What would have happened if Congress had decided that the United States shouldn’t fight to liberate Kuwait in 1990? Where would I be if George H. W. Bush had instead decided that an economic war against Iraq was in Kuwait’s best interests from their point of view?
I think about that a lot.
Kuwait is a tiny country. It’s twenty-four times smaller than California and can barely be seen on a world map. More conspicuous is Iraq, situated to the north of Kuwait, which was ruled by a dictator who assembled throughout his ruling years one of the most powerful armies in the world.
The Iraqi army totaled over one million soldiers, with another half-million ready to join the fight. The Kuwaiti army numbered just below eight thousand. Below. Eight. Thousand. Let that sink in.
Have you ever played a game of Civilization before? You’d probably surrender if you were against Iraq, cursing the unfair AI in protest.
In mere hours, Kuwait was under siege. If this was a Call of Duty scenario, players would be angry at the developers for crafting a fictional story wherein the good guys win despite literally impossible forces against them.
The members of the White House were in agreement that Kuwait must be rescued, but a division in ideology arose: one party supported the idea of economic sanctions that would eventually force Iraq out, and the other believed a military solution was the only way. The sanctions team argued that their solution would take two years, but would prevent a war. The other team thought that nothing short of going to war would stop Saddam. They were right.
I think a lot about what the ramifications of the other decision would have been. I thank the lord a Republican with a spine was president then. Kuwait could have been a second Vietnam—or at least that’s what Saddam was banking on. Can you imagine if Twitter was a thing in 1990? Liberals would have tweeted vigilantly against the war as they were sipping their expensive teas and as Kuwaitis were gunned down by the hour. Others would have screamed that war is the only answer, a repulsive thought to even write down. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong and no one knows what to believe in because the world is vast and complicated and we’re not equipped to think that far outside of novels with ambiguous protagonists. The thought of all this idiocy makes me cringe.
Kuwait fought its most vicious diplomatic wars to win the approval of Congress and the world’s nations, all to help reclaim her sovereignty through militaristic force. Kuwaitis thus earned the right to take pride in their country’s strategic international investments and assets, as well as its strong diplomatic ties and relationships, for they helped steer public opinion to embrace Kuwait’s independence and ownership of its rightful assets. We need only look around us to see that war is gruesome and no nation comes out of it unscathed. The fact that Kuwait did, relatively speaking, is yet another miracle.
I think about the interplay between Kuwait’s insignificant size and significant wealth a lot. Would Bush and Thatcher bat an eye if not for the millions—billions—their governments would make from striking deals with us? (No.) Would I have felt any differently if I were in their shoes? (No.) Nevertheless, it’s an immeasurable privilege to be a Kuwaiti citizen in 2019, having a relatively easy life (even if difficult in other unspeakable ways) thanks to the sacrifices of women and men far greater and braver than me. I look at some of the troubled countries in the surrounding region—at Yemen and Syria and Sudan—and shudder to think that Kuwait could have had a calamity like that dropped on its lap if not for what often seemed like divine intervention, my own spiritual skepticism aside.
What is the meaning of survival? Yikes, I don’t know. The word “survival” feels funny to write. I was but a two-year-old when Saddam invaded this tiny land. Yet a collective feeling of survivorship permeates the national consciousness. I feel lucky to be alive and to be in the position that I am today: a middle-class shift worker who runs a record label. (It’s quite the upgrade considering the dire could-be alternatives.) I am grateful despite my two-hour commute, or my nearly sixty-hour work week, or my debilitating chronic health, or the existential crises that come with age and books, or my failing friendships, or the forced absence of love, or the universally futile search for meaning. In February, Kuwaitis feel an extra dose of patriotism and affection, but my Februarys are often spent looking inwardly. Now that tens of thousands of brave women and men have put their lives on the line for me, what do I need to do in return? How can I give back? Is art ever enough? I shout these questions into the atmosphere, but nothing echoes back. It is up to us to decide. Brave Wave is my tiny contribution to this gift of resurrection, of second coming, of being granted a megaphone and a chance to shout. I just hope it’s loud enough.