This article analyses followings, how the first Gulf War started, how it developed, what are the significant elements of it, how it ended and what remained. This paper, of course, provides its own explanations which are not arbitrary ones but which explanations are made only after a critical thinking process. Here, the methodology that forms the basis of this critical thinking is, precisely, not determinism. Hence, this paper, on one hand, attaches importance to scientificness so that conclusions based on personal ideas, inferences are highly avoided. On the other hand, some personal experiences are also shared in later parts of the article as observations made by the writer in the field, Iraq. The first Gulf war is considered based upon some central pillars which are also key elements that structure contemporary international relations; these are survival, self-help, and statism. In this respect, this paper regards the war as a result of anarchic structuration of the international system and thus provides a frame in which given explanations meet the practical actions.
Keywords: anarchy, international relations, the gulf war, Iraq, Kuwait, Persian Gulf
USSR’s collapse might be considered as an appropriate threshold in terms of understanding the first Gulf War. After the unexpected fall of Iron Curtain, the cold war era has ended which even interpreted as the end of history by Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama declared the ultimate victory of liberal democracy over its main alternative, socialism. This huge change naturally started a period of relief and resulted in Saddam Hussein to think that an attack to Kuwait wouldn’t be considered as a Soviet bid by United States. Here, at the very first, it is necessary to provide a set of reasons in order to empower the links that lie in the roots of the idea of attacking Kuwait. Firstly, Iraqis had been in a war with Iran for eight years which actually was causing an economic depression in Iraq. Secondly, Iraq had raised a historical claim on Kuwait’s territory by dating to 1871 in which Kuwait was bounded to Basra which now is in Iraq’s territory. Thirdly, as always in Middle Eastern countries, oil had been a sine qua non in order to understand deeper mechanics of the war. After the Iraq-Iran war, OPEC had increased the quota in oil production and consequently, several Gulf states, including Kuwait, exceeded their production which resulted in a sharp drop in oil prices. This was making the economic depression in Iraq even worse. These three, in fact, together form the reality related to Iraq. In all of them, there are nuances. For instance, Saddam Hussein was suspecting that the increase in oil production was prompted by Western pressure. Another one is Saddam Hussein’s opinion with which he demanded the burden of debt to be shared between the Sunni centric countries as the war of Iraq vis-a-vis Iran was also about the protection of the Arab world. In this sense, Saddam Hussein requested Kuwait which was the key financier of Iraq-Iran war, to forgive Iraq’s debt which is rejected by Kuwait. Afterward of all that’s happened, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait.
Understanding the first Gulf War
Main currents of the first Gulf war are very briefly, objectively summarized up to now. How to analyze and interpret them is the significant question that should be asked. It is therefore very crucial to put the primary premise of the fundamental argument of this article here: in the system of anarchy which is the key in shaping state behavior, main aim is to ensure survival of the state so that a state can take any measure and/or any step in order to maximize its capabilities and power as there is no other way to be secure. Iraq thus has acted in a rational way by invading Kuwait with which it aimed to improve its capabilities as Kuwait has a high amount of oil reserves. However, in the international arena, states should be aware of their limits, extreme types of actions may be punished. As it is stressed at the beginning of the introduction, Saddam Hussein was not expecting an offensive military action from the United States which was an unfortunate mistake for Iraq as real intentions of a state cannot be known, states are black boxes. The reason behind Hussein was not expecting an attack from the U.S. is the obvious diplomatic green light of United States as Saddam Hussein is said by U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie that ‘’We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflict, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.’’. The U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had ‘’no special defense or security commitment to Kuwait’’. Although the guarantee of the United States, miscalculation of Saddam resulted in a failure of the invasion of Kuwait as far as Iraq’s military power immediately countered and balanced by coalition forces. This, in a sense, is a politique de fait accomplie that the U.S. somehow ended up in a winning position. So, there is the other side of the medallion which will be taken into account in the following parts of the article.
