The Clinton administration continues to see the policy of "dual containment" in the Persian/Arabian Gulf as a major success. Saddam Hussein remains in his box, unable to threaten the security of America's allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Iran is increasingly isolated, particularly after the Mykonos verdict implicating Iran in the 1992 murder of three Iranian dissidents and their translator which led to the suspension (perhaps only temporary) of the European critical dialogue with Tehran. However, the view from Washington is increasingly challenged by voices, both in the Gulf region and in the United States, questioning the effectiveness of the policy and the motives behind it. In the Gulf itself, a strong current of opinion is forming that sees American policy simply as a cover for a permanent American military presence and an unending drain on Gulf treasuries through arms sales. In Kuwait this current is reflected in robust debates in the press; in Saudi Arabia it is expressed through bombings of American military facilities. Meanwhile, respected members of the American foreign-policy establishment have taken to wondering, in very public ways, if dual containment can actually achieve America's stated goals of changing the Iraqi regime and the foreign policy behavior of the Iranian government.
There is a dual contradiction in these policy debates that could come back to haunt American policy makers as they deal with the Gulf in the future. The first contradiction is between GCC state governments and their own publics. While the governments express support for American policy, the strong public sympathy that existed for the United States immediately after the 1990-91 Gulf War is beginning to dissipate. Gulf intellectuals are questioning whether 1) the United States really wants a change of regime in Iraq, since having a weakened Saddam Hussein in power keeps the GCC states dependent upon the United States; 2) their own national interests are in fact threatened by Iran (for those in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and by Iraq (for those in Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman) as the United States contends; and 3) high defense spending and the purchase of expensive and sophisticated weapons, believed to be forced upon them by the Americans, are the best uses of their resources at a time of rising unemployment and insufficient investment in domestic economic development.
Dual containment requires an extensive American military infrastructure in the GCC states. Whether public acceptance of that infrastructure will continue, even in Kuwait, is an open question. As of now, this local disquiet over the U.S. military role is limited to intellectual circles and Islamic movements. However, these signals of unease could very well be the harbinger of larger changes in public perceptions. The history of foreign military bases in the Middle East is not a happy one. The bombings in Riyadh and Khobar, now seen as isolated incidents, might with hindsight be viewed as the tip of the iceberg.
The second contradiction exists within the U.S. policy debate itself. The public questioning of dual containment is part of the vigorous debate that always surrounds American foreign policy and is a natural part of its evolution. However, this debate is read differently by many in the Gulf itself. It is seen as evidence that the motives and goals of U.S. policy are not those that are publicly stated by the Clinton administration. The reasoning goes that if such eminent people are criticizing the policy, and it clearly has not achieved its goals of changing the Iraqi government and altering Iranian behavior but it remains in place, then there must be some hidden rationale behind it. What Americans see as healthy debate is perceived by many in the Gulf as evidence of bad faith on the part of Washington.
This paper explores the dual contradiction in American Gulf policy by examining the emerging intellectual debate in the GCC countries about that policy and by assessing how the American debate over that policy is being read in the Gulf. It does not argue that these Gulf readings are the correct interpretation of American goals and motives in the Gulf. It simply highlights the fact that, in the countries upon which the United States is basing its Gulf policy, voices are being raised questioning whether the U.S. role actually serves those countries' interests. While those voices do not now affect GCC states' foreign policies, they provide the intellectual rationale for an opposition that could grow in the future if the current strategic stalemate continues.
THE DEBATE IN THE GULF
Iran and Iraq
The foundation of American policy in the Gulf is the belief that both Iraq and Iran pose serious threats to the security of the GCC states and thus to regional stability and the free flow of oil. This basic premise is not universally accepted in the countries the United States ostensibly is in the Gulf to protect. In Kuwait, Iraq is understandably seen as a serious threat, but Iran is viewed as a responsible diplomatic partner and an important counterweight to Saddam Hussein. Further down the Gulf, in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is Iran that is seen as the potential threat, while calls are heard from both governments and societies to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and rehabilitate Iraq as a balance to Iranian power. Even in Saudi Arabia, where the government is leery of both Iran and Iraq, doubts are expressed about the intensity of American hostility toward these countries.
