Examining Citizens for a Free Kuwait

On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded the small oil-rich state of Kuwait under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Prior to this invasion, Iraq had been in an eight-year war with Iran that had set it back almost $90 billion, $14 billion of which it borrowed from neighboring Kuwait. Iraq’s inability to repay Kuwait and Kuwait’s increased oil production, and the ramifications it had on an already suffering Iraqi economy, grew tensions between the two countries towards the late 1980’s. 

On the eve of August 2, members of the Kuwaiti Royal Family and hundreds of thousands of foreign workers fled, as the country formerly known as Kuwait was soon annexed to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This was followed by international condemnations and arms embargo as Iraqi allegations that Kuwait stole oil by slant drilling across the Iraqi border were its excuses for invasion.

On August 11, 1990 a grassroots group in the U.S. called Citizens for a Free Kuwait was quickly organized to raise national awareness of human right violations and encouraged American Intervention in Iraqi-ruled Kuwait.

In a great effort to raise awareness, on October 10, 1990 at Capitol Hill, a young girl named Nariyah stood before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and testified. For the safety of her family who remained in Kuwait, her identity was kept secret, however, her accounts were so atrocious they soon became the talking points of every news station in the country.

Nurse Nariyah accounted in detail that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers barrage hospitals, remove babies from their incubator, and leave them on hospital floors to die.

These accounts of killing innocent babies, who died before knowing why they died or what it ever meant to live, invoked a great emotional response and quickly became the story of why America saved Kuwait. The President of the United States issued an ultimatum of withdrawal or war.

In 1991, Kuwait resorted back to order following the six month-long gulf war, led by United States coalition forces.

Attempts of following-up with Nariyah’s story post-war unveiled several unfortunate truths. It was discovered, as all truths are after war, that Citizens for a Free Kuwait was in fact not a grassroots organization made up of concerned Kuwaiti Citizens, but rather a front group created by a large public relations firm and funded by the Kuwaiti royal family, and that Nariyah’s story was fabricated. The Citizens for a Free Kuwait campaign, having cost $12 million dollars and leading the U.S. to engage in an international war, was highly successful, but was it ethical?

Immanuel Kant, a 16th century philosopher who believed in absolutism, argued that ethically, something is either completely right or completely wrong. Aristotle’s more moderate approach argues that so long as it does not cross your threshold of discomfort that it is fine. Niccolo Machiavelli presents a less modest argument, that the means justify the ends. If it leads to a greater good or a lesser evil than the means of achievement are justified.

In this case, which approach was taken?
What would you have done different?

— Suhaib Agial

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