Khaldoun Hasan Al-Naqeeb, State and Society in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula: A Different Perspective (trans. L. M. Kenny and amended Ibrahim Hayani) (Routledge, 1990).
From the political perspective, the main consequence of the Persian Gulf War has been the restoration of the status quo ante. In Iraq and Kuwait, dissidents who had expected the military defeat of Saddam Hussein to usher in a new era of freedom and democracy have been sorely disillusioned. In the sheikhdoms of the Arabian Peninsula, hereditary rulers had feared the US military intervention might bring pressures for political reform, and citizens had hoped Washington might support at least modest democratization efforts. Both now realize that the West is interested in containing, not promoting, political change.
The scale of the US military deployment in the Persian Gulf — half of all US combat forces worldwide — is something of a shock, even to the Pentagon. “Nobody ever thought they’d be free to commit all those forces,” one military official said.
The day after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and US Secretary of State James Baker announced what they termed “an unusual step.” They issued a communique “jointly urging the international community to join them and suspend all supplies of arms to Iraq on an international scale.” The Gulf crisis, the first major post-Cold War international crisis, provides a concrete measure of changing Soviet strategy in the Third World. While Soviet policy can be explained in large part by a desire to maintain good relations with the United States, one cannot disregard, in the short or the long run, the weight of Moscow’s relations with the Middle East and how they affect its strategy and tactics in the region.
Within weeks of Iran’s surprise acceptance of a ceasefire in its war with Iraq last July, perceptions of the regime in Tehran on the Arab side of the Gulf underwent a radical transformation. Governments in Kuwait, Riyadh and Bahrain pledged to forget past clashes, restore full diplomatic ties and launch a new era of political cooperation. Dollar signs danced in traders’ eyes as they saw a revival of a once booming reexport business with ports on the Persian coast.
Decline and Fall
US economic relations with the Arab states have entered a new phase in the last two years, one that reproduces many of the features that characterized the end of the Carter administration. US exports to the region rose by about 13 percent from 1986 to 1987 with shipments to Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates accounting for most of the increase. But this was more than offset as US imports from the region jumped some 35 percent, largely due to greater imports of crude petroleum. As a result, by the end of 1987 the US trade deficit, which had stood at $179 million the previous year, totalled more than $2.1 billion. Only a doubling in the value of American military sales to the region prevented this figure from ending up even higher.
In the last half of 1987, some 75 US, French, British, Italian, Belgian and Dutch warships steamed into the Persian Gulf in what became the largest peacetime naval operation since World War II. Six NATO countries had joined efforts specifically to police the Gulf, considerably increasing the longstanding but small Western naval presence there. The West German navy helped out by substituting for Belgian and US warships which usually patrol the English Channel and the Mediterranean.
President Reagan came to office with a bold commitment to roll back Soviet gains in the Third World without risking the trauma or cost of another Vietnam-style intervention. The “Reagan Doctrine,” as his policy came to be known, ironically took its cue from Soviet support in the 1970s for leftist insurgencies in Africa and Central America. But the beneficiaries of the Reagan Doctrine were anti-communist resistance and counterrevolutionary insurgencies in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua.
Aside from the two superpowers, whose superpower most observers believe to be waning, there is a third, potential superpower haunting Western Europe — which is Europe itself. If only it could get it together. And what better occasion to get together than to protect “our oil” from the awful ayatollahs?
Last September 15, a fleet of eight Italian warships, including three minesweepers and three frigates, set sail for the Gulf, amid cheers and protests. On the eve of the sailing, Defense Minister Valerio Zanone explained the strategic significance of the controversial decision: “it establishes a European connection outside the geographical limits of NATO.”
Despite its reputation for having inflexible ideological positions on all foreign policy issues, the Reagan administration actually came to office in January 1981 without a coherent policy for dealing with Iran. At first the new administration was content to let Iran fade from the spotlight of national media attention that it had held during the last 14 months of the Carter administration. The hostage crisis had been resolved, fatefully on the very day Reagan was inaugurated. The administration contributed rhetorically to the Iran-bashing mood of the country, but since Iraq still seemed to have the upper hand in the war that it had begun a few months earlier in September 1980, there was a general perception that Iran was contained and could be ignored.
