the "unprovoked" kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Historical context be
damned, when it comes to waging war, my friends: pretext rules the day. All
a belligerent government needs is a good international incident to inflame
them...and if no such incident should occur, well, don't look now but here
comes the U.S.S. Maine steaming down the Tonkin Gulf.
It's an excuse we all learn in childhood: "He started it" or "She hit me
first." From this rudimentary alibi grows the convenient myth of the
"sleeping giant." By portraying oneself as the unwitting target of an
unwarranted sneak attack; all the bases are covered. Not only are you
claiming innocence and the role of victim, you might even be excused for
reacting angrily...maybe even with a little too much force.
This week marks 16 years since one such "overreaction."
The start of the first Gulf war in 1990 offered a fine illustration of the
sleeping giant concept. On July 25, 1990, now-deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein entertained a special guest at the presidential palace in Baghdad:
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie. At their meeting (also attended by
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz), Glaspie told the Iraqi ruler, "I
have direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with
Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices,
the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait," before asking
Saddam, point blank: "Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait's
on our dispute with Kuwait," replied Hussein, deploying his own rendition of
wartime spin. "There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give
negotiations only this one more brief chance."
When asked what solutions would be acceptable, Hussein was forthright: "If
we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab-our strategic goal in our war
with Iran-we will make concessions. But, if we are forced to choose between
keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq [Hussein views Kuwait as
part of Iraq] then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on
Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. What is the
United States' opinion on this?"
Then, Glaspie dropped the bombshell: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab
conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait," she answered. "Secretary [of
State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given
to Iraq in the 1960's that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America."
One can only imagine the gleam in Saddam Hussein's eyes.
Kuwait and, in the process, provided President George H.W. Bush with the
perfect excuse to unleash the dogs of war. Until we begin to recognize these
patterns and until we stop falling for the sleeping giant myth, sales of
yellow ribbons will remain brisk.
Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American
Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be
found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.