Questions about the seriousness of the Iranian threat are most openly raised in Kuwait. Dr. Saif Abbas Abdallah, the former chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University, stated that "in 75 years not a single Iranian soldier has ever crossed the Gulf or threatened Kuwait."' This sentiment was echoed later by Dr. Hassan Jawhar, a member of the Kuwaiti parliament, who said recently that "fear of Iran is ideological and political," and not based upon any real military threat to Kuwait. 2 Even when Iran is seen as a threat, there is criticism of the U.S. effort to isolate Iran economically and fear that American military action against Iran could damage the interests of the Gulf states, as any Iranian reaction to such an attack would come on their soil. Susan al-Shair of Bahrain3 and Turki al-Hamad of Saudi Arabia4 have expressed these views in reaction to the speculation that the United States would respond militarily to alleged Iranian complicity in the Khobar bombing. The enormous optimism with which the election of Ayatollah Muhammad Khatami has been greeted in the Gulf states is a further reflection of the differences between Washington and its Gulf allies on the issue of Iran.
These nuanced views of Iran are reflected in the policies of many Gulf states toward Tehran. Kuwait goes out of its way to emphasize its friendly relations with the Iranian government. In 1993 Kuwait agreed to the establishment of a Kuwaiti-Iranian joint committee to improve and expand relations between the two countries. In 1997 alone, three different Iranian ministerial delegations have visited Kuwait, along with a parliamentary delegation. The undersecretary of the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry, Sulayman al-Shaheen, told a recent symposium on inter-Arab relations that Kuwait's perceptions of regional threats differed from those of the United States that underlay the dual containment policy.5
Qatar, particularly since Sheikh Hamad came to power in June 1995, has had close relations with Iran even while strengthening its military relationship with the United States and taking the lead in the Gulf in normalizing relations with Israel. In July 1995, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Yelayati said that Qatari-Iranian relations were a model for Iranian relations with other GCC states. Omani Information Minister Abdal-Aziz al-Rowwas has publicly called for Iran's inclusion in any future Gulf security structures.6 Even those Gulf states which have ongoing disputes with Iran, like Bahrain and the UAE, maintain diplomatic relations with Tehran. At their March 1997 meeting, the GCC foreign ministers expressed their readiness to respond to and cooperate with Iran's recently expressed willingness for better relations among the parties.7
Doubts about the seriousness of the Iraqi threat are more commonly expressed in the lower Gulf. Since the last months of 1995, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, has been calling for the rehabilitation of Iraq as part of a general Arab reconciliation.8 The UAE defense minister, who is also crown prince' of Dubai, Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum was the first Gulf leader to call for Kuwait to end its hostility and to allow the return of Iraq to the Arab world. He said in January 1995 that, since Iraq had fulfilled "most of its obligations" to the international community, there was nothing standing in the way of its rehabilitation.9
At the end of 1996, as the UAE government continued this diplomatic initiative, UAE newspapers launched public attacks on Rolf Ekeus- the former head of the U.N. committee supervising Iraq's destruction of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons- as an American stooge. UAE officials have stressed the need for a militarily strong and united Iraq to maintain the strategic balance in the region.10 Qatar and Oman both supported the UAE call for rehabilitating Iraq. Qatari officials have visited Baghdad on a number of occasions in the last few years. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf paid an official visit to Doha in March 1995 and followed that with a similar visit to Oman.11
In February 1997, two members of the Bahraini consultative council visited Iraq and expressed their country's desire to “work to reduce the suffering of the Iraqi people by all possible means." A Bahraini business delegation, headed by a member of the ruling family, preceded them to Iraq in November 1996.12 Bahraini officials and the official press have continually called for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq and have said that the nature of the ruling regime in Baghdad is an internal matter that should not concern the international community.13 Charitable groups in Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE have sent numerous shipments of food and medicine to Iraq over the last few years with the support of their governments.
