Explaining The Iraqi Invasion Of Kuwait Politics Essay

Baram (1994) explains that Iraq’s claim to invade Kuwait is based on the argumentation that Kuwait was a “district governed by Basra” under Ottoman rule and, thus, Iraqi leaders have seen it as historically belonging to Iraq (p.5). Baram goes on to explain that this claim is wrong because Kuwait has long before been under autonomous rule by the Sabah family. Furthermore, she states that Iraq’s aspiration to bring Kuwait under its control is partly due to Iraq’s need to strengthen and stabilize its regime’s legitimacy by uniting the different religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq under Iraqi patriotism (p.5). Iraq opposed the British-drawn borderline between Iraq and Kuwait because it left Iraq with only a short Gulf coastline and gave Kuwait control over the entrance and exit of Iraq’s only port (p.6). Even though Iraq accepted Kuwait as a sovereign state in 1963, it did not accept the exact borderline. Iraq was supported by the Soviet Union and because the latter would not support an annexation of Kuwait by Iraq, Iraq did not act earlier (p.6). Moreover, Iraq received aid from Kuwait during the Iran-Iraq war. Following this war, due to bad economic policies, Iraqi economy stagnated and as a result, Iraq could not demobilize its army which amounted to over 1 million at the end of the 1980s. The reason for this was that Saddam could not risk a high number of unemployed men which might result in social unrest (p.7). However, in order to keep such a high number of soldiers in the standing army, Saddam needed a good reason. Therefore, he started to revitalise the ‘American and Zionist enemy’ (p.7). Iraq kept on spending on military expenditures which had the intention to turn Iraq into the “Gulf’s hegemonic power” as Iraq’s weapons could be used against Israeli offenses which, additionally, would make Iraq the “Arabs’ protector” (p.7). The downfall of the Soviet Union was disastrous for Iraq as it lost its biggest supporter in the face of the US. Furthermore, Iraq was alarmed by the Eastern European democratic revolutions bringing the totalitarian regimes down which were equally designed as Saddam’s Iraq (p.7). Another reason for Iraqi worries in the late 1980s was Iraq’s failure to force the Syrian army to leave Lebanon and which was tolerated by the US and other Arab states (p.9). This became, according to Baram, an example for Iraq which saw the possibility to invade Kuwait and which then would be treated by external players like the Lebanon case (ibid.). After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq invoked the Kuwait crisis two years later by bringing up several issues, such as the border dispute with Kuwait, the Israeli-Palestinian problem, America’s presence in the Gulf, the issue of oil production quotas and Iraq’s demand for financial aid (p.9). In order to solve all these issues, Iraq increasingly started to see an invasion of Kuwait as the best solution (ibid.). In 1990, Iraq for the first time publicly offered to take up the role of the Soviet Union as protector for the Arabs (p.10). Additionally, Iraq started to threat Israel in case it would attack any Arab state. These manoeuvres had the purpose to avert the public from increasing economic hardship, as well as the happenings in Eastern Europe and the regime’s failure in the Lebanon case (p.11). Iraq’s increasing public threats and announcements opened up the “danger of Saddam being sucked into a war by his own rhetoric” (p.14). Furthermore, this approach showed that Iraq was more and more diverting from a path of domestic policies to external ones in order to solve Iraq’s problems (ibid.). Saddam by including the Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric and pan-Arab security, diverted the Arab world with Libya, the PLO, and Jordan being its closes supporters, but also Egypt’s Mubarak in the beginning supported Iraq’s approach towards Arab security by believing in Iraq’s good intentions (p.16). After receiving support from at least a fraction of the Arab states for its Arab security approach, Iraq started to accuse Kuwait of stealing oil from Iraq and thus, two strategically important islands in the Gulf should be given to Iraq (ibid.). Iraqi-Kuwait relations further deteriorated when oil prices fell and the OPEC quota was not fully supported by Kuwait (p.17). This in turn led to Iraq starting to mobilise troops and station them at the Kuwaiti border. Iraq shifted its demands whenever it fitted best from economic reasons to territorial claims (p.19). Egypt’s Mubarak in this period publicly proclaimed that Saddam promised to him that he would not attack Kuwait. The USA’s reaction to the build up of the crisis was to send their ambassador Glaspie to talk to Saddam. The ambassador misjudged the situation which had the outcome that diverting and ambiguous signals were sent to Saddam and Washington (p.20). Glaspie did not put pressure on Iraq, instead she followed the approach to ally with it and improve US-Iraq relations (p.20). Glaspie, being in line with the State Department’s position, told Saddam that the US does not interfere in “inter-Arab affairs” such as the Iraq-Kuwait border dispute (ibid.). Seen in this context, the American diplomatic approach was not helpful because it sent the wrong signal to Saddam, namely that America would not use force in inter-Arab disputes (ibid.). Furthermore, in July 1990, the State Department spokesperson announced that the US has “no special defence or security commitments to Kuwait” (p.21). This made Saddam believe that he could invade Kuwait without US involvement and that it “would not make a difference” if he took only parts or the entire area of Kuwait (p.21). Taking this risk of invading all of Kuwait was based on the assumption to solve the economic problems of Iraq and to put Iraq into a power position in the Arab region and by doing so mobilise domestic support (p.25). A further explanation of why Iraq invaded all of Kuwait was, according to Baram, Saddam’s personality treats. Advisors could not interfere in any decisions already made by Saddam because of his personality. He saw himself as “invincible warrior” and “empire-builder” (p.26).

