GEORGE H.W BUSH. The Middle East Legacy

The passing of the 41st President of the United States was met with fulsome praise of the man and his presidency by the US media and political figures, some of it exorbitant. They pointed out his statesmanlike and gentlemanly manners, undoubtedly in many cases, to juxtapose Bush to the demeanor of President Trump. In fact  during his presidency he was often ridiculed by the same media and politicians for his supposedly  wimpy nature.

george Bush sr

In reality he was a courageous man, both morally and physically. Elitist in  education  and patrician in nature, he was far different from the elitist set that dominant our educational and media institutions today. He was a navy  pilot in WWII, shot down by the Japanese  and rescued at sea  by an American submarine. He was one of the “greatest generation,” It certainly puts to shame the present generations of safe space seekers and whiners. Unlike the elite of today, of whom many seek to undermine our way of life, the elite of those days chose to fight for their country in the most impressive ways, such as  in the OSS and other elite organizations.

He will be remembered by those who, at least, have some small knowledge of history  as making the painful decision to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait after it was occupied by the Iraqi military. It was painful because generally the people who have experienced  at first hand the death and destruction of  war are the ones most reluctant to  send young people to die in another one.  Some of the same pundits who poured praise on Bush at his passing were extremely critical of his decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the expulsion of the Iraqis from Kuwait, (The build up called Desert Shield and the actual operation called Desert Storm) . In particular ,I remember one well-known NPR/PBS journalist who posited  Saudis would resist American troops despoiling their sanctified Islamic soil, emerging from their villas to toss Molotov cocktails at the troops. This view, of course, is typical of the Chatham House version of the Middle East, ( see blog” Kedourie…”) It is the view that the Arabs are all one nation forcibly divided by European Powers, who are the main culprits in Middle Eastern disorder.  As one world united by “Islam, history and language” the Arabs would rise up as one to prevent Western intrusion into their homeland.

Saddam 1990

pep talk to the troops

As I have written elsewhere the “Arab world” is a myth, and Desert Storm is just one of many example to illustrate it. but of course the myth persists because it is simple, adaptable to slogans, and fits in with the zeitgeist  of this era. To some extend George Bush fell prey to this widespread notion that is indoctrinated in our  academic institutions.

As far as I know there is no term for this but one could call it the “Neville Chamberlain”  syndrome, the attitude among those brought up in gated or genteel communities that tyrants can be reasoned with. As Chamberlain stated, “Hitler is a man I can deal with.” Hitler, Stalin and Saddam were not men who could be reasoned with. They are more like animals than human in that they can smell weakness or fear.They are sociopath and must be dealt with as such,


 Neville Chamberlain who thought he came home with peace for our time.

In the end it was a courageous decision of President Bush to put troops in Saudi Arabia. Heavy weights in the Government and media were forecasting immense American casualties.  The American military seriously misjudged the quality of the Iraqi army, forecasting thirty thousand American casualties, I briefed many units prior to their deployment to the Gulf and it was obvious from the soldiers questions that American networks had presented a picture of a professional Iraqi army that did not exist. General Powell , Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was perhaps the wobbliest of all…always urging caution and seeing a possible catastrophe if we went ahead with a military confrontation. The liberal leadership in the congress were dead set against it and the military establishment was dragging their feet.  At the top only Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, was urging direct action, As one might expect,  the academic community was busily propagating  a story of an Arab world ready to revolt should the United States militarily confront Saddam Hussein.  Saddam had replaced Nasser as the new hero of Arab nationalism (posthumously he still is in many quarters)

desert storm

Desert Storm the military cakewalk

So President Bush gets high marks in my book for a courageous decision that also happened to n be  right one. He went against the “informed class” as most of the Western world leadership and elite were willing to trade Kuwait for “peace.” It would have been an ephemeral  one as the Iraqis  were already probing the borders between Saudi Arabs and Kuwait. Whether they actually would have invaded or not is mostly irrelevant, as a weak and mostly friendless Saudi regime, accustomed to buying off enemies, and no longer sure of American support, would have their oil policies dictated by Saddam.

