Kuwait enjoyed an obscure international profile until 1990, when Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded the small oil sheikdom and sought to take over its vast oil reserves. As the second largest exporter of oil in the world, Kuwait played a critical role in supplying oil for the West, prompting swift action by the United States, Western Europe and even some Arab countries to come to Kuwait’s rescue. The short-lived Persian Gulf War forced Iraq out of Kuwait and restored the longtime ruling family back into power. US officials have tried to characterize Kuwait as a democratic state, but in reality, the country is ruled by an emir whose power is unquestioned by the national legislative body. Islam is the dominant religion of Kuwait, and as in other Muslim countries, women struggle under a system that does not treat them equally as men. Kuwait’s human rights problems have not had any bearing on the United States’ commitment to fortify the country’s military and maintain a close security relationship that allows the stationing of thousands of American soldiers on Kuwaiti soil. Kuwait played a critical role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, as it provided a staging area for American marines and army divisions to amass and ultimately launch the attack that brought down Saddam Hussein.
Lay of the Land: Tucked away on the northeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait is bordered by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. Except for a small portion in the south and the coastal strip, the entire country is desert, under which lies abundant oil and natural gas.
Kuwait has a long and rich history. Stone Age people lived in the area 10,000 years ago, but the oldest proper settlement in the region, dating to 4500 BC, was occupied by Ubaid settlers, the same people who populated ancient Mesopotamia, including the Sumerians, who developed the first recorded human civilization during the fourth millennium BC. The island of Falaika, located 12 miles from the southern promontory of Kuwait Bay, was long the site of ancient settlements. First, the seafaring Dilmun Empire, which dominated the Persian Gulf region from its capital in Bahrain between 2300 and 1100 BC, built settlements on Failaka. Later the Greeks, calling the island Ikaros, established a large settlement that thrived between the 3rd and 1st Centuries BC.
Relations between the two countries began in the early 20th century, when Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah invited the Reformed Church of America to open a medical center in Kuwait. The hospital was opened in 1911 and is known to Kuwaitis as the American Hospital.
Kuwait continues to enjoy a strong security-oriented relationship with the United States. Kuwait supported the Bush Administration’s decision to militarily overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, even though Kuwait joined other Arab states in publicly opposing the invasion. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Kuwait closed off almost 60% of its territory in order to secure the US-led invasion force, which consisted of about 250,000 personnel and several thousand pieces of armor and related equipment. (Saudi Arabia, a larger and more strategic US ally, refused to host the force because it questioned the necessity of the war.) Kuwaiti allowed OIF forces to operate out of two air bases that the United States had helped upgrade (Ali al-Salem and Ali al-Jabir), as well as its international airport and sea ports. Kuwait provided $266 million to support OIF, including base support, personnel support, and supplies (food and laundry service and fuel). The key US headquarters facility in Kuwait was Camp Doha, north of Kuwait City. To express appreciation for Kuwait’s support to OIF, the Bush Administration declared in 2004 that Kuwait was a “major non-NATO ally (MNNA),” a designation held only by one other gulf state, Bahrain.
Crude oil dominates US imports from Kuwait, accounting for $5.145 billion annually in purchases by the United States from 2008-2010, or 95% of the three-year total. The only other sizeable imports are fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides ($182 million) and “fuel oil and other petroleum products” ($25.8 million).
Kuwaiti Company Indicted for Fraud in Supplying Food to U.S. Troops
Kuwait’s human rights problems begin with the fact that democracy exists only on paper in the country. As the State Department reports, citizens do not have the ability to change their government or form political parties. Although the May 16, 2009, parliamentary elections were generally free and fair, the fact remains that parliament has little real power, while political authority ultimately rests in the hands of the emir.
Dayton S. Mak
Appointment: [see note below]
Presentation of Credentials: Oct 18, 1961
Termination of Mission: Superseded, Jan 7, 1962
Note: Not commissioned; letter of credence dated Oct 2, 1961. Embassy Kuwait was established Sep 22, 1967, with Mak in charge.
Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah became ambassador of Kuwait to the United States in June 2001.
Kuwait’s Embassy in the United States
Matthew Tueller, a career Foreign Service Officer, was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Kuwait on September 8, 2011. He has served there previously on two occasions.
Deborah K. Jones assumed the post of U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait on April 19, 2008.