Archive from August, 2010
1 Aug
2010
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20 Years Later: Lessons on Global Peace from the 1990 Kuwaiti Invasion

August 2nd, 2010 marks the twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. While this event may be a distant and insignificant memory to most, it remains a real event in my life, as one of the 2 million who woke up early that morning without a home. The majority of us who resided in Kuwait were thankfully vacationing abroad. Yet our concerns and fears were drawn to family and friends who were now among the 500 thousand “guests” of our northern neighbor, Saddam Hussein.

In late August 1990, my family decided to settle in North Carolina. Southern hospitality was at its finest when we were welcomed and embraced by the Greensboro community who sought to lend their assistance. Cell phones, which were at the time actually bag phones, were carried by a select few. The Internet was in its infancy, and I had no opportunity to connect with the people who were a major part of my life up until this point. In the coming months, CNN would only begin to realize its global reach with its 24 hour news cycle as the world witnessed for the first time in history a war, live on television.

Having spent much of my early years as a member of the American expatriate community, I reflect upon America’s self worth from those who lived within her borders, those who had become my new neighbors, my new friends and classmates, and my new church congregation. I reflect upon their view of an America caught within a major internal debate as to its role in the world. This is a view that has become even more prevalent today and it is one that I certainly do not share. I harbor no such conflicts and believe now as I did then that America must lead.

In discussing a resolution to this crisis, I recall being astonished at the three major arguments, circulating at that time, regarding America’s role and the world’s response to the invasion. The first was that a peaceful solution to Kuwaiti liberation would be possible through the use of sanctions. Sanctions do not work, especially in the Middle East. This revered tool is a repulsive trait of global diplomacy. Sanctions are merely a delay of responsibility by nations who choose not to deal with a crisis. War was the only clear path to liberation and freedom for the Kuwaitis. Sanctions take years and decades to achieve a non-result at the expense of innocent civilians. Those who argued for sanctions also demonstrated a lack of understanding around the relentless mind of Middle Eastern people. Sanctions would continue to harm those who lived under the rule of a despotic regime whose only concern was for its hold on power, not its citizens. Those in power can and often do patiently wait out the global community and they continue to work towards fulfilling their objectives. Thankfully, the vision and resolute nature of Margaret Thatcher compelled the elder George Bush to stand firm when she noted that this was not the time to go “wobbly.”

The second argument was that war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was surely going to yield heavy casualties for the US and her allies and therefore should not be fought. Proponents of this argument believed that Saddam’s army was well equipped and battle hardened after its brutal eight year war with Iran. This was utter nonsense. When a weak army (Iraq) defeats a weaker army (Iran), only the weak army remains. Who was able to stand up against the might of the United States? Why the lack of confidence in American power by those who possess it? The Vietnam syndrome that has plagued virtually every American military intervention since the early 1970s may answer this question, but it is a poor answer. This syndrome was born of nothing more than the fear of making a commitment that is politically unpopular. Those of us who lived in the Middle East understood that there was no nation on earth that was able to stand up to American power. We also knew that only the United States was capable of winning. The US was the superpower that protected the nations of the world from the aggressors, and in this conflict, the US would be the victor in a short war.

Finally, and perhaps the most ridiculous idea of all was that the United Nations would provide the leadership to resolve global aggression. Believing that the United Nations is able to play a vital leadership role in resolving global conflicts is fanciful. There has been only two times in history when the UN has acted militarily to assert and enforce its resolutions and even then, it was not the UN, but the United States that provided the leadership. The first was during the Korean War and the second was during the first Gulf War. I still recoil today thinking about how one of my classmates spoke on the momentous victory the United Nations achieved, days after the war had ended. Victory for the UN? The implication that the United States followed obsequiously behind the skirt of the United Nations diminishes the values and ideals of liberty and freedom from the nation that embodies them, while at the same time lifting up those who clearly are not defined by those principles. The United States and only the United States provided the leadership during that conflict. Without America, Kuwait would never have been liberated.

All of these arguments were and are still wrong. Despite my insistence that war, not sanctions, was the solution, that war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would be easy and quick, and despite my dismissal of the UN’s ability to provide leadership apart from the US, my new friends and neighbors in the States, and not surprisingly the media, begged to differ. At times it takes those who have lived abroad to clearly see how the world works.

The 1980s was a great decade to live in and experience. I lived in a Middle East that was rapidly changing. Oil revenue continued to bring opportunities, development, and prosperity to the Arabian Peninsula. Yet, the Lebanese civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Iran-Iraq war were constant news-worthy events. Familiarity with Hafez al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stood in sharp contrast to leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The paradox for the US is that while America was believed to create burdens and spread misery to the peoples of the Middle East, it was also believed to be the only nation with the moral obligation to step in, stop the threats, and enforce the peace. While many may argue that our presence there since the 1990 military buildup is objectionable to Arabs and the Muslim world, I have rarely come across anyone from the region who truly objects to that presence. The issue rather is whether the US will protect her allies there, or will she cower and flee as she has in the past.