Even the Saudi government, which continues to see Iraq as a major threat to its security, would not allow the United States to use Saudi territory to launch retaliatory strikes against Iraq for the latter's incursion into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq in the summer of 1996. The U.S. cruise missile attack on Iraq in September 1996, launched from American ships in the region, met with indirect criticism from every Gulf government except Kuwait, which simply expressed its "understanding" of the American act ion.14
For the states in the lower Gulf, Iraq is seen as a necessary counterweight to other regional forces. For Bahraini leaders, fears of Iranian intervention in their internal affairs drives them toward Baghdad. The UAE sees Iraq as an important ally in its dispute with Iran over Abu Musa and the Tunbs Islands. Oman has since the 1970s opposed the dominance of the Gulf by any regional force, playing strict balance-of power politics. Qatar sees Iraq as a potential ally in its border disputes with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. None of the Gulf states shares completely the U.S. perception of equal threats to Gulf security from Iraq and Iran. The lack of enthusiasm in official Gulf circles for the dual containment policy was summarized as long ago as 1993 by the secretary-general of the GCC, who responded to a journalist's question about that policy by saying, "What interests us is that this policy not reflect on our situation, and that our states not be affected by it."15
The U.S. Role
Popular and official sentiment in the Gulf viewing Iran and Iraq as equally serious threats to Gulf security, if it ever existed, is clearly fraying. The basic assumption of American strategy is being called into question, and with that have come new questions about the purpose and usefulness of the U.S. military presence in the region. These questions are not expressed at the official level, where the tie with the United States remains the centerpiece of Gulf strategy. However, both Islamist and nationalist intellectual circles in the Gulf are increasingly critical of the U.S. role, which they see as aimed not at protecting the Gulf states but at securing American economic and cultural hegemony in the region and pushing the Gulf states toward a strategic and economic alliance with Israel. This view of the hegemonic role of the United States in the Gulf was reflected in a recent Kuwaiti symposium (in which I participated). The old question of whether the Gulf should be called "Arab" or "Persian" was raised; when one participant volunteered that it should be called "American," there was almost unanimous support from the audience.16
It is no surprise that Islamist circles in the Gulf reject the American role in the region. Renegade Saudi Islamist Usama bin Laden is only the most well-known of such critics. In 1996 he told Time magazine that "Muslims bum with anger at America. For its own good America should leave Saudi Arabia."17 While denying any involvement in the Khobar bombing, exiled Saudi dissident Muhammad al-Masari told BCC Television shortly after the bombing that "some people, I would say the majority of people, regard you [the United States] as an enemy. From now on, I think the best course of things [is] to be ready for a direct and steady confrontation."18
Even among Islamists in Kuwait, where pro-American sentiment is strongest, opposition to the idea of the U.S. role is now freely expressed. Sunni Islamist intellectual Abdallah al-Nafisi began his address to an April 1997 symposium at Kuwait University by saying, "On my way to this gathering I saw a number of Kuwaiti homes flying the American flag. Inside me there was an urge to get out of my car and bum these flags and the homes that are flying them. We should liberate ourselves from these intellectual deformities by stopping this reincarnation of Kuwait as an American personality."19 In an earlier article, al-Nafisi compared citizens of the Gulf states to the passengers on a hijacked plane with the United States as the hijacker.20 Ismail al-Shatti, a former parliamentarian affiliated with the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood, criticized then Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau for publicly "lecturing" Kuwait about its policies in the region, saying that he had "overstepped the boundaries of diplomacy and embarrassed the Kuwaiti government....This approach borders on arrogance and disdain for others. It is enough to cause a backlash among the people of this region."21 Al-Mujtama, the official publication of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, as early as 1992 asserted that American policy in the Gulf was aimed at dominating the area and controlling its oil, and at combating the Islamic movement in the area.22