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Baram’s text about the reasons of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is very comprehensive and comprehensible and it looks at the issue in detail and from different perspectives. What was especially interesting was the detailed description of the US diplomatic approach and how a misjudgement can lead to such far-reaching outcomes. Furthermore, Baram’s text looks in detail at Saddam as leader and how his decisions were very logical and calculating even though they were based on false assumptions and miscalculations. Therefore, Baram’s text shows that Saddam did not in any way act irrationally or injudiciously. However, it could be looked at in more detail in how far Saddam became able to act in this way after the fall of the Soviet Union, its main supporter. Baram mentions that the Soviet Union would not support an invasion of Kuwait, but she does not go into more detail concerning the timing of the invasion of Kuwait and the downfall of the Soviet Union. I think the question could have been explored in more detail in how far that was also a part of the reason for Saddam’s invasion at that time or Saddam’s possibility for invasion since the Soviet Union no longer kept Iraq from invasion.

Mark Heller (1994) discusses Iraq’s army power and Western perception of the strengths of the Iraqi army. His claim is that the Gulf war was a result of Western misperception of Iraq’s army strength and capabilities (p.37). According to him, a Western threat to use military force would have been enough in 1990 after the invasion to persuade Saddam to leave, however, the debate in the Western public undercut this option and made it impossible (ibid.). It was argued that a war with Iraq would result in high numbers of casualties and thus, the message that was send to Saddam was that a military US intervention was very unlikely and withdrawal was not necessary (ibid.). Heller argues that the debate about Iraqi army strength completely ignored the army’s performances in the past, which had not been able to perform well in wars against foreign powers even if its weapons were plenty and effective (p.38). The reason for this is that due to Iraq’s regime type, it had to give more priority to the preservation of the regime than to the military (p.47). This is due to the fragmentation of the Iraqi population and the lack of legitimacy as well as national identity which makes the regime vulnerable and the army less effective (ibid.). For this reason, Saddam had acquired weapons which could be operated by a highly centralised small elite of soldiers in order not to have to rely on the rest of the army which was rather ineffective (p.48). Heller argues that a war might have not been prevented but at least American response could have been more effective diplomacy-wise if the military capabilities of Iraq had not been overestimated by the public (p.38). Thus, Iraq would have withdrawn if the diplomatic messages and pressure would have been more evident.

