political will or the domestic support to continue to play a lead role in international affairs.

Some even argued that the US would now be eclipsed on the global stage by non-military powers like Japan, the European Union or even the United Nations.

In reality, the ease with which the US built a global anti-Saddam coalition and defeated his army in Kuwait put paid to such speculation.

At home, this helped Washington overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome” that had influenced public and elite opinion on military engagement overseas since the withdrawal from Southeast Asia in the early 1970s.

Abroad, it provided the opportunity to showcase to the world just how dominant US diplomatic and hard-power capabilities would be in Bush’s evolving “new world order”.

It also sent an important message to would-be allies that the US would come to their assistance when needed and would honour its obligations as the dominant global player to promote and protect their interests, as well as their security.

In the post-war Gulf, this new US commitment was conceived primarily in military terms and expressed itself in new defence treaties with local partners and the stockpiling of enough military hardware and pre-positioned heavy equipment in the region to fight, or at least start, a war at a short notice.

A common joke of the time was that the US was settling into the region so well it should join the Arab League.

Bush’s intervention in Kuwait failed to secure him a second term in the White House. He also faced criticism from various sides.

Some refused to accept the legitimacy of his “war for oil” as the peace movement of the day termed it or saw his intervention in Iraq as a classic case of neo-colonial aggression that would define the post-Cold War era.

Others accused him of being too cautious for refusing to go into Iraq and overthrow Saddam or for failing to provide support for anti-Saddam forces in Iraq who rose up in response to events in Kuwait.

He also faced criticism for being too beholden to the interests of Saudi royals, an accusation that would become even more pronounced during his son’s presidency in the post-9/11 era and is very evident now in the Trump administration’s handling of the Khashoggi affair.

During his two terms as president, Bill Clinton followed the Bush approach in the Gulf of pursuing US interests and those of local allies by using the threat of overwhelming force to keep Iran and Iraq in check.

In the decade and a half since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Bush’s successors in the White House, beginning with his own son, have all found it far more difficult to reach agreement with local Gulf partners on what the US security role should be than he did following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the successful resolution of the Kuwait crisis.

In part this is due to the changing nature of threats in an age when strong insurgencies, transnational non-state violent actors, popular revolt and intra-state clashes like the one that resulted in the June 2017 blockade of Qatar have all come to the fore.

But it is also a consequence of the erosion, during the presidencies of George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, of three of the defining hallmarks of George H W Bush’s international engagement and leadership: caution, reliability and predictability in using the massive hard and soft-power capabilities of the country to promote its interests and those of local allies.

This was Bush Senior’s foreign policy legacy to the world and it was introduced in response to the Kuwait crisis.

Its erosion since then has led to rising scepticism over the effectiveness and legitimacy of US foreign policy choices. It has also been an important factor in the shrinking power gap between the US and its main international competitors.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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19 Comments on "The Bush legacy in the Gulf"

  1. Davy on Thu, 6th Dec 2018 10:02 am 

    Do we have something here?

    “He’s Barack Obama, But White” – The Manufacturing Of Beto O’Rourke”

    “Beto O’Rourke—a three-term Congressman from El Paso, Texas who recently failed to unseat Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz—is suddenly one of the hottest names in Democratic Party politics. The once-obscure representative is on the lips of many as a presidential contender. “All the guy would have to do is send out an email to his fundraising base…and he raises $30 million,” one anonymous Democratic bundler told Politico. “That has totally changed the landscape for tier 1 guys, because now Bernie and Warren, now they have competition. It completely changes the game if Beto runs. And he should run…He’s Barack Obama, but white.”

  2. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Dec 2018 8:15 pm 

    Ah yes, the Iraq war, when Saddam was wrongfooted in led to believe that the Americans would tolerate the invasion:

    The “conspiracy theory” is that the US intentionally suckered their water carrier Saddam, who volunteered to do the dirty work for the US against Iran, into Kuwait, to create the pretext for the invasion, in order to turn yet another oil rich country into a vassal of the empire, like KSA.

    Even the bullhorn of the empire admits meanwhile:

    “Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’”

    Syria, same story.