Now, it seems necessary to provide a basis that will strengthen further explanations. Firstly, on the same day that Iraq invaded Kuwait, the United Nations passed a resolution condemns the invasion and demands Iraq’s withdrawal. United Nations was also not late in imposing economic sanctions on Iraq with a strict trade embargo. Here, what more important on the role of UN is Resolution 678 which authorized U.S.-led forces to intervene by using the phrase ‘all necessary means.’ Secondly, U.S. President George Bush considered Saddam Hussein’s aggression as a threat to Western interests and declared status quo antebellum had to be re-established. This, in fact, is a very significant declaration as it reflects the cruciality of relative gains which is a very essential rule in the international arena. Would the reaction of the United States be same if Iraqis were a reliable partner in the Middle East having %20 of world oil reserves? By no means. Bush also sent U.S. force to Saudi Arabia and stated that he wanted the capability to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. In this regard, Saddam’s look for a diplomatic solution before the coalition attack remained insoluble. The United States even responded with an offer that it had hoped Saddam Hussein could not accept this kind of deal which was conditioning Iraq’s leaving of Kuwait to its leaving of military equipment. In fact, the main aim of this step was to increase relative gains of the United States. The U.S. systematically averts any danger that is directed to its dominance in any region. In this light, it is necessary to highlight the reason behind why people of the United States sleep at nights without any suspicion of attack from other countries. It is quite simple, because of the extensive power and capabilities of the United States which makes it a hegemon. Therefore, Iraq’s rise taken into consideration as a threatening to the hegemony of the United States.
Thirdly, the 28-member coalition had been formed including Middle Eastern countries. Iraq is given a deadline to withdraw from Kuwait which Iraq rejected again. Ultimately, Iraq accepted to withdraw after which Iraqi forces have capitulated by coalition forces by Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield.
On one hand, these three actions following Iraq’s invasion are the basis for the other side of the medallion and precisely show the punishment given Iraq for its offensive type of militaristic movements. On the other hand, this also can be taken as a reflection of power politics as Iraq’s power, capabilities, utilities were not enough to defend itself in a self-help structured international system. Further, Iraq’s aim being a regional hegemon is averted via a short-term alliance. In this respect, it is very hard to deny the significance of limited, short-term cooperations. This, however, should not be seen as a success of international organizations such as United Nations, instead, it should be seen as a success of states which are primary and unitary actors that create international institutions. Another point that should not be missed is that anarchy which is the motor of international relations results in a security dilemma as an end-product.
As far as this study is about the first Gulf War, what the war left is a part that importance should be attached. Up to now, the war has been discussed objectively within a perspective that frames the structure of international relations. Now, in this part, after providing a clear account of what is left, as the author, I will share some observations based on my interviews made with the religious and military leaders of Iran-backed group al-Hashd ash-Shaʿabi in Kirkuk.
Firstly, some claimed that The Gulf War has achieved the main objectives of the United Nations as many Iraqi soldiers are surrendered, many of tanks are destroyed and many people are killed. This type of considerations even went further by contrasting the number of deaths between the sides. This kind of understanding is the reduction of the issue to the numbers and is a big mistake. This paper, therefore, does not concern with how many the coalition killed and how many lost.
Secondly, military operations vis-a-vis Iraq did not end as Iraq accepted United Nations resolutions. It damaged the infrastructure of the cities in Iraq. The victory ignited the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions to rebel against Saddam Hussein. Hussein’s response was aggressive and militaristic. Iraq army thus brutally oppressed the rebels. Consequently, thousands of Kurds and Shiites flee to Iran and Turkey and many died in poverty. State survival again had revealed itself by brutality and aggression. What happened is a reflection of the structure of the global system to the internal politics of a state.
Thirdly, the Gulf Ward did neither drive Saddam from authority nor bring stability to the region. In this sense, none of the followings that President Bush mentioned in his addressing are realized in Iraq; liberation, rule of law, stabilization, order and democratization.