This article shows a very interesting view point which is not taken up by most other texts which deal with the topic. It shows a completely different angle by looking at US diplomatic shortcomings and where these were rooted in. Even though this article is rather short and more detailed evidence should be given about the public debate in the West, this article tries to give a plausible explanation for US behaviour and why the US did not put more diplomatic pressure on Iraq. However, a little flaw that occurs to me in this text is that even tough the military strength of the standing army overall were more limited, the weapons that could be used by a small elitist group could still be as disastrous concerning casualties as a high number of soldiers. Therefore, in my opinion the argument that the public overestimated the military capabilities loses a little bit of its ground. Nevertheless, the end argument still works because Saddam could have been deterred if the US had used more diplomatic pressure but this was halted due to public discourse.

Clawson (1994) discusses Iraq’s economic situation prior to the war and the effects of economic sanctions on Iraq. Clawson establishes that Iraq has all the good preconditions for a well-working economy and a prosperous population. This includes that Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, Iraq has vast and rich agricultural areas and a, to a certain extent, well-trained manpower is available; nevertheless, Iraq has economic problems and the people liver under economic hardship (p.69). According to Clawson, the Iraqi economy has a lot of potential; however, successive Iraqi regimes have put ideology before economic stability and the well-being of the Iraqi population (ibid.). Due to damaging policies, especially the oil and the agricultural sector have been harmed (ibid.). Iraq pursued a confrontational policy towards the oil industry by making claims to Kuwaiti oil fields and it did not pursue closer relations with other oil states as well as developed countries in order to profit from efficient technology for oil production. Furthermore, the Ba’ath party completely controlled the economy which halted economic growth (p.70). The government, especially under Saddam, wasted its resources for large-scale projects and investments which did not serve any useful purpose for economic growth. Clawson attributes this to Saddam’s “Nebuchadnezzar complex” which means that Saddam wants to build glorious buildings in order to underline his magnificence as a leader (ibid.). In the time prior to the war, Iraq claimed that its financial situation leads it to take action. Iraq, furthermore, claimed that Kuwait is to be blamed for part of its economic situation, which was used in order to distract the Iraqi public from the fact that it was Saddam’s disastrous economic policies which are responsible for the people’s hardship (p.71). According to Clawson, Iraq’s economic situation in 1990 was actually better than it had been the years 1986 to 1989, which could be seen in Iraq’s ability to repay more debts in 1990 (ibid.). Therefore, Iraq’s economic problems are long-term and not due to an allegedly short-term crisis with Kuwait. Saddam was unwilling to cut back on his grand projects for his own glorification and thus, was unable to meet the people’s expectation that after the Iran-Iraq war the economic situation of the population would improve (p.72). Saddam’s quest for more and more grand projects could only be continued if more money would flow in. At the same time, the argument that many economically important sites have been irreversibly destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war is also not true (p.77). Rather the damage was minor or at least easily reparable and not all economically important places have been destroyed if they were not associated with military sites (ibid.). Therefore, the main obstacle to economic growth for Iraq is Saddam’s anti-growth policies and the claim that Kuwait is responsible for it or that Iraq would recover with more money floating in is wrong.

Clawson’s article gives a good insight into Iraq’s economic situation prior to the war and what the reasons for Iraq’s miserable economic situation are. The article invalidates the claim that Iraq’s invasion can be justified by short-term economic problems. Rather it is the regime’s attempt to divert the attention from its own bad economic policies. Even though this article shows a different perspective on the underlying problems of Iraq’s bad economic situation and it does invalidate the claim that Kuwait is in any way involved in Iraq’s financial problems, this does not give a satisfactorily explanation why Iraq acted as it did towards Kuwait. The author indeed states that Saddam wanted to disguise the fact that it is his long-term policies that are damaging the economy. However, Saddam could have done that by different means. Therefore, this article should be treated as a one-sighted argument in the context of other arguments. Otherwise, the question could arise why Saddam did not simply spend a little more fraction of the money on the population in order to avoid unrests in the future, or why Saddam did not try to get closer to other states, Western and Arab, in order to receive more aid etc? Thus, overall the articles gives an interesting insight in the domestic economic situation of Iraq but it falls short of giving a complete and satisfactory explanation on why Iraq invaded Kuwait and why not another state or why it did not use other tools to counteract to the economic problems.

