Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and my life changed. Following Desert Storm, I flew to Kuwait in temporary seats on a DHL flight; was among the very first civilians to spend the night on the ground after we won the war; and had the unique experience of a soldier opening our can of wafers with the knife tucked into his boot. All because of George H. W. Bush, James Baker, Senator Richard Lugar, and Dennis Ross. And all of those memories came rushing back to me as I watched the 41st President’s funeral.
It is true that I have led an incredibly lucky and interesting life; among the most fascinating things I have been involved with was assisting in the return of Constitutional government to Kuwait.
It happened thanks to a phone call from a Kuwaiti man. The Emir had dissolved Parliament in the 1980s and had not held new elections, this Kuwaiti had been promoting a Constitutional Government ever since. He suggested that if the US President offered American aide if power was restored to the ruling family, all of the Kuwaiti Opposition would support the Emir and his return.
I was with IRI (The International Republican Institute) at the time, and although we were affiliated with the Republican Party, I could certainly not speak for the White House. So I went to meet with Dennis Ross at State to ask his advice. The next thing I knew I was meeting with Jim Baker and within ten minutes I had gotten the all clear to talk to my Board members. After the war was won, the White House would back a call for elections to be held in Kuwait as soon as possible. The White House and State would also support the IRI to to train electoral candidates and observe the elections.
Senator Lugar was on the IRI board and was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was able to arrange a meeting with the Kuwaiti Ambassador. Thanks to an excellent twist of fate, the day Senator Lugar allotted for a private lunch between myself and the Kuwaiti Ambassador was the day the war ended. The Ambassador was ebullient when he entered. He gave us watches that had been especially made with the U.S. and Kuwaiti flags and the Desert Storm shield as mementos. His happiness dissipated immediately over his turkey sandwich when Senator Lugar told him of the deal that President Bush had made with the Emir. We needed to leave for Kuwait as soon as possible and needed the Ambassador’s help to get the paperwork in order – the entry system for visitors had not been restored yet. Adding to the keepsake of the watch (which I still have!) I have a handwritten visa entry in my passport.
There were several glitches in the process, of course, but every time I called the White House from Kuwait, any problem I had was immediately corrected. Elections were held and to this day they are still happening – not perfectly but significant progress has been made; women now vote and hold office and there is a functioning Parliament. The same cannot be said for many of Kuwait’s neighbors!
I was so lucky to have worked for individuals who believed and advocated the core values of decency, freedom, and true democracy and promoted it throughout the world, changing the lives of millions. We need more like them. We need more politicians like George Herbert Walker Bush.