During the late CST evening hours of January 17, 1991, the much-promised and anticipated fireworks began.
For weeks prior NBC’s Lester Holt’s daily announcements were mortifyingly sinister. Much like a tease for a big event, the oft announced “Countdown to the war in Iraq” was repeated during NBC’s daily station breaks. And much like the media’s announcements about the countdown for a Super Bowl game or a national championship college playoff game, Holt’s promise came to fruition during the January 17, 1991 late evening hours.
And for the first time in history war turned into a real time spectator sport, a mind-boggling atavistic frenzy of fiendish fire unleashed in sadistic synchronicity from the air, land, and sea.
Glued to CNN’s first-ever live 24/7 reporting on the flaring fireworks illuminating the Baghdad skies, I was not sure whether our doorbell did indeed ring. As the second ring echoed in the hallway, I reluctantly detached myself from the screen to open the front door to our house.
There stood Dr. Lynn Worthen, our preacher. I welcomed Lynn into our home, led him to the family room, turned down the audio on our console telly set, and joined him on the large sofa. To avoid viewing the orgy of destruction and killing, La Belle Femme cloistered herself in the kitchen and adjoining game room. That evening dinner was going to be tasteless.
Upon hearing Lynn’s voice she joined us.
In the background the Baghdad skies were irradiated as though the 4th of July fireworks were set back by six months.
Ten years earlier Lynn braved 70 miles of six inches of ice to visit and lend support to the Halabys as they were facing the uncertainty of cranial cancer on the 6th floor pediatric ward of Little Rock’s St. Vincent’s Hospital. Lynn is your atypical Baptist preacher (none of that silly bible thumping, burn-in-hell, eternal damnation rot) who practices his preaching by knowing exactly how and when to minister. Not known for being long-winded, his every word counts.
And to this day I shall never forget his visit. He was there to assure us that we were loved and to extend his support and empathy.
By now a turned off telly afforded us a few moments of conversation during which I asked Lynn the following question: “Instead of seeing an entire nation punished for the egregious mistakes of its leader, is there a biblical admonishment to dispose of one person to spare a country the agonizing pain of annihilation?” While I don’t recall Lynn’s exact response, he did not provide a textual citation for my query.
Because I am not one to settle scores with added violence, that primordial “eye for an eye” Hebraic teaching, I was actually surprised at my question. At the same time I was fully aware that George W. H. Bush was determined to go for broke.
Having made his fortune in the oil business, 41 was determined to protect Saudi interests (including his family’s interests). Besides, super conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reprimanded 41: Do “not to go wobbly” on Saddam, she lectured in typical British condescension. And to this day we don’t know whether U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, misled Saddam Hussein about U.S. acquiescence to a Kuwait invasion. If true, then Saddam’s megalomania got in the way of his thinking as he was snared into a deviously concocted trap.
Like all Arab dictators, Saddam Hussein lived in a world detached from reality, a closed world not fully attuned to international diplomacy and the inner working dynamics and machinations of a U.S. bent on hegemonic control of the world’s resources and markets. Had Saddam kept up with the war-fever rhetoric voiced by American, British, French, and Canadian politicians and the media, he might have withdrawn from Kuwait.
Perhaps the shrillest warnings should have been the detailed war plans the U.S. military was broadcasting through the various media outlets – the Pentagon’s mouthpieces. Led by the likes of John McCain, a chorus of top U.S. brass was going to, at all costs, win the war so as to shed off the Vietnam War Syndrome, a war McCain fought his entire life. Sadly for McCain and his like-minded compadres the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other regional wars have yet to be won.
Twenty-seven years ago I was still an idealistic, and perhaps in many ways a naïve anti-war pacifist who believed that in a world run by Machiavellian characters the better angels amongst us will somehow steer us away from violence and ignoble actions. On January 5, 1991, I hurriedly wrote a letter addressed to and mailed (registered mail) to the two principals, namely 41 and Hussein.
Even though naiveté prompted me to pen said letter, I was realistic enough to realize that responses would not be forthcoming. To lend support to the few anti-war voices emerging in the state, I submitted my letter as an Op. Ed. column to the late Robert McCord, Editorial Page Editor of the Arkansas Gazette. On January 13, 1991, Bob ran the following as an epistolary guest editorial:
Arab-American Yearns for Peaceful Solution, guest editorial, Arkansas Gazette, January 13, 1991.
Dear Presidents Bush and Hussein:
As the countdown for the January 15 deadline looms like an ominous and dreadful specter over the world, I, like millions around the world, am concerned about the horrible outcome of a military confrontation.
Because I am an American citizen of Arab descent, I have been grappling with a multitude of ambivalent sentiments. Several American friends and former students in uniform are probably facing some of my former Iraqi foreign students and Iraqi friends. I shudder to think that all of these acquaintances and friends are facing off in an arena the likes of which has never been seen before.
President Hussein, while I feel that your country has legitimate disputes vis à vis Kuwait, I am strongly opposed to the manner in which you have attempted to resolve your differences with a neighboring Arab state and to your unwillingness to withdraw your forces from Kuwait.
President Bush, I am equally opposed to your adamant use of military force after the January 15 deadline you set without allowing the economic sanctions to take their full course. And I am saddened by the manner in which this conflict between two opposing camps has morphed into personal attacks. You have positioned yourselves in dreadfully tight corners, and you are both in need of face-saving outcomes.
