KUWAIT CITY -- The Kuwaiti love affair with the United States has been cooled by morning-after skepticism about the true intentions of America.
Kuwaitis, who showered Americans with the adulation due heroes immediately after the gulf war, are starting to ask if their liberators had a hand in causing their woes.
The quip is still true that George Bush is the favorite candidate in today's Kuwaiti national election. But a shift in the mood has been aroused by revelations in the U.S. press about secret U.S. transfers of arms to Iraq, as well as old questions about whether Washington led Saddam Hussein to believe he could invade this country with impunity.
"People don't feel as they did before" about the United States, says Ismail al-Shatti, an editor, professor and candidate for the National Assembly. That sentiment is echoed often in random conversations with Kuwaitis these days.
"We appreciated the American role in the liberation operation. We will not forget it," Mr. Shatti says. "But we feel America liberated Kuwait only for its interests, not for democracy."
The U.S. failure to intervene more forcefully in the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia has fueled the cynicism. Some Kuwaitis say it proves the West's strong reaction to the invasion by Iraq was motivated not by humanitarian concerns, but only to protect its supply of oil.
"They came from all over the world to help Kuwait, and they can't PTC send some planes to protect the Muslims in Serbia?" demands Mr. Shatti.
The U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait Feb. 26, 1991, ending the seven-month occupation. Arriving GI's were hugged, handed flowers, and paraded down streets lined with Kuwaitis waving U.S. flags.
"People in Kuwait still love and admire the American people. This is a fact," insists Fahad al-Tukhaim, a member of the government's National Council that was suspended after the war. "We love Mr. Bush very, very much, and we hope he wins again."
"I like the guy," says one store owner who keeps a picture of President Bush on his office wall. "He returned my country back. Of course he was protecting his interests, too."
But the pro-U.S. graffiti, with its variant forms of praise for President "Bosh", are mostly gone. On one wall there is a new declaration: "America Bad."
A 132-page book on the Iraqi invasion distributed by the government here mentions President Bush and U.S. troops once.
Anti-American sentiments here surfaced last spring in comments by Abdul Aziz al-Mosaeed, editor of Ar-Rai Al-Aam (Public Opinion) newspaper and president of the former National Council.
He argued that Western powers came to Kuwait's aid only to keep receiving oil. And he demanded the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait stop attending so many "diwaniyas," the evening gatherings where Kuwaiti men discuss political affairs.
In response, the U.S. Embassy was swamped with letters, faxes and telephone calls by Kuwaitis disputing Mr. Mosaeed. Ambassador Edward W. Gnehm was showered with invitations to diwaniyas.
But Mr. Mosaeed's views have gained currency here. Kuwaitis often mention the remarks by April Glaspie, the top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad at the time, to Saddam Hussein shortly before he invaded Kuwait.
According to an Iraqi transcript of the meeting, never conclusively refuted by the State Department, she told him the United States would not interfere in a border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait.
Kuwaitis also cite recent news accounts of U.S. aid and arms secretly funneled to Iraq before the gulf war.
When Democratic vice presidential candidate Al Gore recently said Mr. Bush helped create the problem of Saddam Hussein, Kuwaitis nodded. And they have listened closely to allegations of involvement by then-Vice President Bush in dealings with Iran.
"We watch your media," says one computer salesman. "We have an Arabic saying that politics is a very dirty game. You are the producer now of the whole world's game."
"Public opinion changes," acknowledges Hamad al-Jouan, a lawyer and candidate in the Kuwaiti election. "Before the invasion of Kuwait, most Kuwaitis were anti-American. Then, they loved America. Now it is swinging back a little bit.
"But the same is true in America," he notes. "After the liberation of Kuwait, most Americans loved George Bush. His approval was 89 percent. Now look at it."
Abdul Hadi al-Saleh, an engineer with the telephone company, agrees. "We thank the U.S. and all the allies who helped us," he says. "But politics is like the sand. It goes with the wind."