A Spectacular Miscalculation

After the Mexican Border War concluded with neither side gaining ground and both suffering incalculable losses, Houston’s hold on power was in tatters. The war had devastated all of the programs that made him popular. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers made redundant by the ceasefire wanted jobs, which he could not offer. The pampered elites of Houston’s relatives, friends and supporters on the East Coast wanted public works projects on which they could make money.

The entire population was starved for the consumer goods they had come to expect. Rumblings of discontent could be heard everywhere, and at least two assassination attempts against Houston were reported.(13)

Houston recognized that repression alone would not work. He needed to return to the policy that had worked before the Mexico war: pacifying Americans with social works and consumer goods. How to do this was a question of survival. His survival. Getting money was his most pressing concern.(14)

In the years since the downfall of the American democracy, British Columbia (the Pacific coast territory of Canada) had become the center of foreign banking in the Americas. It had been responsible for lending much of the money that America had borrowed to fight Mexico.

But now, after the war was finished, instead of helping their American brothers rebuild, BC was refusing to issue new loans and pressing for repayment of funds already spent.(15) Whether intentional or not, BC’s insistence on prompt repayment of funds was an existential threat to Houston’s rule.(16)

Houston had always been distrustful of Canada’s ties to Britain, and now America had just fought a horrible war to protect the region from Latin American Leftists. Yet British Columbia was effectively threatening his very regime. What to do?

Houston’s line of reasoning went approximately as follows: A successful takeover of British Columbia would connect the continental U.S. with Alaska and give America the entire Pacific coast from San Diego to the Arctic Circle. Houston saw nothing particularly controversial about it. He believed that it was a logical extension of Manifest Destiny.(17) And it would almost certainly be a cake walk. Canada didn't have nearly enough military might to challenge America, and since Megastan was the only country capable of enforcing international law, and Megastan was an ally of Houston, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Houston also understood that great powers had little interest in the fates of tiny powers. The world did very little when China invaded Tibet, India conquered Goa, and Indonesia ravaged East Timor.(18)

Unfortunately for Houston, he had no access to public opinion or honest advisors to test his appraisals. He had destroyed the Constitutional limits to his power, dismissed any advisor who disagreed with him, and frightened the American public into silence.(19)

He was careful to feel out the position of Megastan, though, since Canada was also a Megastani ally. To his relief, the Megastani ambassador reassured him, “We have no opinion on North American conflicts, like your border disagreement with Canada... All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.”(20)

So Houston launched his invasion of British Columbia and successfully occupied it in only 24 hours. He declared in triumph that British Columbia had been “returned” to the American homeland.(21)

British Columbia’s Fate

In the United Nations and elsewhere, Megastan condemned the American aggression. Houston was not impressed. A believer in realpolitik, Houston assumed that they would make pro forma protests but soon accept “facts.”

He also scoffed at their charge of immorality. He knew that Megastan had helped both sides during the Mexican-American War, and he also knew that Megastani Central Intelligence (MCI) had destabilized and overthrown democratically elected governments and assassinated statesmen when it suited their interests.(22)

But what Houston had failed to grasp was he had put his hands on something where Great Powers would not tolerate interference: global capital. This, not morality or legality, was what differentiated BC from Goa, Tibet, or East Timor.

A Megastani Parliamentarian later wryly remarked, “If British Columbia herded yaks instead of cash,” the grab might have been overlooked.(23)

After passage of a Megastan-supported UN Security Council resolution that condemned the occupation and called for boycotts, Houston began to get nervous. Several peace proposals were put forward, but neither side would budge.(24) The stalemate lasted for six months.

In the meantime, Megastan urged Canada to “request” the stationing of Megastani troops in what was left of their country after BC was taken. Canada was reluctant to host pockets of heavily-armed foreigners with scant regard for Canadian culture. But after a great deal of diplomatic arm twisting, Canada agreed to invite Megastani Defense Secretary Dik Chen Yi(25) to Ottawa.

Events soon took on a life of their own. Within weeks, a quarter of a million Megastani troops, 1,000 aircraft, and 30 naval ships had been assembled in Canada,(26) and war seemed inevitable. Megastan put together a coalition of allies to help fight the war, most of whom were rewarded with money and military consignments. Those who refused to participate were severely punished.(27)

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  1. “Staying in power, he decided, depended largely on the amount of money at his disposal: the hundreds of thousands of soldiers made redundant by the ceasefire with Iran wanted jobs; the pampered elite of Saddam’s relatives, friends, and supporters wanted public works projects on which they could make money; the entire population was starved for the consumer goods they had come to expect. Rumblings of discontent could be heard everywhere... at least two assassination attempts were reported.”

  2. “Saddam... recognized that repression alone would not work; he needed to return to the policy that had worked before the Iran war, ‘filling the Iraqis’ bellies.’ How to do this was a question of survival. His survival. Getting money was his most pressing objective.”

  3. “With the war over, no new loans were forthcoming from other Arab states, and Kuwait was pressing for funds already spent. Saddam was desperate. His very survival seemed at stake. And right next door was the bank. In these circumstances, he made another miscalculation so colossal that some observers thought he had been set up for defeat.”

  4. “We do not have to agree with Saddam’s view but without taking it into account... we cannot understand what Iraq did. I believe the following is what he thought. The key to his survival lay in the hands of Kuwaitis. They were acting not as ‘Arab brothers’ but as greedy moneylenders. Disloyal Iraqis, they had been led astray by British imperialism. Working with their British masters, they had fattened off what was really Iraqi oil. Despite this, Iraq had fought for them, protecting them from the Iranians, and now they not only refused to help but were actively engaged in what amounted to economic warfare against Iraq. By exceeding the quota set by OPEC by nearly 2 million barrels a day, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had driven down the price... This remnant of imperialism [thought Saddam] must finally be liquidated.”

