20 years ago, history began. Saddam Hussein’s wrong bet on the West – when he invaded Kuwait and assumed the rest of the world would shrug – set everything in motion that we still see unfolding today. The Cold War narrative of European history was ending. The Cold War was the last act of an unraveling of the Napoleonic demons of European History. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was the inauguration of a different narrative.
It was both new and more ancient in some ways compared to the Europe-centered face-off between Russia and the West. While the political challenge Iraq unleashed by taking over Kuwait was unprecedented in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Saddam’s challenge to the dominant industrial energy-consuming world raised other issues between the Islamic world and the West that go back to the Middle Ages.
We’re 20 years in now to this new narrative. The industrial North and West mobilizes its military power to maintain its global dominance while anger in the Islamic world and the rise of China push back on multiple fronts. A yearning to restore its political power drives politics in the Islamic world testing to see if the message of Islam can be as globally electrifying as it was more than ten centuries ago. Oil is the symbol of perhaps the oldest narrative of all, humanity’s impact on planet earth.
Humans perceive their dominance as something of a birthright. Looking back 20 years, the story of the little so-called first Gulf War contains all of the images we see today. U.S. troops in the desert, warlords and corrupt political leaders speaking in hyperbole about defeating the infidels, and there in the archives you can see pictures of oil-soaked animals. At the end of the war Saddam Hussein opened Kuwait’s oil wells and set them on fire. I saw a picture of one oil soaked seabird this morning and in its eyes, it seemed, was all the history we’re still living today.