During the Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush repeatedly called for Iraqis to rise up against their leader. As a result, when fighting ceased, many Shia naturally believed that the US would back their rebellion against Saddam’s Baathist regime. But it was not to be. Unfortunately for them, Washington had made a calculated decision against backing any uprising that might lead to Iraq’s breakup and ordered American troops not to intervene.
Without US support, the massive southern rebellion was brutally suppressed by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein under the command of his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (the notorious “Chemical Ali”). US soldiers watched helplessly from their positions as Iraqi troops and helicopters devastated nearby cities, while thousands of wounded civilians fled on foot to American bases nearby telling of the atrocities that were taking place. In 2005, the new Iraqi government estimated at least 100,000 Shia, and possibly 180,000, died in the 1991 repression.
Now, one might have thought that example would have served as something of a cautionary tale about depending overly much on the high fallutn’ rhetoric of American presidents about “freedom” and “democracy” other such noble causes. The lesson, however, seems to have been lost on President Saakashvili of Georgia and many of the people of the former Soviet republic. According to an article in The Times yesterday, some Georgians in towns ravaged by invading Russian forces are feeling a sense of betrayal at the United States and NATO.
“Why won’t America and NATO help us? If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?” asks Djimali Avago, a Georgian farmer. Another civilian echoes the same sentiment: “The Russians will be here tomorrow. They want to show us and the world how powerful they are. Tomorrow it will be Ukraine and nobody in the West is doing anything to stop them. Why were our soldiers in Kosovo and Iraq if we don’t get any help from the West now?”
Well, the reasons why the US won’t (or can’t) intervene are as numerous as they are obvious, but the more interesting question is why these people should feel this way in the first place. To answer that, we turn to another left-wing publication The Wall Street Journal where we learn that “many officials in the U.S. government who have worked on the Russia relationship in recent years said, President Bush lionized Mr. Saakashvili as a model for democracy in the region to a point that the Georgian leader may have held unrealistic expectations about the amount of support he might receive from the US and the West.”
“The Bush administration didn’t in any way encourage Saakashvili’s move against the Russians, but it didn’t do enough to rein him in,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director of European affairs at the National Security Council. “It encouraged the creation of a Georgian president who was too big for his britches.”