Dr. Umran Hassan Muhammad, who was arrested in April 1997 for disrupting a session of the Kuwaiti parliament by shouting, "Death to America, Death to Israel," later wrote that the United States was turning the Gulf and the entire world into a "supermarket" under American control for American interests, labeling the United States "truly the Great Satan."23 Kuwaiti parliamentarian Hussein al-Qallaf, a Shii cleric elected in 1996, accused the United States of profiting financially from the liberation of Kuwait and stated that the United States is not in the Gulf "out of love for Kuwait....If America defends its interests, then we have every right also to defend our beliefs and our principles."24 A former Shii Kuwaiti parliamentarian, Abd al-Muhsin Jamal, emphasizes that the United States exaggerates the threats in the region to create fear in the Gulf and exploits those fears to serve its interests. 25
Gulf secularists and nationalists are more likely to be favorably disposed to the American presence in the Gulf, but even in those circles criticism of the United States is growing. It is usually expressed more in strategic than in cultural terms, but the uneasiness about American dominance of the Gulf is clear. Dr. Ahmad al-Rubi, former Kuwaiti parliamentarian and minister of education, told a 1997 symposium on Gulf security that "the United States stood with us at a time when their interests were threatened....They will stand against us if they find their interests otherwise threatened." Al-Rubi went on to say that the Gulf states should look more to Europe for support to break out from American unipolar control of the Gulf, since the European link would benefit small states like those of the Gulf.26 Kuwait University sociologist Ali al-Tarrah, commenting on a 1993 Kuwaiti public-opinion poll showing substantial support for the American military presence in the Gulf, said that there was a weakness in this policy of a "smothering embrace." This embrace was leading to regional doubts about American intentions in the Arab and Islamic world. These doubts do not affect Kuwaiti public opinion today, but there is "no guarantee that the doubts will not affect Kuwaiti public opinion in the future."27
Saudi political commentator Dr. Turki al-Hamad questioned why the United States did not finish off the regime of Saddam Hussein when it had the chance in 1991, wondering if Washington had "its own private calculations and interests that we do not know about in this matter." But the effect of leaving Saddam in power, according to Hamad, was to make him a hero "to simple people and to others."28 The suspicion underlying Hamad's remarks, that the United States deliberately kept Saddam in power in order to make the Gulf states dependent upon U.S. protection, is widespread.29 "The U.S. has tried to increase its influence by making Saddam a bogeyman," said one Saudi analyst to a Western reporter, "but the ordinary man takes all this with a grain of salt."30
From the Gulf perspective, the American rationale, for this intense security relationship is to force the Gulf governments to spend enormous amounts of money on American weapons. According to Dr. al-Rubi of Kuwait, over $82 billion has been spent on security by the Gulf states since the 1991 war. "Where are we going?" he asked. "If we had only spent a part of that on infrastructure, highways, education, development, we would have better relations among the GCC states. One can dispute al-Rubi's figures (there are numerous estimates of just how much the Gulf governments have spent on security and have committed to spending on army purchases since the Gulf War), but he expresses an increasingly common view. With domestic economic problems like unemployment, the lifting of state subsidies on basic goods and services, and budget deficits dominating the political agendas of these states, citizens now see every dirham or dinar spent on arms as coming at the expense of their domestic well-being. Kuwaiti economic expert Jasim al-Sadun states that the money the GCC states spend on one soldier or defense job (an average of $60,000 per year) could create five civilian jobs.32 Gulf citizens know that their governments have to create 825,000 jobs between 1995 and 2000 in order to employ their new graduates, the vanguard of the 42 percent of the population that is under 15 years of age.33
The connection, in the minds of people in the Gulf, between the United States, defense spending and domestic economic problems is becoming firmer. An unnamed Saudi political scientist told The Washington Post in 1995, after cuts in Saudi domestic spending, "It's not for the benefit of the U.S. to get too much money from the Saudi government at the expense of inside stability....So what if the Saudi government will buy 50 aircraft when the bill is so high? The expense will be political unrest in Saudi Arabia, not now but in the future." Abdallah Nassif, a member of the Saudi Consultative Council, told the same reporter, “Here some people say the Americans want us to go bankrupt."34 Very few people in the Gulf will raise this issue publicly, because of their governments' sensitivity, but it is a regular topic of private conversations.
