Courtesy Reuters

The Summer of Arab Discontent

Routine, it turned out, was but a brief interlude between two audacious bids. No sooner had the Arab/Muslim world said farewell to the wrath and passion of the Ayatollah Khomeini's crusade than another contender rose in Baghdad. The new claimant was made of material different from the turbaned saviour from Qum: Saddam Hussein was not a writer of treatises on Islamic government nor a product of high learning in religious seminaries. Not for him were the drawn-out ideological struggles for the hearts and minds of the faithful. He came from a brittle land, a frontier country between Persia and Arabia, with little claim to culture and books and grand ideas. The new contender was a despot, a ruthless and skilled warden who had tamed his domain and turned it into a large prison.

Three years earlier the Kuwaitis had dodged a bullet. The turmoil of the final year of the Iran-Iraq War had come closer to them. They turned to the Americans, seeking protection for their oil exports. The Reagan administration was on the rebound then from the fiasco of its arms sales to Iran; it obliged the Kuwaitis, re-flagged their tankers, and the danger subsided. But alas, countries cannot be re-flagged like ships and tankers. In the summer of 1990 Kuwait was left to the tender mercies of the Iraqis. The Kuwaitis were in the way of a state possessed of considerable power and a sense that the world around it owed it a great debt for the service it had performed in its long struggle against the Iranian Revolution. Saddam had been protector and gendarme. He now came to collect what he saw as the fair wages of the work he had done.

He struck in August, dusting off a fraudulent claim to the wealthy principality next door. Before he swept into Kuwait, Saddam had gone through the motions of negotiating with the Kuwaitis: the single negotiating session, held in Saudi Arabia, lasted two hours. Then came the dash

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