The December 1987 Reagan-Gorbachev summit raised once again the issue of linkage between Third World conflicts and East-West relations. Two broad questions are involved. First, how does the nuclear arms race intersect with social and political upheaval in the Third World? The second question involves the character of the East-West conflict as it affects the Third World, and the degree to which great power involvement can cause, exacerbate or potentially resolve conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A central maxim of much recent writing on East-West relations holds that the nuclear arms race is a means of regulating Third World conflict and impeding escalation to the point of war between the outside powers.
Gerd Nonneman, Iraq, the Gulf States and the War (London: Ithaca Press, 1986).
The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft that Pakistan wants to get from Washington has played an important part in the US military buildup in the Persian Gulf region. In 1978, the Carter administration sold seven of the planes to the Shah of Iran. One motivation was to reduce the unit cost for the 34 planes ordered by the US Air Force. Iran canceled its order after the revolution, and Washington then pressed NATO to order 18 of them.
For residents of the tranquil United Arab Emirates, the sight on June 17 was surreal: the emir’s court in Sharja surrounded by battle-ready soldiers in trenches and jeep-mounted guns, with helicopters buzzing overhead, snipers on the roof and sandbags on its marble balconies. It was the first coup in a Gulf Arab state since the oil boom. For four days, Sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Muhammad al-Qasimi held out at the diwan with a few hundred emiri guard mercenaries, claiming he was rightful ruler of Sharja. “I entered with a white dishdasha [man’s robe] and will leave with a red one if I have to,” he is said to have told a visitor.
After the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in mid-May 1987, senior State Department officials scurried around the Gulf to drum up political support. Pakistan received a more significant visit. In late June, Gen. George Crist, commander-in-chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) arrived in Islamabad with 15 military experts for a five-day visit. It was Crist’s second visit to Pakistan in eight months, and it underlined the growing importance of Pakistan in Washington’s military plans for the Gulf.
Iran’s revolution had a profound impact on the regional balance of forces in the Gulf. Until 1979, the two most powerful and ambitious states in the region, Iran and Iraq, were sufficiently constrained by each other, and by the presence of United States forces and Washington’s friendly relations with most of the Gulf states, that neither seriously attempted to overturn the status quo.
As the Iran-Iraq war moves into its eighth year, it threatens to explode into a shooting war between Iran and the United States, a war that could involve the Soviet Union as well. Escalation of the US military presence in the Gulf involves more than the 11 Kuwaiti tankers now flying the stars and stripes. What the Reagan administration wants to do is “reflag” the Gulf itself, using the US Navy’s protective service to draw the Arab states there into open and explicit military alliances with Washington against Tehran and Moscow.
A blue helicopter flies out over the harbor at Nice, landing gently on an enormous yacht of teak and mahogany, swaying gently at anchor. The passengers step out: A correspondent and photographer from the Spanish photo magazine Hola! are arriving to get a feature story on ‘Adnan Khashoggi, flamboyant Saudi millionaire, reputed to be one of the world’s richest men. Khashoggi emerges to greet them in a white suit, then shows them around his plush vessel, introduces his beautiful Italian wife and gestures to the many white telephones from which he does business all over the world. Amid the grandeur, Khashoggi admits he has recently had a few setbacks: A business deal in Salt Lake City has lost some $70 million. But overall business is prospering, he reports.
Roger Owen, Migrant Workers in the Gulf (London: Minority Rights Group, Report No. 68, 1985).
Today, as oil prices plunge, the six million foreign workers in the Gulf are feeling the crunch. Roger Owen’s new survey of Gulf migrant workers is especially welcome, for the future of Gulf societies in this new era is closely bound up with the question of these foreign workers.