In 1991 many countries went reluctantly but determinedly to war to free Kuwait from occupation by the armed forces of Iraq. The war was led by the United States and was morally proper and internationally legal. It was also short and successful in terms of liberating an occupied country. And after liberation the country was of course to be handed back to the people of Kuwait.
Well . . . not exactly. In fact, not at all, because the country wasn’t handed back to the PEOPLE of Kuwait. The country was handed back to the RULER of Kuwait, Amir Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah, who fled his country the moment he was told it was being invaded and spent his exile in luxury while the people suffered under a brutal occupation. Mr Al Sabah returned once the danger was over. Since then he has made it clear he has no intention of allowing the citizens of Kuwait to have any influence in running his feudal kingdom.
But George Bush told us in his Inauguration speech that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation.” It is fourteen years since Kuwait was liberated. What has Bush done in that time “to seek and support growth of democratic movements” in that feudal dungheap?
The professionals of the US State Department are the last bastion of independent and fearless foreign policy deliberation in Washington. They are experts with wide experience and formidable intellectual ability who have been under ferocious assault by Bush fanatics for four years. Now they have been taken over by one of these arrogant zealots, and a mendacious one to boot, whose influence will be malign. My point in this instance is that it will be interesting to see the style of future State Department reports on undemocratic countries whose leaders are Bush favorites. Meanwhile, here are extracts from its last report on Kuwait:
“Political parties: None ; formal political parties are banned although de facto political blocs exist,” records the State Department. Bush says, quite rightly, “there is no justice without freedom”. But what has he done to promote freedom for the citizens of Kuwait to form political parties? Nothing.
“Elections: There are no executive branch elections” reports the US State Department. “The Amir is hereditary ; [the] prime minister and deputy prime ministers are appointed by the Amir.” But Bush declares “We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people”. Decent treatment includes having a voice in selection of your own government, but Bush has done nothing in his four years in power to “encourage reform” in Kuwait to the extent of having free elections. Has there been any effect on Washington-Kuwait relations because Mr Al Sabah will not allow democratic elections? – No; not a word of disapproval has been uttered by any Bush figure about the lack of democracy in Kuwait. (Perish the thought that this might have something to do with the fact that $5.5 billion dollars has been spent by Al Sabah on US weapons systems.)
“Suffrage: [there are voting rights only for] adult males who have been citizens for 20 years and are not in the security forces (about 14% of all citizens).” Women are not allowed to vote, even for appointment of the rubber-stamp, non-party Assembly that has no influence whatever over the autocratic ruler. And Bush says “America will not pretend . . . that women welcome humiliation and servitude.” But Bush has not lifted a finger to improve the lot of women in Kuwait. (It isn’t that Mr Al Sabah disapproves of women as such: he owns four of them; three apparently permanent and one rotational.)
Bush said that “Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities”. The only real minority in Kuwait is the ruling family itself, and be assured it is well-protected. It controls the whole place, and nobody else gets a look-in. You doubt me? The CIA’s ‘Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments’ names the Chief of State of Kuwait as Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah, and then lists al (sic) the rest of the happy family.
Kuwait’s prime minister, first deputy prime minister, deputy prime minister, and the ministers of oil, defense, communications, interior, social affairs and labor, and parliamentary affairs are called Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah, Al Sabah and Al Sabah. So are the governor of the central bank and (but of course) the ambassador to Bush. The Al Sabah family has Kuwait wrapped up. It controls everything that goes on in the place. Especially the flow of oil and the weapons’ purchases and the construction contracts and the all-important connection with Bush Washington. The film “Fahrenheit 9/11” is banned in Kuwait. “The movie was banned . . . when the only cinema company in Kuwait, which is state-owned, was turned down for a licence to show the movie”, said the (foreign) press report. And note that the only company allowed to show movies in the country is owned by the government, which is the Al Sabah family. So much for freedom of expression.
In his ‘freedom’ speech Bush announced: “The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.” But the leader of Kuwait does not serve or trust his people. As the State Department points out: “Following the 2002 raid of 19 Internet cafes, the Ministry of Communications requires cafe owners to obtain the names and civil identification numbers of customers and to submit the information to the Ministry upon request.” There is no trust there. Yet Bush walks at the side of the Kuwaiti dictator right now, and has done so for fourteen years following the ‘liberation’ of the country. Rice called Iran “a totalitarian state” during her visit to Paris last week. So it is. What does she call Kuwait?
The dictator of Iraq was forced out of Kuwait only to be replaced by Kuwait’s very own dictator. Bush and his zealots and the whole US Congress couldn’t give a damn that Mr Al Sabah senior has no intention of ever permitting democracy in his lucrative personal fiefdom, Kuwait, Inc. There is no more chance of the feudal monarch of Kuwait allowing democracy, political parties and female equality in his kingdom than there is of Bush admitting he is a blithering idiot.
Here is Bush 15 months ago in the White House entertaining the prime minister of Kuwait, one Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah of the feudal family autocracy: “Kuwait is a steady and strong friend of the United States. I thank you for your friendship. So it’s my honor to welcome you here, sir, today . . . this is a very important visit, because it gives me a chance to publicly offer my sincere thanks to an important leader in the Oval Office. Secondly, we did discuss our mutual responsibilities to promote peace. I assured the Prime Minister that this country would stay in Iraq to fulfill our promise to Iraqi citizens who are desperate for peace and for the chance to succeed.”
Bush decided to allow Iraqis the freedom to vote. He said on January 26 that “This is a historic opportunity for the people of Iraq to vote for a government.” To be sure, the Iraqis had not been told the names of the candidates, nor had they any idea of what political parties they represented, nor what these parties might have as their platforms. But at least they could vote, which was greeted by Washington as a wonderful victory for Bush freedom and democracy.
So when is Bush going to announce that the people of Kuwait should be free to have an historic opportunity to vote for a democratic government?
After all, Bush declared on January 26 that “we expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity, that every person ought to have a voice.” His statement was ungrammatical and confused, as is usual when he is not speaking from text prepared by the zealots, but the message is detectable: every person ought to have a voice. Who can disagree with that?
Mr Al Sabah can disagree with that. What’s more, he can smirk at Bush and the rest of the world while he is disagreeing with it, because he knows that Bush will in no way make it difficult for him to continue denying democracy to the people of Kuwait. And Bush will smirk right back at his “steady and strong friend”, the dictator.
There’s a word for all this: Humbug.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com