The 1990-1991 Kuwait Crisis Remembered: Profiles in Statesmanship

For the last twenty-seven years, today has marked the anniversary of an infamous event: Iraq’s brutal invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait, which began on August 2, 1990, and which was brought to an end on February 28, 1991. The regional and international effects of numerous aspects of the trauma then inflicted upon Kuwait remain ongoing. Like Kuwait itself, the world, even now, has yet to fully recover.

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony was one of the first American civilians into Kuwait following its liberation. He would return there twelve times over following year with delegations of American leaders tasked with assisting in one or more facets of the war-torn country’s reconstruction. He is here with his escort observing one among over 650 of Kuwait’s oil wells set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi armed forces. Photo: National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

Over a quarter century later, important postwar facets of what Iraq did to Kuwait fall short of definitive closure. And they defy effective description. The international legal requirement that an aggressor provide prompt, adequate, and effective compensation for a war’s victims was not honored at the end of hostilities. Despite continuing United Nations-supervised efforts to collect on this inhumane debt, what is due has still not been paid.

The Missing in Action and Context

A full accounting of Kuwait’s and other countries’ missing citizens swept up and carted off to Iraq in the war’s waning hours – in the immediate aftermath of the conflict its main cause celebre – continues to remain incomplete.  The reason is not for lack of effort.  After Kuwait’s liberation, an informal and unofficial effort was mounted by George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to provide an estimate of the MIAs’ status.

The focus group included diplomats, scholars, media representatives, American armed forces’ civil affairs personnel, and other individuals who fought to liberate Kuwait. Their unscientific consensus reported that more than 400 of the missing Kuwaitis died after they were captured. The fate of more than 200 of the missing, however, was unknown.

In the immediate hours and early days following Kuwait’s liberation, when none of the country’s electric power, desalination water purification plants, and far more of the country’s infrastructure were left operative, and domestic security prospects had been rendered uncertain, armed personnel carriers and mounted automatic weaponry units were omnipresent in the country. Photo: Dr. John Duke Anthony.

That possibly countless others remain missing is no small matter. The numbers in question, to some, may seem few. Not so, however, for those among the loved ones who tear up at the thought of them. Not so either for those who, despite the absence of grounds to warrant optimism for a fortuitous ending to their pining, and continue to wait and pray for their return.

We Americans would do well to stop and think about this for a moment. We are often criticized, and rightly so, for having an empathy deficit when it comes to understanding the suffering of people in other countries and situations. An irony in this needs to be understood and underscored. The irony is that many in the United States demand that people in other countries understand us. For those in front of an American Consular Officer with ticket in hand to visit a friend or relative in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, or wherever, but who lack such empathy along with the understanding and civility that comes with it, they need to be wished good luck in obtaining a visa to the United States.

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Dr. John Duke Anthony Meets With Mahmoud Abbas

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony met privately with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today following Abbas’ visit with President Trump at The White House.

Dr. John Duke Anthony with Mahmoud Abbas.

Dr. John Duke Anthony with Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, D.C., on May 3, 2017.

 

Dr. John Duke Anthony on “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?”

On May 11, 2016, Dr. John Duke Anthony spoke to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs on the subject “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?” A video recording of the program is available below, and a podcast of the program is also available below as well as in iTunes with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

Dr. John Duke Anthony – “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?” podcast (.mp3)

In Memoriam, A Giant Has Fallen: Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016)

This past week, a larger than life figure among us fell physically. Although in our presence his body is no more, as example, as role model, and as inspiration, he is still in front of, beside, and behind us – and will remain so for a very long time to come.

Ambassador Clovis Maksoud’s reputation was legendary as far back as during my studies at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in the 1960s.

Whenever one had the privilege and pleasure to meet and be with as well as briefed by Clovis, regardless of the subject, one could not but revel in his perennially upbeat personality and marvel at the many unrivaled aspects of his professionalism. Among humanity’s orally gifted and silver-tongued orators, Clovis could be, and in numerous instances was, nothing short of spellbinding. Certainly, he earned my awe early on. Never once in my presence did he use notes or even have, for easy recall, a slip of paper tucked away on which he had written something.

