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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2002

Defining the enemy

Those who believe there will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad if and when United States forces knock off Saddam Hussein should look closely at what's happening in Kuwait, a decade after that oil sheikdom was liberated from Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War.

The United States already has its first casualty in Gulf War II, and the bombing hasn't even begun. At least three attacks by Islamic insurgents in Kuwait have killed one Marine, among a group of soldiers training near the Iraq border.

Kuwait's government has condemned the attacks, but news reports indicate a growing anti-Americanism in what is supposed to be America's staunchest gulf ally, a country we liberated and saved from Saddam.

Particularly galling was the attitude of a Kuwaiti government official who confessed to have been pleased with the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

A story in the New York Times recounted how Muhammad al-Mulaifi, who heads the information department in Kuwait's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, “tried momentarily to suppress a smile, then broke into a broad grin” when asked if he supported the terrorist attacks on the United States last year.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy about the attack,” Mr. Mulaifi said. “Only then did we see America suffer for a few seconds what Muslims have been suffering for a long time.”

The comment illustrates perhaps the major obstacle to President Bush's stated policy of preemptive military action in the war against terrorism. Despite some sense of gratitude for having been rescued in 1991, many Kuwaitis now see the U.S. as the enemy, primarily because of American support of Israel against the Palestinians.

Attacking Iraq will only confirm the suspicion that what the United States wants is not only to suppress terrorism but also to dominate the region and, not so incidentally, control its oil.

Islamic fundamentalism is a growing political force in Kuwait, as in other gulf nations, and its admonition is to drive away the “infidels” - non-Muslims. This is a force that must not be taken lightly, even among those convinced that the U.S. can easily prevail militarily against any foe.

Is Saddam's regime really “the enemy,” or is it now in Kuwait? How about Yemen, site of the latest ship bombing? Or Indonesia, where a terrorist bombing of a tourist nightclub killed some 200 people, including several Americans? With one foot already lodged in a vague post-war nation-building exercise in Afghanistan, what step does the United States now take?

Focused as Mr. Bush and his advisers are with plans for a quick onslaught on Iraq, followed by an apparently lengthy post-war occupation, it is far from certain that our leaders have a clear idea of their overall objective, or what will happen once they get there.



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