“Persian Gulf Crisis”
President George H.W. Bush
Address to Joint Session of Congress
September 11, 1990
FULL TEXT VERSION
When Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, it didn’t take Washington long to bring force to bear. Some US fighters, troops, and warships came onto the scene almost immediately, and more arrived with each passing day. The prompt positioning of forces probably stopped a full-scale Iraqi thrust to the Saudi oilfields.
By mid-September, President George H.W. Bush was able to speak with guarded confidence about US prospects, but he went further, telling Congress that the Gulf crisis offered the opportunity for what he called “a New World Order,” a period of international cooperation and peace in which “the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle.”
Four months later, Bush took a major step toward that goal. On Jan. 17, 1991, he launched a powerful US air campaign that went far toward destroying Iraqi forces in Kuwait. But the world of peace was not to be. Eleven years later—to the day—after his speech to Congress, al Qaeda struck in New York and Washington.
We gather tonight, witness to events in the Persian Gulf as significant as they are tragic. In the early morning hours of August 2nd, following negotiations and promises by Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein not to use force, a powerful Iraqi army invaded its trusting and much weaker neighbor, Kuwait. Within three days, 120,000 Iraqi troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. It was then that I decided to act to check that aggression. …
Our objectives in the Persian Gulf are clear, our goals defined and familiar: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately, and without condition. Kuwait’s legitimate government must be restored. The security and stability of the Persian Gulf must be assured. And American citizens abroad must be protected. These goals are not ours alone. They’ve been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council five times in as many weeks. Most countries share our concern for principle. And many have a stake in the stability of the Persian Gulf. This is not, as Saddam Hussein would have it, the United States against Iraq. It is Iraq against the world.
As you know, I’ve just returned from a very productive meeting with Soviet President [Mikhail] Gorbachev. And I am pleased that we are working together to build a new relationship. In Helsinki, our joint statement affirmed to the world our shared resolve to counter Iraq’s threat to peace. Let me quote: “We are united in the belief that Iraq’s aggression must not be tolerated. No peaceful international order is possible if larger states can devour their smaller neighbors.” Clearly, no longer can a dictator count on East-West confrontation to stymie concerted United Nations action against aggression. A new partnership of nations has begun.
We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward a historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective—a new world order—can emerge: a new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony. A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we’ve known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak. This is the vision that I shared with President Gorbachev in Helsinki. He and other leaders from Europe, the Gulf, and around the world understand that how we manage this crisis today could shape the future for generations to come.
The test we face is great, and so are the stakes. This is the first assault on the new world that we seek, the first test of our mettle. Had we not responded to this first provocation with clarity of purpose, if we do not continue to demonstrate our determination, it would be a signal to actual and potential despots around the world. America and the world must defend common vital interests—and we will. America and the world must support the rule of law—and we will. America and the world must stand up to aggression—and we will. And one thing more: In the pursuit of these goals America will not be intimidated. …
I cannot predict just how long it will take to convince Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Sanctions will take time to have their full intended effect. We will continue to review all options with our allies, but let it be clear: We will not let this aggression stand. …
Let me also make clear that the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Our quarrel is with Iraq’s dictator and with his aggression. Iraq will not be permitted to annex Kuwait. That’s not a threat, that’s not a boast, that’s just the way it’s going to be.