    If Turkey and Iran team up, it is over for western colonialism in the ME. Trump is not going to reverse the tide, provided he is serious with his sanctions in the first place.

  3. Cloggie on Thu, 6th Dec 2018 8:35 pm 

    Trump and Clintons ignore each other:

    Haha and I AM THE FLOP insists that Trump is a “raging neocon”.lol

  4. Free Speech Forum on Thu, 6th Dec 2018 9:20 pm 

    Americans hate freedom so much now that even some Libertarians are wavering.

  5. JR on Thu, 6th Dec 2018 10:58 pm 

    Nice propaganda piece. Here’s another one that isn’t full of the same crap:

    Bush was a monster. May he rot in hell.

  6. Here we go again on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 2:54 am 

    Lies, death and destruction….some legacy

  7. The Truth Shall Set You Free on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 3:57 am 

    What explains the cult like reverence of “Davy”, “Antius”, “Cloggie” and most members of the Republican party for Dear Leader Trump? We now have a working hypothesis. Researchers from Columbia and New York University examined voting patterns by geographic area with internet search term frequency. The study results pointed to a strong positive correlation between support for Trump and particular internet search topics. The results were shocking, although logical.

    Trump’s base support comes from older White males who suffer from Fragile (Toxic) Masculinity Syndrome.

    The following internet search terms had the strongest positive correlation with support for Trump:

    • “How to get girls”;
    • “Penis enlargement”;
    • “Penis size”;
    • “Errectile Dysfunction”;
    • “Hair Loss”;
    • “Steriods”; “
    • Testosterone”;
    • “Viagra”.

    Trump ditto-heads lack these traits- traits they perceive define masculinity. Therefore, they are innately attracted to a leader who projects these traits.

    Examples of Trump’s alpha masculinity as perceived by Trump ditto-heads:

    • Trump uses a combination of a hair piece and he has had hair transplantation surgery (pubic hair was transplanted onto his scalp) because he’s too proud to admit he’s bald.
    • Trump’s bullying behavior is perceived by his supporters to be a manly man.
    • Frequent golfer.
    • He eats McDonalds almost every day.
    • He’s a billionaire with a hot wife who married him for his money.

  8. makati1 on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 4:39 am 

    Truth: Interesting! That is a logical connection to describe the Davy gang. Considering that I have not voted for about 20 years, (voted Democratic prior to that) and I do NOT support Trump, other than cheering on his single handed destruction of America, that lets me out. If he lasts his first term without being deleted like “JFK”, I’ll be surprised. It’s an interesting show to watch outside the box. LOL

  9. Antius on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:23 am 

    “Truth: Interesting! That is a logical connection to describe the Davy gang.”

    It is not logical; it is conjecture. It takes a rather weak correlation between voting percentages and search history frequency (which I can only assume is legit) and then jumps to rather wild conclusions about voter motivation.

  10. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:25 am 

    “Truth: Interesting! That is a logical connection to describe the Davy gang. Considering that I have not voted for about 20 years”

    LOL, listen to billy play along with his perverted best friend JuanP’s sock “Truth”!

  11. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:25 am 

    “I Know Where All The Bodies Are Buried”: Clinton Foundation CFO Spills Beans To Investigators”

    “The CFO of the Clinton Foundation, thinking he was “meeting an old professional acquaintance,” admitted to investigators that the charity had widespread problems with governance, accounting and conflicts of interest, and that Bill Clinton has been commingling business and personal expenses for a long time, reports The Hill’s John Solomon. Clinton Foundation CFO Andrew Kessel made the admissions to investigators from MDA Analytics LLC – a firm run by “accomplished ex-federal criminal investigators,” who have been probing the Clinton Foundation for some time. Kessel told MDA “There is no controlling Bill Clinton. He does whatever he wants and runs up incredible expenses with foundation funds, according to MDA’s account of the interview. “Bill Clinton mixes and matches his personal business with that of the foundation. Many people within the foundation have tried to caution him about this but he does not listen, and there really is no talking to him.” MDA compiled Kessel’s statements, as well as over 6,000 pages of evidence from a whistleblower they had been working with separately, and which they filed secretly over a year ago with the FBI and IRS. MDA has alleged that the Clinton Foundation engaged in illegal activities, and may owe millions in unpaid taxes and penalties.”