  5. “After all, even Iraq’s kings had demanded Kuwait be ‘returned.’ That also had been the policy of Abdul Karim Qasim and the Arif brothers. Had a public opinion poll been taken in Iraq, most Iraqis would have agreed.”

  6. “Saddam probably thought, after Kuwait was taken, the other powers would acquiesce as they had done elsewhere. Many people in Iraq pointed out to me that this is what happened when China invaded Tibet, Indonesia overwhelmed East Timor, and India conquered Goa... As Iraqis bitterly remarked to me, the difference was that Goa had no oil.”

  7. “Saddam had no way to test his appraisal [that invading Kuwait was a good idea]. He had denied the public any voice in government, and even his closest associates were terrified of voicing any opinion that might run counter to his... Although an omnivorous reader, he was a man of limited education, with little knowledge of world affairs. Effective government, in his view, did not rest on intelligence and analysis but on manipulation of people and the acquisition of weapons... Weapons, he thought, were precisely what made powers ‘great’ and what gave their governments ‘security.’”

  8. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via [Chadli] Klibi [then Arab League General Secretary] or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.”

    Glaspie later told the New York Times that no one in the American government had thought Iraq was going to seize all of Kuwait; they may have thought Iraq was only interested in a narrow strip of territory that would have given them greater access to the Gulf. See Polk, p. 144.

  9. “He ordered his forces to invade Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Twenty-four hours later, Kuwait was his... Saddam declared Kuwait “returned” to the homeland, as a province of Iraq. Soon he would realize that he had plunged Iraq from the Iranian frying pan into the American fire.”

  10. “In the United Nations and elsewhere, the United States and Britain, occasionally supported by the French and Russians, condemned the Iraqi aggression. The Iraqis were not impressed. A believer in realpolitik, Saddam assumed that they would make pro forma protests but soon accept ‘facts’...

    “He also scoffed, with reason, at the charge of immorality; his evidence was impressive: He knew all about ‘Iraqgate’ because he was the beneficiary of American money, arms, intelligence information, and diplomatic support. He even got materials and equipment to make chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons from America and Britain while they publicly proclaimed the immorality of having or using them. He also knew about ‘Irangate,’ when the Americans gave Iran weapons to use against him. Like everyone in the Middle East, he knew that the CIA and MI-6 had overthrown the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mossadeq in Iran [in 1953]...

    “He knew that the CIA, MI-6, and Mossad [of Israel] promoted assassinations of statesmen and helped to ‘destabilize’ their governments. In the ‘mean street’ of world politics, the Western powers had shown scant regard for morality. So, although Saddam was surprised by the immediacy, vigor, and uniformity of the reaction, he continued for months to believe that the reaction would remain only talk.”

  11. “What apparently Saddam did not properly judge was that he had put his hand on two things where the Great Powers would not tolerate interference: money and oil. They, not morality or legality, were what differentiated Kuwait from Goa, Tibet, and East Timor. As an American congressman wryly remarked, ‘if Kuwait produced bananas instead of oil,’ Saddam’s grab might have been tolerated.”

  12. “Perhaps the most serious attempt to stave off war was that of a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s ‘Security Council’ (and later prime minister), Dr. Evgeni Primakov... He got Saddam to agree to withdraw from Kuwait on two conditions: first, that American forces also withdraw, and second, that an international conference be assembled to resolve all the outstanding problems of the Middle East, including nuclear arms and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... Primakov was having lunch at the presidential guest house when one of the president’s aides came in and said, ‘You might as well pack your bags.’ In fact, the Bush administration had already determined on war and was unwilling to negotiate an end to the crisis. It regarded the offer Primakov conveyed as a ‘derailment’ of its policy.”

      ~ Polk, p. 148

    “Despite last minute diplomacy, including a tense, six-hour meeting between U.S. secretary of state James Baker and Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Saddam refused to give in. Possibly he still believed that the coalition would fall apart or that the Americans would back off; probably he feared that if he was seen publicly to turn tail and run, he would be overthrown by his own army; certainly he miscalculated.”

      ~ Polk, p. 151

  13. “During these months, the United States government was urging the Saudi Arabians to ‘request’ the stationing of American troops in their country. King Fahd was reluctant to do so both because Arabia, the ‘cradle’ of Islam, had long considered itself an Islamic preserve and because his very conservative government believed that the population would be offended by Western customs. After a great deal of diplomatic arm twisting, the king agreed to invite Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to Riyadh.”

  14. “Then events took on a life of their own; by the first days of 1991, nearly 250,000 troops, at least 1,000 aircraft and about 30 naval ships... had been assembled in the Gulf area.”

  15. “The Americans also began the laborious process of rounding up allies... They paid much of the cost of the war (on which America actually made a small profit), and the presence of Arab troops, even in token size, helped [Saudi King] Fahd acquiesce in the stationing of foreign troops in Arabia. Egypt was important because, just as the British had found in the First World War, the Suez Canal was the safest and fastest route to Arabia. To win over Egypt, which was as strapped for cash as Iraq, the Bush administration did for President Mubarak precisely what Saddam had asked Kuwait to do, forgive its debts and provide more money. In various forms, the total amounted to many billions of dollars.

    “Turkey, where the air base of Incerlik was situated, got a huge consignment of military equipment, loans, and preferential trade arrangements. Syria, the other ‘bad boy’ of the Arab world, was given money, arms, and a license to continue its intervention in Lebanon. Even the Soviet Union was helped to get several billion dollars’ worth of loans, credits, and cash from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf oil states.

    “The main loser was Yemen, which had opposed American policy: America stopped its aid program, while Saudi Arabia expelled nearly a million Yemeni workers on whose remittances it heavily depended.”

      ~ Polk, p. 150