The U.S. and Israel
If money is one reason that people in the Gulf think the United States is embracing them with such uncomfortable intensity, it is widely held that another reason is to push the Gulf states toward normalizing their relations with Israel. This belief is allowed a more public airing in the Gulf than the previous arguments, because of the continuing sympathy among Gulf publics and governments for the Palestinians (though not necessarily for Yasser Arafat), their suspicions of Israeli intentions, and their sometimes exaggerated view of the nature of the Israeli-American relationship. The lifting by Gulf governments of the secondary and tertiary economic boycotts on Israel and their participation in the multilateral peace talks established at the Madrid Conference are seen by many as reactions to U.S. pressure, not the free choice of the Gulf states themselves. That pressure was clearly evident in the establishment of the Middle East Regional Development Bank in 1995. Gulf governments publicly expressed their opposition to this plan, knowing that they would be expected to contribute the capital, which would be spent in the Levant. However, the United States very publicly pushed for the bank's establishment, and the Gulf governments reluctantly agreed.35 Qatar's decision to host the fourth Middle East and North African economic summit in November 1997, despite pressure from Syria to postpone it and the Arab League decision to freeze normalization with Israel, is seen as another example of the United States using its influence in the Gulf to benefit Israel.36
Since Operation Grapes of Wrath in April 1996, sentiment in the Gulf against Israel has been growing. Sheikh Salim bin Hamid, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, used the occasion of his sermon at the end of the I 996 pilgrimage season to criticize the United States for its support for the Israeli attack on Lebanon. He told over one million Muslims in the holy city that this policy would only "sow hatred and revenge" that "would not be confined to a party or an organization but affect Arabs and Muslims everywhere."37 His sermon, on one of the most important religious occasions of the year in Saudi Arabia, was certainly approved beforehand by the government. The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel, the failure to achieve progress on any front in the peace process thereafter, and his plan to expand Jewish settlements around Jerusalem (Jabal Abu Ghanaym/HarHoma) have led to a reversal of earlier trends among Gulf governments toward normalization with Israel. All the Gulf states accepted the Arab League foreign ministers' resolution of April 1997 calling for the suspension of normalization. Qatar and Oman, which had hosted visits by previous Israeli prime ministers and had allowed the opening of Israeli trade missions, both announced a "freeze" in their ties with the Jewish state.38 The tie between the problems in the peace process and U.S.-Gulf relations was made clear by the GCC foreign ministers at their meeting of March 1997. They issued a communique expressing their "deep regret" that the United States twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions against the Israeli settlement expansion. They called on the United States to "intensify its efforts and play a more effective role in order to resume the peace process on all its fronts."39
Public sentiment in the Gulf over these issues is more sharply expressed. The Jabal Abu Ghanaym issue galvanized public opinion. The tensions in the Gulf over the peace process and the American role in it are best observed in Kuwait. It has the freest press in the area and an elected parliament, allowing greater freedom of expression for public views on this issue. It also is the Gulf state where support for close relations with the United States remains strongest. Public criticism in Kuwait of the United States for its role in the peace process is surely a reflection of feelings throughout the Gulf.
In March 1997, 24 out of 50 of the members of the Kuwaiti parliament sent an open letter to President Clinton protesting vigorously against the U.S. vetoes in the Security Council, saying that they "felt shocked and pained" at the action because of the central role of Jerusalem for all Muslims, and called it a "provocation against the one billion Muslims all over the world." Four Kuwaiti Islamist parliamentarians attended a protest at Kuwait University against Israeli policy on Jabal Abu Ghanaym; the Israeli flag was burned, the first public denunciation of Israel in the country since liberation.40 In a spectacular public protest, referred to above, Kuwaiti Shii Islamist activist Dr. Umran Hassan, a researcher at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, disrupted a session of the Kuwaiti parliament in April 1997 by shouting repeatedly "Death to America, Death to Israel," before he was detained by the guards.41 Hassan's action garnered enormous publicity in the Gulf and the entire Arab world, and was particularly significant for his direct linking of the United States and Israel, something that is rarely expressed publicly in Kuwait. It is interesting to note that Hassan's disruption occurred after the governor of Kuwait City refused a request by 150 prominent Kuwaitis, including 13 members of parliament, for permission to stage a protest against Israeli policy in front of the parliament building.