As a dispossessed Palestinian, I empathize with the victimized Kuwaiti citizens, and I am saddened to hear about brutalities committed by Iraqi troops. Mr. Bush, while I fully appreciate your stand about Iraqi “naked aggression,” I am equally saddened by your acquiescence regarding the naked aggression that continues to be committed by the Syrians and the Israelis in Lebanon, and the continued Israeli brutalities in Palestine.
You were vice president when the Israeli-orchestrated massacre of some 2,500 Palestinians occurred at Sabra and Shatila, yet I have never heard you speak out against that “naked aggression.” Your muted criticism of similar acts of brutality in China, El Salvador, Syria and the West Bank leaves one with the impression that only when strategic, economic, and political concerns are at stake – will you respond forcefully.
Mr. Hussein, I wish I could believe that your linkage of events in Kuwait with the question of Palestinian nationhood is sincere. For 40 years Arab leaders have used the plight of the Palestinian people for self-aggrandizing purposes and for furthering their personal and ideological agendas. I am in full agreement with my president on this issue: your withdrawal from Kuwait should not be linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
At the same time, I want to criticize my president for having cut off dialogue with the PLO and for not having taken a more active role in prodding the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians. I am even skeptical about my president’s recent vote on the U.N. resolution condemning the Israeli government’s handling of the Temple Mount debacle [Sharon’s and Israel’s characteristic arrogant-stick-it-in-your-eye to Bush and the world]. You see, Mr. Hussein, I am not sure whether that vote was cast because Mr. Bush believed in the merit of the resolution or whether it was cast to ‘”keep the coalition together.”
Be that as it may, President Hussein, in this adopted country of mine I do have the freedom to criticize and disagree with my president and his policies, and I can express that disagreement without fear of retribution. I wish the same were true for the citizens of Iraq and the millions who reside in the Arab countries and Israel. I hope you know, Mr. Hussein, that President Bush has made his decision to use military force after the January 15 deadline. Because he is under pressure here at home to keep the loss of American lives to a minimum, I’m afraid that the “carpet bombing” of Iraq will be of such a magnitude that tens of thousands of Iraqis will die, and that does not include the massive destruction that will be inflicted on the entire Iraqi infrastructure. I don’t mean to belittle the might of your military forces, but the reality is that you are outnumbered, outgunned, and outflanked. I hope you and Mr. Bush are fully aware of the social, economic and environmental destruction that will result from a military confrontation.
I urge you, President Hussein, to withdraw from Kuwait and to take your case to either the Arab League or the United Nations and have it fully debated. President Bush, you have stated on many occasions that your stand against this aggression is in harmony with the spirit of the “new world order.” I therefore hope that you will exercise patience as the economic and other sanctions begin to net results. I realize that you are under pressure by many in our society to “solve this problem quickly.” I hope you do not succumb to the pressures of a society that expects quick fixes. A war, even if it is won quickly, will inevitably have a cataclysmic impact on the region and the entire world.
I therefore implore you, Gentlemen, in the names of all the men and women poised on the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi borders, and in the name of the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who will die as a result of such an encounter – to give diplomacy a fair chance. It is my hope that, in the aftermath of a peaceful resolution to the conflict at hand, chemical, nerve and nuclear weaponry would be banned from all the countries of the region, including Israel. The billions of dollars wasted on arms should instead be spent building schools, hospitals, highways, factories, desalination plants and infrastructure projects that would have a profound effect on all the countries in the region. And last, but certainly not least, in “a new world order” (one that is not only interested in selling McDonald , Coke and Chevrolet franchises) the grievances of all the disenfranchised and victimized people of the region who do not possess oil, namely the Lebanese and Palestinian people, must be addressed.
Gentlemen, on Jan. 15, you will have made history. Only the two of you can choose how you want to be remembered. I pray that God will give you both wisdom and courage – the wisdom to make the right decisions, and the courage not to wage war.
Raouf J. Halaby
Postscript: Like conquering Roman emperors before him and inebriated with a military victory, Bush 41’s statement about a “New World Order” acquired a new currency and was extended to lay claim to 20th and 21st centuries of an American Imperial realm across the globe “This is a New World Order. In 1991 “What We Say Goes” was unabashedly declared to the entire world.
In recent days several CP contributors have penned superbly written columns about 41’s life and his diabolical dealing wheeling in myriad national and international ventures and events. It is my hope that after he is put to rest the media will move on from the wall-to-wall whitewashing of his many dastardly deeds. Bush’s greatest accomplishment was the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What Bush the father started in 1991, Bush the son finished in 2003. Even as I write, Iraq continues to be bombed back to the Stone Age. The cancer-causing depleted uranium dropped on Iraq has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi children. Military careers provided lucrative government, lobbying, and corporate rewards. Abu Ghreib atrocities have been swept under the rug. The Arabs are foolishly wasting their fortunes on destructive weaponry to wage tribal and religious wars against each other, and repression is the new normal – it is even enforced with meat saws, beheadings, and torture. Ching, Ching, cheers America as it supports brutal dictators across the globe.
And finally, in the West, state funerals are occasions to glorify and aggrandize, while in the Arab world once-upon-a-time compliant tyrants have their heads snapped off in botched up hangings or sodomized and shot savage killing. They came, They Saw, He Died. Ha ! Ha!
When I heard Bush the Younger, the Butcher of Iraq, state that the last thing his father told him was: “I love you, too,” La Belle Femme chided me for making some oblique comment. “You are cynical,” said she.
“Yes, I am cynical,” I responded. “Just think of the hundreds of thousands in Iraq and elsewhere who will never be able to tell their grandparents, fathers, mothers, siblings, and children I Love You.”