Dancing in the streets and waving American flags, Kuwaitis had nothing but gratitude and admiration for their U.S. saviors four years ago.
They would brook no criticism of the country that led the 33-nation coalition which freed the tiny oil-rich emirate from seven months of Iraqi occupation on Feb. 26, 1991.
Today the mood is less buoyant.
American clothes, products, trends and styles still are idolized, especially among the young. American cars, McDonald’s, pop music and Marine hair cuts remain popular. Pictures of former President Bush, who assembled the Gulf War coalition, hang on walls in offices, stores and homes.
Abdullah al-Shayeji, a political scientist at Kuwait University and an adviser to parliament, said grass roots support for Washington remains solid.
But more and more Kuwaitis are grousing about what they perceive as heavy-handed U.S. efforts to force Kuwait to do its bidding to achieve peace between Israel and the Arabs and to remain a regular client for U.S. arms.
Some believe the United States is more interested in Kuwait’s oil than its social, political and economic health.
A popular suggestion is that Washington, keen to get control of Kuwait’s oil reserves, was in league with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his attempt to annex the emirate.
“They’re making money out of protecting us,” said Walid al-Fadli, a 26-year-old civil servant. “Saddam could be an agent for them.”
If oil wasn’t the main reason American led the effort to free Kuwait, “why didn’t it liberate Palestine,” which has no oil, he said.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker described Kuwaiti-U.S. relations as “maturing,” and said they would not be affected by healthy criticism.
“I think that these kinds of concerns when they can be dealt with in discussion, quickly lose some of the … stature they seem to have because the facts just don’t bear them out,” Crocker said.
A particular irritant has been U.S. pressure over matters related to Middle East peace efforts - the Arab economic boycott of Israel, inter-Arab relations, support for Palestinian autonomy.
Officially, Kuwait backs the peace process with Israel and says it will normalize relations with the Jewish state once Syria and Lebanon follow Jordan and the Palestinians in signing peace accords.
Islamic fundamentalists, however, cannot stomach the idea of having an Israeli Embassy in Kuwait or of doing business with Israeli merchants.
When the Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning January’s suicide bombing in Israel that killed 21 soldiers, some parliament members angrily protested. They called the bombing a “heroic operation” and demanded the official statement be discussed in public session.