United States and its allies, by their measures, might win a military victory over Iraq. What the coalition destroyed were not only tanks and troops but also hopes of Iraqis people to live in prosperity and wealth with dignity. If you will excuse me, here, I will write in the first-person singular as this small part of the article will be based on my own observations in which I will try to make the reader connect the theoretical and the practical parts. In Turkey, where suffered from the war a lot in economic terms because of the migration of Kurds and Turkmens as Saddam showed no mercy for them, the first question I am asked on my visit to Iraq is why did you go there? The answer I will give now is a unique explanatory tool in order to understand what is left from the war. I went there because I organized a humanitarian aid mission. The first Gulf War has happened in the twentieth century, it is 2019 now and yet there is no bit of prosperity in Iraq. The project is financed by Republican People’s Party (RPP) and tons of humanitarian need are transmitted to Kirkuk, Iraq. Hereby, in Iraq I unofficially have met with the vice president of Iraq and an al-Hashd ash-Shaʿabi general in which I had a chance to ask what will happen after ISIS and got a striking answer, another ISIS will come. People of Kirkuk were living in extreme conditions. Most of the men were also soldiers as they were armed and prepared for war anytime. Saddam is death now, so it is a necessity to ask the new source of chemical weapons as there are still children affected by chemical weaponry. There are villages such as Bashir that are destroyed more than five times and each time reconstructed by its people. This, actually, is a very brief summary of what is left from liberation, rule of law, democracy, stability, and the new order.
The first Gulf war, in the end, is an analytical tool to understand the inner mechanics of global politics. The architecture of the international system which is driven by anarchy causes states to rely on themselves, to maximize their power and to take their own security measures. These are the core principles in perspective and primary working logic in the global system. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is totally an end product of it. Iraq’s decision to occupy, thus, taken in the terrain of security. Saddam’s act was hardly reckless and/or irrational as there was a diplomatic green light of the United States. Despite the absolute mistake of the United States, building a conspiracy theory on it is dangerous and wrong. In a sense, the United States’ act was about the protection of its hegemonic dominance and prevention of a new regional power which also can be considered in the same manner with Iraq. The United States wisely acted and defended its interests in the Gulf region. However, in any case, any explanation would not absolve violation of law, crimes against humanity and all of that’s happened in Iraq. There is a burden but there is no responsible. There is agony but there is again no responsible. Who are overwhelmed under this burden and agony? Iraqis people.
In the lights of these, the question is what awaits Iraq? The answer is simple, nothing different. Insofar as there is chaos instead of cosmos, time will not change the rules of the game. War is an inevitable result of this chaotic system and raison d’etre of war is the anarchic structure of the international relations.
Cordesman, Antony H. The Persian Gulf War. The Oxford Companion to American Military History. Encyclopedia.com. April 2019. Accessed August 18, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/persian-gulf-war-0.
Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History?”, The National Interest, (16), 1989: 3-18.
Gordon, Michael R. «MIDEAST TENSIONS; BUSH SENDS NEW UNITS TO GULF TO PROVIDE ‘OFFENSIVE OPTION’; U.S. FORCE COULD REACH 380,000.» New York Times, November 1990: 1.
Kaplan, Fred. “General Credits Air Force with Iraqi Army’s Defeat.” BOSTON GLOBE, March 1991: 1.
Kennedy, Hugh, and Richard L. Chambers. “The Persian Gulf War”, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. October 2015. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Iraq/The-Persian-Gulf-War.
Mearsheimer, John J, and Stephen M Walt. “An Unnecessary War.” Foreign Policy, (134), 2003: 50-59.
UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 678 (1990) [Iraq-Kuwait], 29 November 1990, S/RES/678 (1990), Accessed August 12, 2019. http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/678
 Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?”, The National Interest 16 (1989) pp. 3-18.
 Richard L. Chambers and Hugh Kennedy, “The Persian Gulf War”, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Iraq/The-Persian-Gulf-War.
 Michael R. Gordon, Bush Sends New Units to Gulf to Provide “Offensive Option” U.S. Force Could Reach 380,000, N.Y. TIMES, Nov. 9, 1990, at Al.
 John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “An Unnecessary War”, Foreign Policy 134 (2003) p.54
 Fred Kaplan, General Credits Air Force with Iraqi Army’s Defeat, BOSTON GLOBE, Mar. 16, 1991, at Al.
 Antony H. Cordesman, “The Persian Gulf War.” The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. Accessed August 18, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/persian-gulf-war-0
 Richard L. Chambers and Hugh Kennedy loc.cit.
 John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “An Unnecessary War”, Foreign Policy 134 (2003) p.54