  12. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:38 am 

    “Trump: “I Won’t Be Here” When The Coming Debt Crisis Goes Nuclear”

    “President Trump reportedly shrugged off concerns over the ballooning national debt, telling senior advisers in an early 2017 meeting “Yeah, but I won’t be here” when presented with “charts and graphics layout out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt” set to occur “in the not too distant future.”

  13. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:43 am 

    “One Snub Too Many: Kremlin Sours On Trump As “Patience Coming To An End”

    “Kortunov continued, “This is a signal for us that it’s difficult to deal with this person, that he’s unreliable and unsuitable as a partner.” After interviewing multiple high level unnamed Kremlin insiders, Bloomberg concluded that Russian frustration has reached a breaking point. The report noted that “Donald Trump may have stood up Vladimir Putin once too often” after snubbing Putin twice in less than a month. First came canceled talks in Paris on Nov. 11 during the weekend centennial anniversary of Armistice Day events, but the bigger shock was G-20 in Argentina, per Bloomberg: Feted by Russian lawmakers with applause and champagne after his election in 2016, Trump’s mercurial decision-making is increasingly seen as a liability in Moscow. Russian officials were taken aback when Trump tweeted that he was canceling talks with Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina hours before they were due to meet last week, a decision one of them called really bad. Since then, Russian frustration has steadily grown, according to four senior officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.”

  14. This is JuanP on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:44 am 

    Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:38 am “Trump: “I Won’t Be Here” When The Coming Debt Crisis Goes Nuclear”

  15. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:52 am 

    “Mr. Tariff Ups The Ante On China”

    “Donald Trump just jumped the shark calling himself, “Mr. Tariff.” He believes a trade deficit is akin to stealing the wealth of a nation. It isn’t.”

    “Under normal conditions a trade deficit is simply a reflection of the difference in comparative advantage of one country’s workers over anothers. And the value of the currency is supposed to rise and fall to offset that state of affairs over time.”

    “Donald Trump has, in the words of David Stockman, “A 17th century view on global trade.”

    “It is one born of a complete misunderstanding of how and why trade imbalances occur, why they will re-balance if allowed and why, ultimately, they are irrelevant.”

    “But, Trump can’t or won’t see it that way. He refuses to accept that we are the creators of our persistent trade deficit with China. That the trade deficit stems from running budget deficits and applying Keynesian counter-cyclical monetary policy or, worse, QE to protect domestic asset prices.”

  16. Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:57 am 

    It’s so much fun copying and pasting all of these off topic tabloid news stories from the hedge.

    I think I’ll type out another off topic 1800 word word salad essay next. It makes me feel all important.

  17. The Truth Shall Set You Free on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 6:05 am 


    “It is not logical; it is conjecture. It takes a rather weak correlation between voting percentages and search history frequency (which I can only assume is legit) and then jumps to rather wild conclusions about voter motivation.”

    This statement by the same person who stated ina different post, “They (Trump ditto-heads) would vote for a woman who promised all the same things. His masculine persona may help him connect with them at some level, but it is not what lends him their support.”

    Naturally, Anti-US is DEAD wrong. He posits positions based one what he WISHES was true. This exact question was part of the study and the fact of the matter is 68% of Trump ditto-heads WOULD NOT support a female for president.

    Have you examined the study? Of course not. So, on what authority do you make these statements of fact? You’re simply pulling shit out of your ass based on what you want to believe.

    This is intellectually dishonest behavior, Anti-US.

  18. This is JuanP on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 6:08 am 

    The Truth Shall Set You Free on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 6:05 am Anti-US: “It is not logical; it is conjecture.

  19. This is JuanP on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 6:10 am 

    Davy on Fri, 7th Dec 2018 5:52 am
    “Mr. Tariff Ups The Ante On China”

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