Iraq war, 1991

[from the paper archive: in which I apparently provide, despite myself, a prescient historical rationale by which an indirect link could be drawn between Iraq and international terrorism]

1 March 1991

Let me lay out my most recent thoughts on the conflict in the Persian Gulf.
George [H.W.] Bush, as his opening salvo in this conflict last August [1990], compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler. This made good politics when the objective was to inflame public passion to the point where we would all rally ’round the war effort, but it seems to me that the historical parallel is misplaced. I think Saddam will prove to bear a greater resemblance to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was on the losing side in World War I. The parallel to Hitler in the Middle East is yet to arise.

I say this based on what the prospect appears to be for the terms of a peace settlement with Iraq. The U. S. has insisted on compliance with all UN resolutions, including the payment of reparations. Today, when asked about reconstruction of Iraq, Bush said he does not want to see “one dime” of taxpayer’s money spent for such a purpose. If this attitude prevails, then the postwar terms of peace will roughly resemble the punitive peace imposed on Germany at the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was required to pay reparations to other countries at a staggering annual rate, and the attempt to do so contributed to runaway inflation and ultimate economic collapse in Germany. The ongoing sense of humiliation associated with that punitive peace treaty engendered in the national consciousness a frustration and anger which was given voice by Hitler in Mein Kampf, and created the climate in which Hitler was able to gain control of the country as a spokesman for a new and strident German nationalism as leader of the National Socialist Party.

Nor is it necessary for the new Hitler to come, in the next generation or so, from Iraq. To continue the parallel, Saddam’s Iraq is to the Arab world what the Kaiser’s Prussia was to all Germany, which included in Hitler’s vision Austria, parts of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and other places not under German political control. Already there is a sense of pan-Arab nationalism which exists as an ideal for many in the Middle East, under which the national boundaries drawn by withdrawing colonial powers earlier in this century make little sense. The arbitrariness (and unfairness) of such boundaries served as part of Saddam’s rationale for the annexation of Kuwait. That the concept of a single Arab nation is part of the Platform of some of the more radical existing regimes is shown by the symbolic declaration a few years ago made by Libya and Syria, to the effect that their two nations were to be thought of as one. though that declaration had negligible practical effect, it represents the kind of thing that apparently plays well to the Arabic masses.

Someone last week pointed out to me a flaw in this scenario, noting that since the suffering of the Germans after WWI was largely due to the high cost of reparations, all of which were made to nations outside of the German sphere of influence, my analogy does not hold since the bulk of reparations required by the UN resolutions are to be paid to Kuwait, which is within the larger Arab nation of which I speak. I was mulling this over yesterday when I heard through news reports that already 70% of the reconstruction in Kuwait is contracted to companies based in the United States — companies which are also major suppliers of the U.S. military. If that figure is at 70% this early in the game, my bet is that as smaller companies from the United States and Europe jump on the bandwagon, you will find virtually none of the money paid for reconstruction remaining in Arab hands. In fact, this war will have assured that not only Iraq but Kuwait and even (for the short term at least) Saudi Arabia will come out of it as debtor nations, with the long-term benefit coming to the United States.

One more thing. The Arabs won’t need an orator as great as Hitler to persuade them that the Jews are really to blame for all their troubles.

Conclusion? In the long run, vengeance and punishment — both military and economic — will backfire.


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