Warning Against a Gulf War (Jan. 1991)

The Gulf : neither Munich nor Lady Macbeth

by Gwydion M. Williams

When The Economist starts talking about a Munich in the Gulf, as they do in their December 8th editorial, the chances of peace must be quite good. The Economist has been all in favour of destroying Iraq and Saddam Hussein – that is, they have been since the Cold War came to an end and a world of peaceful competition looked set to succeed it.  The Economist during 1989 had been looking for some new enemy for the West to fear and confront. The Middle East seemed the best place to find such a target: Saddam Hussein was already being set up even before he decided to grab Kuwait.

It was not as if The Economist hadn’t known just what sort of regime Saddam was running all through the 1980s. But in those days, the Cold War seemed in no danger of coming to an end. Both Gorbachev and Deng had been cheered on as they unleashed forces that were bound to disrupt the societies they were responsible for. With Deng discredited and Gorbachev faced with total disaster, there was a real danger of global peace breaking out. Peace, a world with far less fears and worries, would not at all suit The Economist’s tough-talking and moderately New Right view of the world. If people see that they can make a good live for themselves, why shouldn’t they do so, rather than carrying on with the sort of unending rat race that the New Right admire?

Munich was a disaster, because Hitler was given everything he asked for. Had it been the case that he had unexpectedly grabbed the whole of Czechoslovakia, and had he then been negotiated into giving up everything except the Sudetenland, that would have been something quite different.  Hitler’s claim to the Sudetenland was actually a good one. Munich led on to world war, because he was left with the impression that no one would stop him whatever he did.

Another difference was that Czechoslovakia was the best and most democratic state in East or Central Europe, while Germany under Hitler was the worst. This does not apply in the Gulf. Kuwaitis were greedy autocratic slave-owners. Saudis are so intolerant of other religions, that the very Western troops who are being asked to die for the Saudi princes could not be buried in their kingdom. Saudis have a very narrow interpretation of Islam. Unlike most Muslim countries, they will not tolerate private Christian or Jewish ceremonies, not even burial.

Iraq is very far from being the worst state in the Arab world. You could say that it was the most vicious and brutal to anyone who opposes it – though there are other states that run it pretty close. But Iraq is also a secular state, tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities, provided that they do not challenge state power. Like Franco’s Spain, it seems quite capable of evolving on western liberal lines – something that Saudi Arabia is very determined not to do.

While other journals on the left have talked about a ‘new imperialism’, L&TUR has held that what Bush and Thatcher was doing was stupid, against the long-term and even the medium-term interests of Western capitalism. This did not mean that there would be no war. There still could be. But it meant that Bush & Co. would face bitter opposition from people who would normally be their supporters.

With the fall of Thatcher, the potential Gulf tragedy has lost its Lady Macbeth. A woman who urges men to war and acts of violence is especially dangerous, because she can shame the men into acting out of a sense of pride. I don’t think Bush would have acted without her, and with her gone he seems to be looking for the first convenient excuse to call it all off.

Is there anyone else lurking in the background, urging Bush to be ‘bloody, bold and resolute’. If there is, I suggest that Mr Bush go see Macbeth again, and think carefully.

[Bush Senior made a bad choice.  Humiliated Secular Iraq, but  left it intact in the hope that Saddam would be replaced by someone similar but more obedient.  Then bent the rules when it looked like Saddam would be replaced by Religious Shia.  The very element that now dominated the weak official government of Iraq.

[Enormous suffering was inflicted on Iraq because of a pig-headed Western determination to replace Saddam by someone very like Saddam, but different enough to convince the Western public that this was a success for the West.  This suffering was part of what made al-Qaeda wage war on the Western powers that had nurtured them during their war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.]

These comment appeared in Newsnotes for January 1991, in Issue 21 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/.