Kuwait is liberated?

March 04, 1991

"Kuwait is liberated," proclaimed President Bush last Wednesday night.

The news was greeted with justifiable jubilation by Americans who can certainly be grateful the war was won so swiftly and at such little cost in lives of U.S. and allied soldiers.

But now that the victory has been achieved, we might do well to reflect upon just what "liberation" means.

To illustrate the point, let us devise a scenario -- a scenario which, granted, is improbable but which nonetheless may serve its purpose. Let us remove the whole war from the Middle East to another part of the world -- to the continent of Africa.

Suppose, just suppose, that the African nation of Zambia, which is as rich in copper as Iraq is rich in oil, had used its substantial revenues from its natural resource to build an immense and powerful army. (Does anyone doubt that Zambians could have found willing suppliers of such arms in America, France, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, just to name a few countries which in one way or another supplied Iraq with its war machine?)

Suppose, further, that Zambia had used this powerful army to launch a blitzkrieg invasion of South Africa, had succeeded in capturing Johannesburg and sending the minority white government in full flight into the African bush.

Is it likely, under those improbable circumstances, that the United States would have immediately mobilized half a million troops -- roughly 20 percent of whom were black Americans, mind you -- for the purpose of restoring the "legitimate" government of South Africa, a white minority government that has never in its history recognized the right of black South Africans to vote or to participate in any way in the governing of their country?

And yet we apparently see no moral contradiction in sending our armed forces, of which women make up 6 percent, to rescue a nation that flatly denies women the right to vote, the right to own property and a host of other basic human rights -- and bases those troops in a neighboring country, Saudi Arabia, which forbids women from even driving automobiles.

Is Kuwait, whose government's claim to legitimacy rests entirely on the hereditary rights of its ruling family, any less an autocratic oligarchy than the white minority regime in Pretoria? Is there really any moral difference in invoking bloodlines (as the Kuwaiti monarch does) rather than race as the basis of the right to rule?

To continue President Bush's words, "the legitimate government Kuwait is restored."

We wonder how those words must sound today to the families of the first American servicewomen ever to die in combat.

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