Whatever the subject he happened to be addressing, Clovis was invariably not only articulate; he was also frequently eloquent. His delivery and diction were flawless. Indeed, one at times had reason to wonder whether he had switched languages, for his use of English could be inventive – more than a few will acknowledge that, sometimes, it took a bit of getting used to the kinds of words and phrases he used with unsurpassed exactitude to hammer home his points. Even now one can hear him thundering about the cause that remained to the end dearer to him than any other, that of the Palestinians.

Who can forget Clovis’ forever repeating that, among the biggest obstacles to strengthening and expanding the Arab-U.S. relationship were the United States’ history and policies with respect to Palestine? These, he never tired of emphasizing, lay at the heart of what he aptly termed America’s “crisis of conscience.”

H.E. Ambassador Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016).

H.E. Ambassador Clovis Maksoud (1926-2016).

What Clovis was and stood for to the last – in the way of unbridled conviction, steadfast commitment, and unflinching moral courage – are bedrock guidelines by which one can live a purposeful, meaningful, and contributive life. What he epitomized – in his manners and elemental decency, in his unfailing kindness, and in his manifesting the gamut of Arab, Islamic, Middle Eastern Christian, Druze, and other humanistic values, ideals, and principles to which so many aspire – has left an indelible impression not just upon me but many.

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The Establishment of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Office in Washington, D.C.

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony recently returned from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He arrived on the heels of President Obama’s second summit meeting with representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, together with the GCC Secretary General. Following is a special report on a little-noted development that transpired at the meetings.

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At the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday, April 21 in Riyadh for a U.S.-GCC Summit.

One of Obama’s primary goals for the summit was to reassure these U.S. strategic allies and partners that the United States is committed to countering threats to the GCC.

U.S. Statements of Intentions

The president could not have been clearer in stating that, “I reaffirm the policy of the United States to use all elements of our power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and our partners.”

In the same vein, Obama was tough on Iran in his rhetoric, noting that the United States, even with its nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, has “serious concerns about Iranian behavior.”

Obama and the GCC leaders also spoke about other issues including ISIS, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and Lebanon.

President Barack Obama met with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 21, 2016. The summit meeting came almost a year after Obama hosted his GCC counterparts in the United States for a summit at Camp David. Photo: The White House.

President Barack Obama met with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 21, 2016. The summit meeting came almost a year after Obama hosted his GCC counterparts in the United States for a summit at Camp David. Photo: The White House.

King Salman said the summit was “constructive and fruitful” and thanked Obama for “enhancing the consultation and cooperation between the GCC countries and the U.S.”

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Arabia to Asia: The Myths of an American “Pivot” and Whether or Not There’s a U.S. Strategy Toward the GCC Region

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That the foreign policies of various governments often appear to be confusing or contradictory is because they frequently are. During Barack Obama’s presidency, such inconsistency has seemed to characterize aspects of America’s relations with the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies it is among the things that Obama has sought to dispel and clarify in the course successively of his March 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia, his May 2015 summit at Camp David with senior leaders of all six GCC countries, and his mid-April 2016 attendance at a similar meeting with leaders of the same countries. As this essay seeks to demonstrate, what he has had to contend with – and what others of late have had to contend with regarding aspects of his administration — in terms of background, context, and perspective has not been easy of resolution, amelioration, or even abatement.

Assumptions, Ambitions, and Abilities

Dating from before and since these high-level GCC-U.S. meetings, Washington has taken steps to strengthen and extend America’s overall position and influence in the GCC region. A principal means for doing so has been through the GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.[1] But one example among several was when former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, came with approvals for billions of dollars in sales of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, and arms to GCC countries, together with long-term munitions and maintenance contracts.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Yet, simultaneously, signals from Washington and the mainstream U.S. media before and since Obama’s meetings with his GCC counterparts have not always been as clear as the signalers thought would or should be the case. That said, what specialists have had no doubt about for some time is that the Obama administration is recalibrating the strategic focus of its international priorities in hopes of being able to accomplish two objectives at the same time. One objective has been, and continues to be, a steadfast resolve to remain committed to the security, stability, and prospects for prosperity in the GCC region. The other has been and remains a parallel determination to emphasize the Asia-Pacific regions.

Affecting the need for such a recalibration have been major U.S. budget reductions and their impact on strategic concepts, forces, and operational dynamics. At issue and under examination in this regard, according to the Secretary of Defense in advance of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, America’s assumptions, ambitions, and abilities.

Understandably, the GCC region’s reaction to these trends and indications was and continues to be mixed.

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