Situated at the head of the Persian Gulf, at the hub of vital trade routes, Kuwait and her deep water harbor – considered to be the best in the Gulf – have always attracted attention. From the days of Alexander to the British Empire; from contemporary global superpowers to Gulf neighbors coveting her prime location, Kuwait’s challenge has been to find secure footing on the ever-shifting geopolitical Gulf sands. For Kuwait, the 20th century ushered in a period of rapid change: discovery of commercially viable petroleum reserves in 1938; transition away from its traditional industries of fishing, pearling, and ship-building; independence from British suzerainty in 1961; dramatic economic growth; growing democracy; and ever-increasing engagement in regional affairs. Reaching a crescendo in 1990, Kuwait became the vortex for one of the 20thcentury’s defining military engagements.
On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded and occupied the State of Kuwait. The international community forcefully rejected this violation of Kuwait's territorial integrity and the associated threats. Within a day the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to demand an Iraqi withdrawal. With the United States in the lead, 35 nations including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf sheikhdoms, Syria and Egypt ultimately forced Iraq's retreat liberating Kuwait on February 26, 1991. The destructive capacity of the Iraqi occupation forces shocked international observers. The fleeing Iraqi forces set ablaze more than 600 oil wells -- inflicting catastrophic environmental damage.
Members of the GW community played a pivotal role in the geostrategic drama. General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a GW alumnus. Current faculty member and GW alumnus Edward "Skip" Gnehm had just been named US Ambassador-designate to Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded. In the fall of 1990 Professor Gnehm found himself in Taif, Saudi Arabia, working alongside the exiled Kuwaiti government. On March 1, 1991, when Ambassador Gnehm entered Kuwait, his mission had taken on new purpose. He was not just the primary representative of the United States, but the person on the ground responsible for working with the Kuwaiti government to help rebuild the nation.
Ambassador Gnehm; GW Libraries, and the Global Resources Center invite you to explore this exhibit, a remembrance commemorating the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait and the ongoing US-Kuwaiti partnership.