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IT'S the scariest book on the holiday reading list this year.
Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf may not be comparable to a Stephen King novel or a Scott Turow mystery, but its vivid portrayal of Saddam Hussein and its rational analysis of the prospects for war in the Persian Gulf will put a winter chill on any holiday joy.
And well it should.
As we sit comfortably at home over vacation, the world will be moving closer to the January 15 United Nations Security Council deadline for military confrontation if Iraq does not withdraw its troops from Kuwait. With 400,000 troops expected to be in Saudi Arabia by January, we should use the time to make ourselves as informed as possible about the situation.
Certainly the troops will be reading the book. According to Laurie Mylroie, one of the authors, a shipment of books is already en route to the Gulf. It will brighten their holidays, I'm sure.
As the first in-depth analysis of the Gulf crisis, and a rare summary of Iraqi history, Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf is a good way for the average American to become aware of the situation. Judith Miller, a special correspondent for the New York Times, and Mylroie, a Bradley Foundation fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, offer a clear, concise and thoroughly readable explanation of how American troops came to be stationed in the Saudi Arabian desert.
In somewhat disjoint chapters written separately by the authors, the book explains regional history, Saddam's rise to power, the Iran-Iraq war, early U.S. policy in Iraq, the role of oil in the crisis, the threat of nuclear and chemical weapons, and the call to defend Kuwait.
Although the book has a clear American perspective of the Gulf crisis, Miller and Mylroie are not propagandists. The introduction may seem heavy-handed at first, with stories of disrupted army families and unsuspecting hostages, but the rest of the book is not so sensationalized. The authors are quick to criticize American foriegn policy as hypocritical and as helping to perpetuate the crisis. They also criticize the Kuwaiti Sabah monarchy for mishandling Iraq and for creating a far less than democratic state.
The first chapter, "Hijack," sets up the scenario for Saddam's invasion and how the U.S. and Kuwait failed to read his signals correctly. The authors report that last spring, Saddam demanded "$30 million in fresh money" from Arab leaders to offset costs accrued during the recently ended Iran-Iraq war. "Go and tell them in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf that if they don't give it to me, I will know how to take it," he threatened.
Arab leaders largely ignored Saddam's request. Kuwait, which had been supporting Iraq financially throughout the war, offered only a token amount. Saddam's subsequent troop movements seemed like posturing to American military experts. But on August 2, Saddam invaded Kuwait.
"The smoke screen had worked," they write, "The West was focused on Israel. The Arabs were focused on oil production quotas and pricing. And Iraq was focused on Kuwait."
The authors explore many other reasons for Saddam's invasion. They repeat the same sentence six times in making their point. You can't miss the fact that Iraq only has 26 miles of natural coastline and Iraqis can only access the Persian Gulf through the Shatt al-Arab waterway which has been closed since the Iran-Iraq war.
The authors also cite Saddam's turbulent childhood and violent rise to power as possible reasons for his current behavior. Mylroie claims that Saddam's favorite movie is The Godfather because it mirrors his own upbringing. He too came from a peasant background and entered the world of crime through family connections. In the chapters on his personal history, the book details all the people whom Saddam personally has killed, his role in coup attempts and his job as a torturer in the early 1960s.
In the "Lion and the Lamb," the final chapter of the book, the authors discuss Iraq's claim to Kuwaiti territory. Both Kuwait and Iraq belonged to the Ottoman empire until World War I, and then to the British. Britain set up monarchies in both countries; in Kuwait they merely supported the Sabah monarchy which had been in place since 1756.
Since Iraq's independence in 1958, the country has made sporadic claims on Kuwaiti territory. In 1961, Kuwait gained its independence, and, in 1963, Iraq recognized Kuwaiti sovreignity.
THE historical background boils down totwo conclusions about the Persian Gulf crisis. Thefirst is why Saddam invaded Kuwait. More thangeography or history, the authors assert, Kuwait'srefusal to give Saddam the $30 million he demandedlast spring brought on the invasion.
"More than most leaders, Saddam needs money tostay in power. Money is necessary to keep hispeople quiescent, to placate any simmeringrestlessness. Money is necessary for the huge,wasteful weapons program, that convey to hispeople the image of his unassailable might,"Mylroie writes.
"For Saddam there is little room betweenrestless motion and collapse. He is like a bicyclerider. Sitting on a very narrow base, Saddameither moves forward or he falls," she continues.
The other conclusion is why American forces arein the Gulf. "In short," Miller says, "Americanforces have been sent to Saudi Arabia to protectthe nation's access to oil." The authors dismissall other motives, such as protecting democracy inKuwait or Saudi Arabia, as hypocritical sinceneither regime is exactly democratic.
While the book's historical and investigativeemphasis makes it an important source on the Gulfcrisis, Mylroie and Miller's conclusions seem tocircle around each other. Alternating the writingof chapters may have speeded the publication ofthe book, but it leaves Saddam Husseinslightly schizophrenic.
Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in theGulf won't be be the most comforting readingfor winter break. But Miller and Mylroie's bookoffers the only readable account of the Gulfcrisis so far
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