Why is the Middle East kingdom of Kuwait so grateful and friendly to the United States unlike the rest of the Muslim Middle East? A delegation of Kuwait’s citizens came to this country last week for two reasons: First, to say thanks for having a decade ago saved its population of about 2.1 million people from Iraq’s cruel, imperialist assault and, second, to issue a warning about Saddam Hussein:
“The clock is ticking. The later you move, the more dangerous he becomes.”
These words were spoken by Jassem al-Saqer, chairman of the Kuwaiti Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. He described Iraq, according to the New York Times, as “the richest and most dangerous state in the region.” He even called for a “secure Israeli state next to a viable Palestinian state.”
Kuwait, in area slightly smaller than New Jersey, should know. Without warning on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq attacked and overran this small country, slaughtering thousands of civilians and soldiers alike. On Feb. 23, 1991, the U.S.-led coalition liberated Kuwait in four days but, unforgivably, allowed the Butcher of Baghdad to remain on his bloody throne.
As one of the visiting Kuwaiti delegates described the U.S. 1991 role in Iraq, “You came, you bombed, and you left.” Restoring the oil infrastructure wantonly destroyed by the Iraqi invasion cost Kuwait $5 billion.
The Kuwaiti delegation’s gratitude to the United States underscores a remarkable fact about the Middle East. The Arab countries know that, had Saddam Hussein been allowed to get away with his 1991 seizure of Kuwait, it would have been only the beginning of Iraqi domination of the area. Saddam’s defeat guaranteed the independence of the Arab lands, notably Saudi Arabia and Syria.
But what is the regnant ideology in the Middle East? Anti-Americanism, according to Salman Rushdie, target of assassination by Iran’s theocracy. Even if a peace settlement were achieved, he wrote in the New York Times, the U.S. would still be Public Enemy No. 1. Why? Mr. Rushdie explains:
“[Anti-Americanism] has become too useful a smokescreen for Muslim nations’ many defects their corruption, their incompetence, their oppression of their citizens, their economic, scientific and cultural stagnation. America-hating has become a badge of identity, making possible a chest-beating, flag-burning rhetoric of word and deed that makes men feel good. It contains a strong streak of hypocrisy, hating most what it desires most, and elements of self-loathing. (‘We hate America because it has made of itself what we cannot make of ourselves.’)”
Recently Joshua Muravchik, scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote that “what is most distinctive about the Islamic world, where most modern terrorism germinates, is the prevalence of autocratic and tyrannical government.” He cited the Freedom House annual survey of freedom in the world which demonstrated that the post-Cold War era had inspired a global phenomenon elected governments except in Islamic countries. Out of 47 countries with mostly Muslim populations, only one country, Mali in Africa, is ranked as free.
The Freedom House survey, observes Mr. Muravchik, says the state of freedom “has deteriorated among the Muslim countries in the past 20 years while freedom has been growing faster than ever all around them.”
Bernard Lewis, Princeton’s great Middle East scholar, in his latest book, “What Went Wrong?” argues that ”By all the standards that matter in the modern world economic development and job creation, literacy and educational and scientific achievement, political freedom and respect for human rights what was once a mighty civilization has indeed fallen low.”
The Soviet Union once preached a spurious slogan peaceful coexistence. Yet the slogan did have some useful meaning. The then two superpowers managed to avoid war.
The question of the 21st century is whether Islam, in the hands of Taliban and Iranian fundamentalists, can peacefully co-exist with a Judeo- Christian democratic civilization that has brought a decent standard of living to hundreds of millions of people?