The Umran Hassan incident led to a spate of commentary linking U.S. and Israeli interests in the region. Khalid al-Qashtini, writing in the Saudi-owned al Sharq al-Awsat, said that the call by Dr. Hassan of "Death to America" was due principally to the unlimited support given to Israel by the United States of America. AI-Qashtini went as far as to say that this complete support for Israel by the United States will lead to the "suicide of the new world order."42 Abdallah al-Nafisi wrote, in a clear if unstated reference to the United States, that the dispute over whether to hold the planned Middle East and North Africa economic summit in Qatar in November 1997 raised questions in the Gulf about whether there were "international instructions which govern the political direction of these conferences without regard for Arab national interests but faithfully guarding Zionist interests in the region."43 Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood leader and former parliamentarian Ismail al-Shatti told a symposium on "the Judiazation of Jerusalem," organized by the Kuwaiti Students Association in April 1997, that "the U.S. State Department tells Arab leaders behind closed doors, 'at this stage, you do not have political leverage, and you have to accept our agenda. Israel is our political agent in the region, and you have to cooperate with it."44
While such sentiments might be expected from Kuwaiti Islamists, they are shared by important secular intellectuals such as former parliamentarian and cabinet minister Ahmad al-Rubi and newspaper columnist Muhammad al-Salih. Al-Rubi stated that "America condemns terrorism and puts countries in the region on the blacklist, but its policies are now encouraging the extremism and terrorism practiced by the Netanyahu government through its Security Council vetoes...with no regard for others' opinions." 45 Al-Salih praised Dr. Umran Hassan's actions in the Kuwaiti parliament, saying that the parliamentarians should have stopped their session and listened to Hassan and the others expressing their "nationalist feelings."46 Even before the advent of the Netanyahu government, Abdullah Al-Ayoob, the former chairman of the Kuwaiti Lawyers' Association, said in 1995 that "part of the constant tension in the region is the result of a deliberate stoking of those tensions as a preparation for redrawing the map of the Middle East," implying that the United States was trying to bring Israel closer to the Gulf states.47 Kuwaiti Islamists and secularists, who disagree on almost everything else, seem to agree that at least one of the goals of American policy in the Gulf is to serve Israel's interests.
THE AMERICAN DEBATE: Readings in the Gulf
The debate in the United States over American policy in the Gulf has heated up recently. Explicit calls for a reconsideration of dual containment, particularly regarding Iran, have been heard from such prominent former U.S. officials as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scrowcroft, Richard Cheney, Richard Murphy, Geoffrey Kemp, Robert Pelletreau, Zalmay Khalilzad and Graham Fuller.48 Academic criticism of the policy, always strong, has continued (R.K Ramazani, 1991; James Bill, 1993; Gregory Gause, 1994; Fawaz Gerges, 1996). But the way this debate is read in the Gulf will surprise Americans. Many Gulf observers see it as proof that the dual-containment policy has not succeeded in accomplishing its publicly stated goals of toppling the Iraqi regime and changing the behavior of Iran. They can see that with their own eyes. The fact that so many prominent Americans accept that the policy is a failure simply confirms their view. Yet they see that the policy does not change despite its failure. The conclusion they draw is that American objectives in the Gulf are not those that are publicly stated by the Clinton administration. Rather, they fear that there is a hidden agenda behind the continuation of such an obviously failed policy- the continuation of American control over the region to serve exclusively American interests.
This topic is extremely sensitive in the Gulf. Gulf officials might raise mild objections to aspects of American policy in the region, but they would never publicly question America's motives. With the officials setting the tone, the government-controlled media also toe the line. The taboo on publicly raising doubts about American intentions in the Gulf has two bases. The first is the very close political and military ties that have developed between the Gulf rulers and the United States since the Gulf War. As those rulers also basically control the media, they set the limits for public debate. They do not permit the kind of open discussion of American policy that is occurring now in Washington, fearing that allowing such a debate in the Gulf itself might offend the Americans or raise questions about the American commitment to the region's security. The government line is also reflected in the self-censorship many Gulf authors practice regarding the topic of American policy, because they do not want to offend the governments that provide them with jobs and control their professional advancement. The second basis for the lack of debate in the Gulf is that, even seven years after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf governments have failed to adopt a collective-security program that would reduce the region's complete dependence on the United States for their defense. Without any strategic alternative, the Gulf states - both governments and people - see themselves as bound to follow the U.S. lead, no matter how great the misgivings they might have about U.S. policy and intentions.