But there was another  side to all of this above. The policies of the senior Bush administration prior to the Iraqi invasion of Iraq were weak, seemingly opaque, but very clear to Saddam. We would do nothing to militarily support  Kuwait against Iraq.  Kuwait would simply  “revert” to being the 19th province of Iraq, (Actually it never was, but it was part of the Basra province under the Ottoman empire.) Many tomes of erudite Middle East histories were written on that subject. It was all an example of the Chamberlain syndrome. Bush, the consummate international diplomatist believed that Saddam could be “moderated.”


 Gulf war I an unfinished war

President Bush the senior, inherited from previous administrations a legacy of sucking up to Saddam. Americans also had a bad record of “cutting and running” when things became dicey, The ignominious  American withdrawals from Vietnam in 1975 and  Beirut in 1983 were often referred to in Saddam’s monologues with his minions during ministerial meetings. No doubt they were a critical part of his considerations in invading Kuwait.

Previous administrations had given Iraq loans, reopened amicable relations, shared intelligence reports, and even protected tankers  carrying Iraqi oil from Iranian attacks.

President Bush the senior continued this policy and enlarged on it, removing Iraq from the sponsor of terrorism list, and taking every opportunity to bestow praise on Saddam every time he mentioned the word “peace.” The corporation I worked for in 1986 sent a team over to help Iraq set up an air defense network. Only the Iraq chemical attack on the  Kurds in Halabjah   scuttled the ongoing contracts.At the time every Western government was flooding Iraq with salesmen  looking to cash in on the lucrative and corrupt Iraqi thirst for more armament.

Basically we had no policy toward Iraq or plan on the shelf to militarily confront Saddam. Ambassador April Glaspie, our ambassador to Iraq was called in to Saddam’s office and essentially told that if Kuwait didn’t hand over its sovereignty to Iraq Saddam would take it by force. Ambassador Glaspie had never had a previous one on one with Saddam. After the usual blather about hopes for peace, Glaspie uttered the infamous words, “The United Takes no position on the Iraqi – Kuwaiti dispute.” This of course was a green flag for Saddam.

It was a symptom of the Western hope to bring Saddam in to the civilized world, but in truth it had more to do with making money. This diplomatic and financial rapprochement was zealously supported  by Western governments downplaying  the murderous Iraqi regime war on their own people,  ( until the chemical attack on the Kurds could not be buried.) or merely offering tepid admonitions, If one could play to his monstrous ego by stroking his vanity, lavishing praise, invitations to world leaders conferences perhaps he could be reigned in, or so the idea went. Generally  Saddam viewed these overtures with. contempt.

kurdish child

Kurdish girl in Halajah

At the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, President Bush fell prey once more to the Arab world mythology. Apparently  assorted Arab leaders plus the usual “Arabists” in the CIA and State Department convinced Bush that should the Americans push on into Iraq to topple Saddam, there would be a general upheaval all over the “Arab world.” Besides, as the experts told Bush, Saddam would not survive such a catastrophic defeat. In so many words Bush urged the Kurds and Shi’a to revolt and then when many did, the  Bush administration looked the other way and the Iraqi Republican Guard with a myriad of security forces crushed the rebellions. Saddam turned the defeat into a great victory, “we stood against 35 nations and prevailed.”

As they say ” the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” But the lessons of the Reagan and Bush administrations were not learned as the Chamberlain syndrome continues unabated.

مجموعه سیمای رهبری معظم انقلاب اسلامی

the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, “show us the money”

Apparently history is not deeply appreciated by American presidents because President Obama indulged in one of the most bizarre attempts to influence the Iranian Regime by sending a plane load of cash to ensure their adherence to the “nuclear agreement” or hostages or ?

I doubt the mullahs have a well developed sense of humor but if they did it would bring a lot of laughs at the Mullah Club between their hot tea and surreptitious sips  of Chivas  Regal.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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