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  • The International Relations of the Persian Gulf
  • Tom O’Donnell
The International Relations of the Persian Gulf, by F. Gregory Gause, III. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xi + 250 pages. Maps. Tables. Index to p. 258. $85 cloth; $29.99 paper.

In this meticulously researched book, Professor F. Gregory Gause III tackles not merely the origins of 9/11, but Saddam Husayn’s decision to invade Iran, Ronald Reagan’s decision to attack Iran in defense of Iraq in 1987, Saddam’s decision to invade Kuwait in 1991, George H.W. Bush’s decision to retaliate with Desert Storm and later not to assist the Iraqi intifada, and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. One comes away considerably enlightened about the events and beliefs underlying these fateful decisions. In the process, Gause has substantially raised the standard for discourse about Persian Gulf international affairs.

Gause argues that the Gulf became a “special security zone” as Britain’s Labor government decided to withdraw by 1971. He opposes “parsimonious” classical Realist balance-of-power interpretations of Gulf affairs. Rather, Gause argues that “regional states (act) more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability emanating from abroad ... ” arising from “ … the salience of transnational identities” (p. 9). The Shah incited transnational Kurd and Shi‘i [End Page 483] insurgencies against Saddam Husayn, who conceded the Algiers accords to save his rule. Gause shows in detail how, after the Islamic Revolution, it was only after persistent identity-based (i.e., Shi‘a and revolutionary- Islamic) provocations, and attempts to uphold the Algiers accords that Saddam finally, when convinced Iran’s campaign constituted an existential danger to his regime, invaded Iran. Gause also marshals a compelling narrative of the events leading to Saddam’s 1991 decision to take Kuwait. He describes Saddam’s ire against Kuwait’s suddenly pumping far above its OPEC quota, which depressed the price of oil as Iraq’s massive war debt was coming due. Indeed, Saddam’s impetus for attacking Kuwait was his perception of a direct threat to his regime’s stability. However, Gause’s model of transnational identity instigation does not fit this case. One is left wondering why Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would confront Iraq so brazenly after its victory over Iran? Whence such resolve? An American hand is not considered; yet Washington was then trying to shape a post-war relationship with Saddam, its new anti-Iran ally.

Gause writes that “What drove American policy for most of the period under study was the US interest in the Persian Gulf oil” (p. 12). Yet, in US decisions to engage in armed action there — Reagan’s in 1987 against Iran, George H.W. Bush’s to liberate Kuwait, Bill Clinton’s to bomb and impose sanctions on Iraq, and George W. Bush’s to overthrow Saddam — never is oil considered a factor. This seems a contradiction. In each case, Gause brings out important information about the White House and National Security Council’s decisions to use force, which never include oil, though he affirms near the start and finish that the fundamental historical motivation for the US preoccupation with the Gulf is its interest in oil. Lesser treatments might banish this contradiction by saying simply that history is “like the layers of the onion.” Gause instead, persists in confronting theory with facts. In a section titled “A war for oil?” he identifies two versions of the “it’s about oil” school. One is a “hard” version, which sees war simply as enriching oil corporations; Gause rightly shows that there is no evidence to support this view. The other is a “soft” version of the “war for oil” theory (represented by Professor Michael Klare’s work): world supplies are supposedly dwindling, geopolitical contention is rising over oil, and so the United States needed to get Iraqi oil online. He rightly rejects this view, too, as lacking evidence. The problem, however, is with the picture of today’s oil system he tests. Klare’s is a mercantilist-like picture, whereas today’s oil system is market-centered, and oil is not peaking. Rather than geo-competition...


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pp. 483-484
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