At Stake in the Gulf

Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf

by Judith Miller, by Laurie Mylroie
Times Books, 268 pp., $5.95 (paper)

When Saddam Hussein invaded, conquered, occupied, and annexed the neighboring state of Kuwait, he broke several rules and posed several new threats to the region and perhaps—though influential voices dispute this—to the world.

According to a basic principle of inter-Arab politics most recently proclaimed by Saddam himself in 1980, no Arab state shall resort to arms against any other Arab state in order to solve a dispute. His violation of this taboo was compounded by the imminent threat which he appeared to offer to his other Arab neighbors, notably the remaining Gulf states and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For many in the outside world, little concerned with the violent play of inter-Arab politics, the threat is to oil. For others, the issue is the world order. During the cold war, there was a kind of bipolar stability, in which each superpower was able for the most part to maintain discipline among its allies, its satellites, and its protégés. With the eclipse of Russia, this discipline has disappeared, and states on the periphery are no longer primarily influenced, in their policies and actions, by the fear of punishment or the hope of reward. The invasion of Kuwait presented the world with its first major crisis of the post–cold war era.

A sudden act of war against a peaceful neighbor, and the obliteration of a sovereign state, a member of the United Nations, placed that body, and with it the world community, before a terrible dilemma. Was this merely a local squabble in a notoriously troublesome part of the world, to be resolved if at all by an “Arab solution,” in which outsiders would be wise not to get involved, or was it a major challenge to world order and international law, confronting the United Nations with an awesome choice: either to discipline Saddam Hussein and restore the status quo, or to abandon the world to the violent and the ruthless, and follow the path of the defunct League of Nations to ignominy and extinction. The choice gains added urgency from Saddam Hussein’s well-known determination to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and his demonstrated willingness to use them.

All these problems, and the circumstances which led to their emergence, are explored in a remarkable new book, written in three weeks by Judith Miller, a distinguished foreign correspondent from The New York Times, and Laurie Mylroie, a political scientist from Harvard University, and produced by the publishers in a fourth week. A note at the end explains which author wrote which sections. Even without this, a reader trained in the disciplines of textual philology would have no difficulty in disentangling the two strands of authorship. Some readers may feel that the addition of a historian to the team would have produced a somewhat better presentation of the medieval and Ottoman background of modern Iraq, but they would have to admit that the presence of a historian would have greatly delayed the completion of the book, while the absence …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.