Despite the taboo at the official level, doubts about American intentions in the Gulf are increasingly filtering into public and semi-public discussion. As has been demonstrated above, some questioning of U.S. policy is beginning to appear into the Kuwaiti media, including some that I have written. The issue is widely discussed in diwaniyyas, the semi-public evening gatherings among male Kuwaitis in private homes. I have attended a number of such gatherings and responded to questions that implicitly doubted the sincerity of America's stated policy goals in the area. And if Kuwaitis, who feel most vulnerable and owe the most to the United States, are discussing these issues in the relative freedom of their more open political environment, this is a good indication that such attitudes are prevalent in other Gulf states, where the sense of threat from neighbors and debt to the United States is not felt as strongly.
These doubts about American intentions in the Gulf escalated after the U.S. cruise-missile attack on Iraq in September 1996, following the entry of Saddam Hussein's troops into the "protected zone" established by the Western allies in northern Iraq. The fact that Saddam could openly challenge the great powers and that the U.S. response was so limited and ineffectual, concentrated in southern Iraq, far from Iraqi troops in the north, raised anew public fears that America's real agenda was not to depose Saddam, but rather to sustain him in a weakened position in Baghdad in order to increase the dependence of the Gulf states on Washington.
Conflicting statements from Washington about the September 1996 operation and its results heightened those feelings. The collapse of the CIA-backed effort to overthrow Saddam, which was based in northern Iraq, led President Clinton to admit in a press conference "I think that Saddam is in a better position now than he was after the Gulf War."49 The president, in effect repudiating his previous policy of supporting Iraqi opposition groups, said four days later, "We are not trying to bring down Saddam....We do not topple foreign governments. If someone in his country wants to do it, they have the right to try." 50 Then-CIA- director John Deutch told a Congressional committee that Saddam Hussein had been "strengthened in the region," despite the claims by other administration officials that the cruise missile attack had substantially weakened the Iraqi leader's position.51 The end result of this episode was to sow doubts, particularly in Kuwait, about America's resolve to depose Saddam. Fears grew that the viewpoint expressed at the time by Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, that "if Saddam Hussein did not exist, we would have to invent him" was more than just a commentator's cute tum of phrase - that it expressed the real basis of U.S. foreign policy in the Gulf.52
The zig-zags in American statements on Gulf policy since that time have fed doubts about American policy in the Gulf. President Clinton implied to Barbara Walters in a television interview aired on the ABC news magazine "20/20" in September 1996, that the Bush administration had given Saddam Hussein a "green light" to attack Kuwait in I 990, and did not finish the job by toppling Saddam in 1991. While the president was responding in a partisan fashion to Republican criticism of his ineffectual missile strike on Iraq, his comments were read in the Gulf as implicit confirmation of one of the favorite conspiracy theories circulating about the Gulf War - that the United States lured Saddam into attacking Kuwait as a pretext for U.S. intervention and kept him in power afterwards to justify a continued U.S. military presence. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright's speech at Georgetown University in March 1997, in which she reaffirmed American support for the Iraqi opposition and for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, simply highlighted for Gulf observers the gap between American rhetoric and American action: "If the U.S. wants him out, why don't they do something about it?"
Gulf doubts about and suspicions of American motives and purposes in the region are difficult to document, because of the taboo discussed above. They are currently voiced by a small minority of Gulf intellectuals and political activists. I am not arguing that these opinions are now shared by either the top policy makers in the Gulf countries or the majority of Gulf publics. But they are real and growing, fed by inconsistencies in American words and deeds toward the Gulf. They are stronger now than they were two years ago, and will become stronger yet in two more years if the status quo continues. This intellectual trend in the Gulf could become the basis for a popular backlash, even in Kuwait, against the American military presence in the GCC states. It is a trend that bears watching in Washington.
How can the United States reverse this very negative perception? The key is effective action - not simply words - to bring down the government of Saddam Hussein. This task is not simple, but it is the key to stability in the region. With Saddam gone, the United States could reduce its high-profile military presence in the area, thus avoiding the popular discontent that always grows up around foreign military bases in the Middle East. The Gulf leaders could reduce their bloated military budgets, concentrating more resources on attacking the root causes of potential instability in their countries: unemployment, budget deficits, and educational and health systems that can no longer meet the needs of rapidly growing populations. Combined with a vigorous effort to bring about a change of government in Iraq, the United States should reassess its relations with Iran.
