In the months following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, accusations of appeasement were directed at those who doubted the wisdom of adopting an uncompromisingly hard line towards Saddam Hussein. In practice, the history of appeasement of the Baathist regime in Iraq goes back many years and only came to an end on 2 August 1991, before these charges were made. It has been well-known in the Middle East for over twenty years that Saddam Hussein is a brutal and ambitious dictator with aspirations to dominate the oil-rich Arabian peninsula, indeed to succeed President Nasser as a regional Arab leader. In 1979, I visited almost all the states in the peninsula in the wake of the Iranian revolution. I discovered that the principal source of anxiety was not the spread of the Iranian revolutionary message but Iraqi attempts to dominate the smaller Gulf states. This was clear to Western governments and also, presumably, to Moscow, which had concluded a Treaty of Friendship with Iraq seven years earlier. However, such was the fear in the industrialised world of the destabilising influence of Khomeinism, as well as the odium attaching to Iran for the seizure of the staff of the American Embassy in Tehran, that no government sought to take pre-emptive action against the obvious Iraqi preparations to 'teach Khomeini a lesson'.
LRB 21 March 1991 | PDF Download