Halliday (1994) does not approach the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in terms of the reasons for Iraq’s decision; rather he describes the invasion and its impact on International Relations theories. Halliday states that the Gulf war in 1990 was one of the most “significant international crises of the post-1945 epoch” (p.109). Not only was a very high number of soldiers involved but also a high number of international diplomats and diplomacy attempts from various countries. According to Halliday, not enough attention was given to historical events. According to him, the crisis began with the death of Khomeini in 1989 (p.115). Saddam was not able to gain any influence in Iran because it remained stable after the death and therefore, Iraq turned to Kuwait (ibid.). Moreover, Halliday states that the ideology of the Ba’ath party was not taken into account and thus, the outcome was wrongly predicted. Ba’athism represents the ideal for an Arab nation, a glorification of war and the strong man who fights for the Arab nation (p.115). Furthermore, the reason why all the diplomatic efforts that were actually undertaken failed was that Saddam believed that the US would not intervene militarily (p.116). Additionally, Saddam was only expecting sanctions which would have not meant an irreconcilable for him and Iraq (ibid.). According to Halliday, realists see the Gulf war as an interstate-conflict. For transnationalists the economic dimension was most important and the preservation of economic, i.e. oil, interests on all sides (p.120). For Marxists and structuralists, in turn, the war was one of a dominant and a subordinated power and which was justified by Western materialist interests, i.e. oil and which reinforced hegemonic power in the Middle East (ibid.). However, all these theories fail to explain the entirety of the Gulf war. Realists cannot properly explain why Iraq invaded all of Kuwait if it was not seen as one of the biggest miscalculation and misjudgements by Saddam (p.120). Furthermore, Iraq’s references to pan-Arabism and Islamic issues cannot be properly explained by realist theory. Transnationalism, in turn, do not have a satisfactorily explanation for the UN’s decision outcome which was not based on mutual decisions by various states but rather it was based solely on US ideas (ibid.). Furthermore, Marxists and structuralists theory is not completely applicable either because if the war was of ‘imperial’ nature then this would mean that Iraq has to display a more “progressive level of development” in the international arena, which is not the case due to Iraq’s Ba’athist ideology and its brutal regime among other reasons (p.120). As a reason Halliday concludes that such an event as the Gulf war in 1990 means that theoretical approaches have to be revised and thought through again more thoroughly (p.129). However, this does not mean that the existing theories have to be overthrown altogether, rather the war tested the limits of these theories and accordingly they have to be amended and adjusted.

Even though this article does not contribute to the answering of the above stated question, it does give an interesting insight into the studies of IR and the reactions of theorists from different strands to this political event. Furthermore, it shows how such an event as the Gulf war can lead to a revision even if of limited degree of the existing theories. The summary of the article above is only a small extract of Halliday’s text but it still shows the impact of political events on the studies of IR. The text is well-written and comprehensible, however, one question arises for me and that is how an outcome due to misconceptions and a rational intention are mutually exclusive as stated by Halliday in the context of realist assumptions? Saddam could have had intentions based on rational thinking; however, these rational ideas could have been based on misjudgements. Even tough this point is not clear to me, the overall message of the article, namely that the war presented new realities and facts which cannot be satisfactorily explained by existing theories and, therefore, a revision and partial reconsideration has to take place, is still an important conclusion. This shows that IR theories cannot be rigid and that constant improvement is important if they want to be able to explain and discuss political events in a future international arena.