Permanent hostility toward Iran only raises the level of tension in the area and increases the possibility that Iran will respond to U.S. pressures by encouraging instability in the GCC states themselves. The election of Muhammed Khatami as president of Iran in May 1997 was seen in the Gulf as an opportunity for reconciliation in Iranian-GCC relations. The United States could profit from a similar attitude. Reduced tensions with Iran would allow the United States to maintain a lower military and political profile in the Gulf. In the long term, that would provide a greater safeguard for the domestic stability of American allies and the overall security of the region.
1 Author' s interview with Saif Abbas Abdallah, Kuwait, May 31, 1997.
2 al-Rai al-Am, April 1-2, 1997, pp. 10-11.
3 al-Ayyam, April 22, 1997, p. 18.
4 at-Hayat, April 20, 1997, p. 17.
5 al-Rai al-Am, May 29, 1997, pp. 6-7.
6 Abd al-Jalil Marhoon, amn al-khalij bad al-harb al-barida [Gulf Security After the Cold War] (Beirut: Dar al-Nahar lil-Nashr, 1997), pp. 235-6.
7 al-Watan, March 27, 1997, p. 20.
8 al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 17, 1995, p. 1.
9 Akhbar al-Khalij, January 11, 1995, p. l.
10 The Washington Post, December l, 1996, p. 36.
11 Marhoon, p. 226.
12 al-Watan, February 13, 1997, p. l.
13 Marhoon, p. 229.
14 al-Hayat, September 4, 1996, pp. 1, 6.
15 al-Hayat, October 17, 1993, p. 5.
16 al-Rai al-Am, April 1-2 1997, pp. 10-11.
17 Time, May 6, 1996, p. 40.
18 Reuters on-line, June 26, 1996.
19 al-Watan, April 8, 1997, p. 10.
20 Kuwait dailies, November 5, 1994.
21 al-Watan, November 17, 1995, p. 36.
22 al-Mujatama, November 3, 1992, pp. 9-10.
23 al- Tali'a, May 21, 1997, p. 10.
24 al-Watan, April 23, 1997, p. 13.
25 Author's interview with Abd al-Muhsin Jamal, May 24, 1997.
26 al-Rai al-Am, March 31, 1997, pp. 10-11.
27 al-Hayat, February 29, 1996, p. 17.
28 al-Hayat, September 8, 1996.
29 Shibley Telhami, "Uneasy in Arabia," The Washington Post, June 30,1996, p. C2.
30 The Times [London], September 13, 1996, p. 14.
31 al-Rai al-Am, March 31,1997, p. 11.
32 al-Saadun 1997, p. 27.
33 al-Siyasa, December 5, 1995, p. 11.
34 The Washington Post, January 6, 1995, pp. A 1-2.
35 Marhoon, p. 284-6.
36 al-Hayat, May 25, 1997, p. 1.
37 The Guardian Weekly, May 19, 1996, p. 7.
38 On Oman: Reuters on-line, March 23, I 997; on Qatar: Reuters on-line November 12, 1996.
39 al-Watan, March 27, 1997, p. 20.
40 al-Mujtama, April I, 1997, pp. 10-11.
41 al-Watan, April 9, 1997, p. 1.
42 al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 4, 1997, p. 23.
43 al-Watan, May 28, 1997, 3.
44 al-Watan, April 8, 1997, p. 10.
45 al-Qabas, March 29, I 997, p. 40.
46 al-Qabas, April 10, 1997, p. 35.
47 al-Anba, November 19, 1995, p. 11.
48 Brzezinski et al., 1997; Fuller and Lesser 1997; Khalilzad 1995; Pelletreau speech to Petroleum Finance Corporation conference in Cyprus, April 1997, text in Gulf/2000 electronic archive; Cheney comments reported by Reuters on-line, March 19, 1996.
49 al-Hayat, September 17, 1996, p. 5.
50 al-Hayat, September 21, I 996, pp. 1-6.
51 International Herald Tribune, September 20, I 996, p. 12.
52 Newsweek, September 16,1996, p. 17.