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Stroilov: They developed a very peculiar theory at that time – which, unfortunately, became universally accepted by now. The theory is that a military intervention is ‘legal’ only if it is authorised by the UN; and therefore, you need a very wide global coalition in order to attack some petty dictator like Saddam in 1991 or Gaddafi now. Time and again, this approach leads to disastrous results. In 1991, it prolonged the life of Saddam’s regime for another 12 years. In the documents, we can see why that happened: the Soviets and the French put the pressure on Bush not to go beyond liberation of Kuwait, i.e. strictly follow the UN resolution.
Today we know this approach led to all sorts of disasters, including several further wars, and millions of people lost their lives because Saddam had been allowed to stay in power. And yet, when the West had to intervene in Libya this year, we took the same absurd approach: asked for UN authorization, for an Arab League authorization, and obtained all sorts of resolutions to tie our hands. It was ‘legal’ to bomb Gaddafi’s forces while they advance but ‘illegal’ to bomb them while they retreat. It was ‘legal’ to kill Gaddafi by accident but ‘illegal’ to kill him deliberately. As a result, it took many months for the whole might of the Western world to defeat a petty backward dictatorship.
In the documents of the Gulf War, we can see the detailed mechanism of a cumbersome and unfriendly coalition practically sabotaging the war; and even more importantly, we find the explanation why America agrees to that. Bush and Baker had a peculiar idea which they called ‘the new world order,’ introduced and supported by UN as a ‘prototype of the world government,’ to use Gorbachev’s expression. It was agreed between the world leaders at the time that America must no longer be a ‘global policeman,’ and the role should be gradually taken over by a UN-based world government.
Of course, you cannot fight a real war on the basis of such utopian ideas. On the one hand, Saddam fully exploited its weakness by making a very logical argument: well, if UN resolutions are now taken seriously and implemented by force, why do you start from me and not, for example, from Israel? After all, there is plenty of UN resolutions against Israel. On the other hand, the wide coalition opposing him inevitably included a powerful anti-American and anti-Israeli wing, led by Gorbachev, Mitterrand and Mubarak. They joined the coalition for real politik reasons, but between themselves, they openly said they did it only to ‘restrain the Americans.’ That is why the US had to agree to all those secret talks with Saddam, promise all these concessions at the expense of Israel, and eventually had to turn back from the gates of Baghdad and not overthrow Saddam. Even after Bush himself appealed to the Iraqis to revolt against Saddam and they did so, he abandoned them and left them at Saddam’s mercy just because a further military intervention would upset the Soviets and the French. The massacre that followed was the first bloody fruit of the ‘new world order’ utopia.
FP: Do you think similar things are happening with Libya now?
Stroilov: Of course. After reading these documents, you can see these events are simply inevitable in a global coalition of this kind. With all these limitations, it is lucky that NATO has won that war at all; but I bet we still don’t know the full price of that victory. The secret deals of the Gulf War are still haunting us twenty years later. It is because of these secret deals that Israel is now besieged and the whole region is still overwhelmed by wars and tyrannies. No doubt, there were similar secret deals in every ‘new world order’ war, in every global coalition constructed since then; and those deals will have equally serious consequences.
FP: How does Gorbachev look in these documents?
Stroilov: Whatever may be said about Gorbachev’s other policies, domestic and foreign, he was a typical Soviet leader as far as the Middle East was concerned. He did not change anything. The Soviet support to all sorts of terrorists continued as usual, and it is all well documented. Assad remained Moscow’s main ally in the region, and the transcripts of their meetings also suggest that Gorbachev and Assad-senior were personal friends. Gorbachev even backed the idea of a united socialist Arab superstate under Assad’s leadership. Gorby still saw Israel and the US as the main enemies in the Middle East. Thus, the transcript of Gorbachev’s talks with Arafat in 1988 record them as discussing a detailed plan of the first Intifada, which was certainly orchestrated from Moscow.
Take another example: in the run-up to the military operation against Saddam, two of Gorbachev’s advisors wrote a memo suggesting sharing information about Iraqi’s chemical and bacteriological weapons with the Americans. Gorbachev refused to do that. A month later, Margaret Thatcher raised the subject of Saddam’s WMDs in a conversation with Gorbachev. Not only did he decline to tell her anything, he actually told her a lie: he confirmed Saddam had chemical weapons but said he had no knowledge about the existence of Iraqi bacteriological weapons. At that time, this lie could have very serious consequences. Nobody knew whether Saddam would use his WMDs in the upcoming war. Imagine what would happen if the West believed Gorbachev, assumed he had no bacteriological weapons, and then Saddam had suddenly used them.
FP: Tell us about Ted Kennedy and his role in the Gulf War.
Stroilov: Ted Kennedy supplied Moscow with confidential sensitive information at least since the late 1970s, sometimes through KGB channels. This is all very well documented in my book. In the run-up to the US military operation against Iraq, in November 1990, the Bush Administration was still telling the Soviets they were prepared to resolve the conflict peacefully if Saddam withdraws from Kuwait. In that situation, Kennedy secretly sent his chief of staff, Larry Horowitz, to Moscow, to tell the Soviets this was not true: ‘a final decision to solve the crisis in the Gulf by military means has already been taken in the White House. The deadline is spring.’
There are a number of similar episodes with Kennedy and Larry Horowitz, many of them unrelated to Iraq or Middle East.
FP: With hindsight, what was the main mistake of the West in dealing with the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis?
Stroilov: Playing ‘new world order’ is a serious business, involving not only the world’s oil supplies, but millions of human lives.
FP: What should have we done instead?
Stroilov: They should have done what they successfully did 12 years later, in a much more difficult situation: forget about the UN and ‘world community’, fight that war as a normal war, and win it. Be a global policeman. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was not a very difficult problem in itself. In military terms it was fairly easy to drive him out. But it was also an opportunity which the West missed. We should have removed Saddam from power in 1991, and unlike 12 years later, the Western troops would then be greeted with flowers as liberators. There was a nationwide uprising again Saddam, provoked by Bush’s own appeal to the Iraqi people; and then the West allowed to drown it in blood. No wonder the West became not very popular with the Iraqis after such a betrayal. This is not to mention the fact that Saddam’s regime was given another 12 years to prepare for a full-scale guerrilla war.
We should have supported the uprising, removed Saddam, and established democracy in Iraq, which would have been much easier at that point. Furthermore, we should have made efforts to help that democratic revolution spread into other countries of the region. Again, it is happening now anyway, but in a much more difficult situation, where there is a very real danger that the revolution would be hijacked by Islamic Socialists or Socialist Islamists of some kind. In 1991, in the atmosphere of the end of the Cold War, the mood of the people would be much more pro-Western and pro-democratic, while the regimes would not have another twenty years to prepare their defences.
Unfortunately, the West not only missed that opportunity, but created all sorts of complications by pursuing its ‘new world order’ chimera. Worse still, we have not learnt anything even now, and repeat all the same mistakes in the present Middle East crisis. The war in Libya is the brightest example of this.
FP: Pavel Stroilov, thanks for joining Frontpage Interview.
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