Gulf war II:like father like son

September 21, 2001

The Gulf conflict of 1990-91 was never resolved, argues Norman Bonney, and under George W. Bush many of the original players are back in the game.

As the United States and most of the rest of the world struggle to comprehend the rationale, significance and implications of the suicidal aerial attacks on the symbols of American financial and military power, it repays reflection to realise that these events are but a continuation of the Gulf war of 1990-91.

Only by placing these attacks in the context of the wider historical and military-strategic perspective can the events be understood and appropriate military and political responses be developed.

Despite the ostensible overwhelming victory of the international US-led coalition in the Gulf war, the conflict has continued by both military and diplomatic means.

At least twice since the ground war, western forces have attacked targets in Iraq, and American and British war planes continue to police air exclusion zones in the northern and southern regions of the country. Neither the coalition nor the United Nations has managed to secure a peace settlement with Iraq.

To millions of Arabs and Middle Eastern Muslims, the victory of the coalition forces in 1991 was yet another humiliation at the hands of the overwhelming economic and military forces of the western powers. The continued existence of Israel acts as a constant daily reminder of their weakness.

In addition, press reports at the time of ground war victory suggested that thousands of Iraqi soldiers were buried in their trenches by the advancing western forces. Such events and attitudes foster a sullen and resentful atmosphere in which deep grievances fester and the desire for revenge can easily be nurtured by fundamentalist factions.

The Gulf war continues in another sense in that the new governing regime in the US, which effectively bought its way to power, is in essence a reconstitution of the leaders of the US political and military forces that were responsible for the ground war victory of 1991.

The new president is the son of the American leader of the day, who so ably created a wide western and Middle Eastern military and political coalition to expel the Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The current vice-president was the defence secretary during the Gulf war, subsequently headed a major American oil services company and helped mobilise the vast treasury for the election campaign of George W. Bush.

Colin Powell, now secretary of state, was military chief of staff during the campaign. Those who nurture grievances against the victorious forces of 1991 could not have a more appropriate target for their present day offensives - an attitude in no way discouraged by the tendency to clan feuding over the generations that characterises some Middle Eastern politics.

It is becoming increasingly clear that those responsible for the attacks on September 11 did not belong to one single organisation. They were, however, probably part of a loose and covert network that has its origins in a pervasive atmosphere of resentment and hostility towards the US and the West.

The network includes organisations such as that of Osama bin Laden, which provide guerrilla training and fuel the motivations that prepare participants for combat and suicide missions.

Meanwhile, other units, possibly with bases in the Middle East, guide dedicated graduates to training in more skilled techniques, such as communications and piloting aircraft and subsequently control their actions.

Such is the sophistication of these techniques that it is highly likely that they are based, at least to some degree, on the resources of state intelligence agencies. Iraq stands out as the one state that has the motivation and interests to contribute towards the planning and execution of attacks such as those of September 11.

Iraq is also one of the few states not to deplore the atrocities, but to see them as the just deserts of the American "cowboy". The actions avenge the defeat of 1991 and hit at the architects of Saddam Hussein's military humiliation.

While George W. Bush is inexperienced in international affairs and is only slowly emerging from a public persona that lacks gravitas and avoids any controversy for fear of offending any voting bloc, he has people of great experience among his advisers.

But the challenge that the Bush team confronts is of a new order. Secretary of state Colin Powell drew on his Vietnam experience to insist that the campaign to recover Kuwait should have well-defined objectives, be based on overwhelming force and have a clear exit strategy.

The use of "overwhelming" force in the current scenario, could, however, easily lead to a Vietnam-type situation. This would probably be exacerbated by widespread challenges from fundamentalist Muslim movements to more long-established western-leaning authoritarian and military regimes in the Middle East that lend support to the US, Nato or Russian action.

While the coalition may be wider in the coming campaign, the consequences may be far more wide reaching and dangerous.

Norman Bonney is a professor at the Centre for Public Policy at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

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