The arguments for the United States taking a muted international role were the same in the early 90s as they are today. We are told that the end of the Cold War has given us no reason to maintain military might, and that it is time to turn our attention to domestic matters, rather than continue to bear the burdens of those overseas. We are also told that due to our large deficits, the world can no longer count on us for international peace, nor can our consumers be counted on to absorb the world’s exports and drive global economic prosperity. Rather, we are told that the United States should “reset” her relations with the world and take on the role of intermediary. These arguments are false. There is no other nation that has the economic and military power to succeed, nor is there any other nation that has the political might and moral obligation to protect and extend peace.

We are able to be effective intermediaries. The United States is the only nation ever to have become a super power without seeking to be one. We have acted credibly and as an honest broker during an age when other powerful nations have only sought to expand their borders and subjugate other nations and peoples for their own gain. We protect Europe, the Middle East, South Korea, and much of the world, and we have been invited to do so by the governments of these regions. We protect the seas and the air. We provide humanitarian aid, monetary aid, and industrial and commercial know-how.

We have also, until the current presidential administration, supported democratic revolutions such as the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. Yet to assume that the role of intermediary is our purpose while we limit military intervention and focus on domestic issues is to misunderstand the essence of peace, and demonstrate a basic understanding of how the world operates. Yes, we have pursued our national self-interests, and yes, we have made mistakes, however, the United States has been the greatest force for good in history. Our leadership has provided greater political freedom and economic prosperity to the world than any other nation, at any other time.

For the world to maintain peace, the United States must remain strong. Peace is not, as some assume, the cessation of hostilities between nations based upon a set of agreed conditions that are never enforced. Nor is peace true peace if safety needs to be guaranteed. Any agreement reached on peace and safety upon that premise is not peace as it implies that we cannot trust one another. If history is any guide, it tells us that evil exists, and eventually one nation will resume hostilities. Only with the complete defeat and surrender of our enemies can the process of true peace be achieved and confirmed through strength. The United States is the only nation that can ensure and nurture an enduring peace.

To be strong at home, we must be strong abroad. How can we foster domestic growth and prosperity when we have allowed foreign aggressors to threaten peace? If we cannot sell our goods and services abroad, if other nations cannot sell their goods and services, how are we to become prosperous? How are we to provide the means for maintaining our infrastructures, our justice, and our charity? If global peace is at risk, no amount of domestic policies, stimuli, or entitlements will make us economically vibrant and fiscally strong. If we are not strong abroad, we will be weak at home. With the world drunk off of American prosperity and security, if we are weak abroad, no nation will be strong at home.

If we do not lead, who will? The United Nations? As I previously mentioned, the UN has only provided true leadership twice to enforce resolutions, and then only through American leadership. Are we willing to submit to a global body whose vital interests reflect the whims of despots and tyrannical regimes? The UN will never act of its own accord to be the enforcer of peace and the mouthpiece of freedom. Do we also place American troops under UN leadership? This is immoral, not only for the United States but for any nation. To place our sons and daughters in the trust of an international body hostile to American interests is an abrogation of the president’s oath of office and duty as the Commander in Chief. If not UN leadership, who remains? China? Russia? Venezuela? Iran? If we seek to diminish our role, who among the nations will fill the void? I assure you someone will. No, our political and economic values born of the American Revolution compels us to a leading role. It is our moral duty.

The policies of the past two years have not provided the United States with policy advancements for the cause of peace. We sided with socialist Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, and, even worse, legitimized the Iranian regime by turning our backs on Iran’s pro-democracy and pro-freedom demonstrators. Our president palled up with the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and sought to open relations with Syria, a supporter of Hamas. We have also stated our timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, again, reinforcing too many in the world that we tire from our commitments. Would we have the will to stand against a nuclear Iran or North Korea if we leave Iraq prematurely, or if we choose failure in Afghanistan?

Our foreign policy must protect our vital interests, but we must also protect those values and ideals that make us Americans. We must support democracy. We must encourage economic freedom. We must stand for human rights. We must stand for liberty against those that oppress. This is our purpose. If we do not, no one will. If we fail to answer this call, no one will stand for us. My reflections upon the unfortunate circumstances that befell my family as a result of the Iraqi invasion, and the skill our military demonstrated in liberating Kuwait and protecting her neighbors leads me to one conclusion. America must lead.