The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Gulf War: History, Bush Policies,
and Public Opinion

INTRODUCTION

This chapter covers the events, policies, and public opinion in the months that led from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 to the American invasion of Iraq in January 1991. Public opinion and the progression of events roughly paralleled each other in the Persian Gulf in 1990–91. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and the deployment of troops by President George Bush, the American people supported the policies of the government. As time passed and the American people became both more knowledgeable about the region and concerned about the domestic economy, overall support began to wane.

Questions that had not been asked earlier now came to the fore. Why was the United States in the Gulf and how should it deal with Saddam Hussein? Should economic sanctions against Iraq be given more time to work? What did the United States hope to gain from a conflict? What would be the costs of war? As the public tried to answer these questions the strong base of support began to fade. The administration tried to counter this drop in support by providing its own answers, using deeds, words, and events such as James Baker's meeting with Tariq Aziz, as well as in the continual demonizing of Saddam Hussein to the American people. However, not until the war became imminent did the enormous foundation of public acceptance of the administration's actions return. This hesitancy and doubt by the American public throughout the Gulf War made it not “a defining moment in history” (Atkinson, 1991, p. A1) as Secretary of State James Baker stated, but rather a high point of a declining Bush presidency.


THE CRISIS BEGINS: IRAQ INVADES KUWAIT

On May 3, 1990, Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz criticized unnamed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nations for overproduction of oil. The significance of this complaint became evident on July 16, when Iraq accused its neighbor Kuwait of the theft of $2.4 billion in oil from the Rumalia field on the Iraq-Kuwait border (Blumberg and French, 1994, p. 28). The following day, Iraq officially ac-

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