(Autumn 1995) Rarely has the lesson that aggression produces unexpected - and unhappy -- results been more clearly illustrated than in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. On the fourth anniversary of Saddam's August 2, 1990, attack it is not only defeated Iraq that is paying the price. The politics of the Arab world has been changed forever, and for the worse. The principal victim is the dream of Arab unity that has been shattered and replaced by mutual distrust and suspicion.
Saddam's aggression and the United Nations war against him, in which many Arab states took a prominent role, have brought about the demise of the long-cherished nationalist dream of Arab unity, a surge in fundamentalist Islamic sentiment, and the near-insolvency of once fabulously rich Arab oil states. The Iraqi aggression has left a legacy of mistrust that has set Arab against Arab brother.
The other principal result of Saddam's war of conquest, combined with the collapse of communism and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, was the breakup of the Arab front against Israel. The Madrid peace conference, regional negotiations, and Israel's agreements with the PLO and Jordan were the logical consequences.
Said one Western diplomat in the region: "It has been near cataclysmic ... the upheaval is unprecedented."
"People elsewhere," he continued, "are delighted by the thought that the Middle East has been tamed and may no longer present a real threat to the peace of the world. But the region itself is seething with extremism and resentment. No one knows where it will all lead to."
Arab and Western diplomats and analysts express the sober view that, despite Arab-Israeli breakthroughs, the region probably has never been as unstable and divided as it is now.
Arab governments eye each other and Islamic neighbors such as Turkey and Iran with increasing mistrust. Kuwait and its Persian Gulf allies still are deeply suspicious of Iraq, which has remained defiant despite its defeat. But they also are growing increasingly wary of the Islamic fundamentalist rulers of Iran and of their allies in Yemen and Sudan.
The level of distrust was evident at the margins of the United Nations Security Council session in mid-July, which was held to review the sanctions against Iraq. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said they are opposed to the lifting of sanctions because Iraq has not fulfilled all cease-fire conditions, especially recognition of Kuwait's sovereignty and compensation to war victims.
The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
"On behalf of our foreign ministers," said Saudi Arabia's ambassador, Gaafar Allagany, "we appeal to certain countries not to give in to an Iraqi request to add a paragraph to a possible Security Council statement that would recognize Iraqi progress in cooperating with the U.N." on monitoring its weapons program. Progress may have been made, the ambassador said, but by far not enough.
The trauma of the invasion and the occupation remains the heaviest in Kuwait, whose security worries are growing as Baghdad steps up a campaign to have U.N. sanctions lifted, without obeying its cease-fire obligations to the emirate. Kuwait has dismissed olive branches offered by Baghdad to its Arab neighbors as a cynical public relations ploy aimed at the international community. "Saddam still is the Great Satan and he poses a major threat to the security of the region in general," said Abdullah al-Shayeji, a political scientist at Kuwait University.
Kuwaitis have unfinished business they want settled before Baghdad is allowed to sell its oil on the international market and resume unrestrained foreign trade. In the first instance, Kuwait demands the return of some 600 Kuwaitis believed detained during the occupation and recognition by Baghdad of the border demarcated by the U.N. Above all, Kuwait wants an unequivocal recognition of its sovereignty by Baghdad.
But Iraq has long denied that it holds any Kuwaitis. It has refused to recognize the border explicitly and authoritatively. And Iraq, especially its controlled media, continues to speak of Kuwait as its own 19th province.
Said Kuwait's crown prince and prime minister, Shaikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah: "The prisoners issue is not a slogan we raise to impress the world. This is our prime problem and our prisoners of war are our brothers and sons."
Added a Western diplomat: "The Kuwaiti logic seems impeccable. If the pressure eases before he fully complies, Saddam will conclude that we are a bunch of wimps and sit back until the remaining sanctions fall away with disuse."
The Security Council saw it the same way. In its mid-July review of the sanctions against Iraq, it voted to extend them for another two months. The majority view was expressed by United States Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who said it is premature to begin serious discussion of whether the council can be satisfied that Iraq's intentions are peaceful.
"We are convinced," she said, "that the cooperation we have seen to date will cease once Iraq is able to sell its oil on the world market."