Magoosh GRE

Between Oil and Democracy – the US and the Gulf War

| March 12, 2015

1. Introduction and historical background
Since the post-colonial period, the Middle East has been the ground for ethnic and religious divisions, and conflicts related to nation-building, nation-formation and national identity. The end of the Cold War posed new challenges about the promotion of democracy and the spread of Western economic values in the region. During the Cold War, the separation of powers in the region between the Gulf monarchies, seeking American protectionism and the Soviet affiliated Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt (under Nasser) exacerbated forgotten disputes for economic dominance and political supremacy (Rubin, 1999; Halliday, 2005; Lewis, 1995).
The US influence in the region was oscillating since the 1950s, leaving an early mark with the American participation in the coup against Iranian PM Mohamed Mossadegh, which according to some, exacerbated religious radicalism and paved the way for the Islamic revolution in 1979 (Kinzer, 2003).

In 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, threatening the country’s unity for the second time (the first time in 1961) (Lewis, 1995). He had gained power in the late 1970s through a violent coup and as a result posed a realistic military threat for the rest of the countries. He accused Kuwait that its oil production exceeds the allocated OPEC quotas. In addition, Saddam demanded that Kuwait abolish Iraq’s foreign debt, accumulated during the Iran – Iraq war (Fisk, 2005; Halliday, 2005). The military intervention which followed in the summer of 1990 was condemned by the international community and invoked foreign intervention on behalf of the US.

This essay will discuss the reasons for the American support in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation. It will look at the most important aspects of the US participation, and will critically approach them.
The structure of the rest of this paper is the following: 2) Research questions, 3) US, Kuwait and Democracy, 4) US, Kuwait and Oil and 5) Conclusion and Prospects for the Future

2. Research questions
This essay will look at the political and economic aspects of the US intervention in the Gulf War.
It will argue that the political reasons behind the US intervention in Kuwait are based on the opposition of Saddam’s political influence in the region, and the US endeavour to promote democracy and stability in the Middle East. The export of democracy and the opposition to rogue regimes in developing countries has been one of the continuities in US foreign policy.

The economic reason for the US support of Kuwait is related to the continuous US dependency on oil (Fisk, 2005; Yergin, 2009). The US intervened in Kuwait, because it had increasing concerns that Saddam’s territorial and economic greed might spill over to Saudi Arabia which remains one of the main oil suppliers of the US.
This essay will critically approach both aspects and discuss their feasibility.

3. US, Kuwait and democracy
First, the political reasons for the US support of Kuwait will be discussed. Since the WWII, the US has maintained is position of a global peace maker, based on its historical tradition for peace promotion and world democracy. Some observers refer to this phenomenon as American exceptionalism (Hunt, 1987; Levy, 2001), and others call it neo-imperialism (Cox, 2003). In both cases, its manifestation in Kuwait was through the political intervention of the US against Saddam, who was viewed as a threat to the peace and stability in the region. In his speech in August 1990, following Iraq’s invasion if Kuwait, President Bush I was adamant, that keeping the peace and the stability in the Middle East was a priority on the US foreign policy, agenda, which it had to address (Bush, 1990). For some analysts like Douglas Little (2002), there was an ideological justification for the US actions in the Middle East, which he calls American Orientalism. Drawing on Said’s classic notion of Orientalism (1979), Little describes the American perception of the Muslim Arabs as backward, inferior and other (2002). This is an oppositional identity, constructed on the basis of cultural distinctiveness, which was gradually transformed into a discourse, and incorporated in US Foreign Policy. A manifestation of latent imperialist ambition of the US, its support for Kuwait, in Little’s terms, was designed not to directly reach the point of dominance, but also to establish US’s political superiority in the region. This remains a highly debatable issue however, because in the context of US dependency on oil, ideology is hardly discernible. The next section will discuss the economic aspects related to the US support for Kuwait.

4. US, Kuwait and oil
The other aspect, related to the US support for Kuwait is oil dependency. In his speech from August, 1990, President Bush I stated: “Our country now imports nearly half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence. Much of the world is even more dependent upon imported oil and is even more vulnerable to Iraqi threats” (Bush, 1990). Back then it was revealed that the US was concerned about the danger, which Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait posed for Saudi Arabia – a major supplier of US oil. In the words of President Bush: “The sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States [ . .]” (Bush, 1990). The economic aspect of the US oil is much more straightforward and easy to grasp than the political one. The US dependency on Saudi oil, which is ever increasing to this day, was, at the turn of the last century, the major reason for the economic sanctions, which the US imposed on Iraq as a result of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Here the economic and political aspects of US intervention in Kuwait overlap. Driven by fears of oil insecurity, the US supported Kuwait against Saddam, and the promotion of democracy and liberty against the dictator were used as a framework of this intervention.

5. Conclusion and prospects for the future
To discuss the US support for Kuwait in 1990/1 only from a political perspective, would be naïve and would oversimplify the complexity of the issue. The political mission, which justifies the US values for democracy and stability in the Gulf region, was only the vessel, in which the pursuit of economic power and the US dependency of oil, gained momentum. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is only a small signifier for the US perseverance to sustain its influence in the Middle East, which to this day, is one of the continuities in US foreign policy. This continuity was successfully transformed into policy with the 2003 war in Iraq, resting upon fairly the same ideological and economic foundations, as its prelude, which took place in Kuwait more than a decade earlier. The US stance towards the Gulf countries is not likely to change in the future. With Iran rising as a regional superpower and the increasing economic importance of the Gulf globally, the US military and political presence in the region is likely to remain a top priority on its foreign policy agenda.

Bush, G. (1990) “Address to the Nation Announcing the Deployment of United States Armed Forces to Saudi Arabia, August 8, 1990,” in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States 1990, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991), pp. 1107-9.
Available at:
Retrieved 08.12.2011
Halliday, F. The Middle East in International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005

Hunt, M. (1987) Ideology and US Foreign Policy. Yale University Press
Fisk, R. (2005) “Planet Damnation”, in The Great War for Civilization. The Conquest of the Middle East, pp. 586-646, New York: Alfred A.Knopf

Kinzer, S. (2003) All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, John Wiley and Sons

Levy, S.M. (2001). American Exceptionalism and US Foreign Policy. Palgrave, New York

Lewis, B (1995). The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years. New York: Scribner
Little, D. (2003) American Orientalism : United States and the Middle East since 1945 /, London : I. B. Tauris, 2003.
Peterson, J. E (1983). The Politics of Middle Eastern Oil, Washington, D.C : Middle East Institute

Rubin, B. (1999) “The Persian Gulf After the Cold War: Old Pattern; New Era”, Volume 3, No. 2 – June

Available at:
Retrieved 08.12.2011

Said, E. (1979) Orientalism London: Vintage Books

Yergin, D. (2009) The prize : The epic quest for oil, money and power, London: Simon & Schuster

Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Politics Essay Examples