When we look back into the past, it is quite apparent that momentous events were nearly always triggered by single incidents that, when they happened, didn’t seem important at all.
Take the example of Saddam Hussein’s meeting with the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, on July 25, 1990. On the matter of the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait, April Glaspie – Saddam Hussein conversation went like this….
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – I have direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threat s against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship – not confrontation – regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?
Saddam Hussein – As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.
April Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptable?
Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?
April Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960′s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)
The Glaspie – Saddam encounter
To even a half-wit, Glaspie’s words would very easily mean ‘you go ahead and do what you have to do, but sort out the effin’ spat quickly’.
Exactly a week later, Saddam invaded Kuwait.
Glaspie said later ‘I didn’t mean invade Kuwait’ but to Saddam her words were carte blanche.
Thus, just one spoken sentence triggered a regional conflict that has, in the 25 years that have followed, engulfed almost the entire world, pitting culture against culture. It has sparked the kind of hate that had once existed only in Nazi Germany and given birth to a new type of conflict that is essentially unwinnable – the war against terror.
As I write this, the ripples that April Glaspie created that fateful day, continue to reverberate like some giant tuning fork that has perfect elasticity.
I sometimes asked myself,’ What if the American Ambassador had said instead,’I have been asked to convey to you our serious concern about your amassing troops on the Kuwaiti border. Your dispute with Kuwait is not our business but I have to give you a clear message that the United States will take any aggression or invasion as a violation of all UN treaties on sovereignty and be forced to act in the aid of Kuwait.’
If Saddam hadn’t invaded Kuwait, there would not be any American military presence in the region. That would include Saudi Arabia and therefore there would be nothing for Osama Bin Laden and his ilk to rail against. There would be no 9/11, no 2nd Iraq war, no genocides, no Abu Ghraibs, no Guantanamos, no renditions, in short no need for any war on terror. In his weakened state, just two years after the devastating Iran-Iraq war, Saddam and his two thuggish sons would probably soon be assassinated in a coup.
If I were to sit down to write on the what the world would be like if Saddam hadn’t invaded Kuwait, that would be Alternative history.
Alternate history is the exercise of looking at the past and asking “what if”? What if some major historical event had gone differently, and how could that have changed the world? Some popular “what if” questions one finds in fiction are ……
“What if the Nazis managed to develop the nuclear bomb first and won the Second World War?”
“What if the South had won the American Civil War?”
“What if Japan won and invaded India in the 2nd World War and made Netaji Subhas Bose their own Vidkun Quisling?”
“What if the Aztecs were able to destroy Hernan Cortés and his conquistadors and prevent Spanish colonization of the Americas?”
“What if Leif Erikson, having made landfall at the northern tip of New Foundland, chose to stay and build permanent settlements, gradually spreading all over North America, instead of returning back to to Greenland?”
“What if Soviet naval officer, Vasili Arkhipov, hadn’t been aboard the Soviet guided missile submarine B-59, to prevent the launch of a nuclear missile, which he did, during the height of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis?”
Alternate history is a literary genre, where the main focus is on history and what might have happened if….., a subject that is very close to my heart, since I love make-believe.
Even I have an alternative history. Want to know what it is? That I’m Scarlett Johanssen’s only love. What? Haven’t you heard of the beauty and the beast? 😀