The Persian Gulf War
Summary and Keywords
The Persian Gulf War of 1990–1991 was something of a paradox. From the American perspective, the war had the hallmarks of a resounding victory. Responding to a flagrant case of interstate aggression by Iraq against Kuwait, the George H. W. Bush administration assembled a substantial international coalition to deter further Iraqi attacks against its neighbors in the Gulf and to compel Saddam Hussein into quitting Kuwait, to avoid war. When the latter proved infeasible, the United States led that coalition in forcibly ousting Iraq’s military from Kuwait, substantially degrading Iraqi combat power in the process. The war’s outcome resulted from an auspiciously altered geopolitical landscape at the end of the Cold War, the overwhelming superiority of American power vis-à-vis Iraq, and a US decision-making process that tightly knitted military and diplomatic objectives into a coherent—and coherently executed—wartime strategy. However, America’s historically lopsided victory in the Persian Gulf War proved fleeting. Iraq’s surviving military forces retained the capacity to crush domestic challenges to the Ba’athist regime and to threaten its Gulf neighbors. President Bush’s vision of a post-war new world order notwithstanding, Gulf security depended heavily on continuing military missions years after the Persian Gulf War ended. Despite wartime tactical and strategic successes, grand strategic success eluded the United States in the years after the war.
Iraqi Motivations for War
The Persian Gulf War began on August 1, 1990, with the swift invasion and relatively easy occupation of Kuwait by Iraq’s military forces. The motivations for Iraq’s attack are complex, the product of interacting economic, political, and ideational factors. Saddam Hussein’s decision for war resulted from a host of strategic assessments, all of which proved to be fundamentally flawed.
Beginning in September 1980 and lasting eight brutal years, the Iran–Iraq War cost Iraq dearly. While the number of Iraqi soldiers killed remains disputed, estimates range from 150,000 to 180,000.1 That war severely strained the Iraqi economy, costing $452 billion by 1988, with over $80 billion in loans owed to Iraq’s Arab neighbors.2 This economic burden reinforced internal political pressures on the regime. Surveying the international environment in 1989–1990, Saddam understood that dictatorships around the world were vulnerable in the Cold War’s denouement. American influence in the Middle East was also on the rise. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia began aligning more closely with the United States, a development that Saddam perceived as a threat to his Ba’athist state. While Saddam was able to favorably restructure many of his foreign debt obligations (in some cases having them forgiven altogether), Kuwait appeared to be taking advantage of Iraq’s precarious position by using Baghdad’s debt and need for higher oil drilling quotas as coercive tools.3
In this environment of reinforcing economic, domestic political, and regional threats, Saddam calculated that the surest route to regime survival was through conquest under the banner of Arab nationalism. Only by conquest could Saddam counter the multiple threats bearing down on his regime. A war against Kuwait was unlikely to garner significant regional opposition, Saddam surmised, as the Kuwaitis were “generally unloved” in the Arab world.4 Given the historical changes occurring in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, a war against Kuwait would have to occur sooner rather than later, while the world was distracted from Persian Gulf affairs.5 The year 1990 was an auspicious time, Saddam calculated, to establish his position of leadership in the region. “Saddam believed . . . that war and the righting of historic wrongs was the path to consolidating political and economic power in the Arab world,” the editors of The Saddam Tapes write. “In Saddam’s world view, the pan-Arab dream could be achieved only when the center pole in the tent was firmly planted in Baghdad and protected by a heroic leader in the mold of Saladin, Nebuchadnezzar, or Hammurabi.”6
Saddam’s strategic calculations turned largely on his assessment of how America would respond to an invasion of Kuwait. Those calculations were, however, riddled with contradictions. Saddam viewed the United States and Israel as gathering threats to his regime, but threats that he—leading the Arab world—could counter. The Soviet Union, while weaker than it had been, could still be relied on to prevent any hostile American response. Moscow had been Baghdad’s patron of long-standing and would continue to support its ambitions, notwithstanding the dramatic reductions in East–West tensions. Finally, Saddam believed that through his wartime leadership, states in the Arab Middle East would unite against rising American influence, despite Egypt having every reason to see Iraq’s gambit as a direct challenge to its political and strategic aspirations in the region. In Saddam’s assessments of Egyptian interests and intentions lie his greatest miscalculations. Saddam understood correctly that the Saudis would find his appeal to pan-Arabism enticing. Yet it was Egypt, the state with the largest population that had traditionally been viewed as the leader of the Arab world, which influenced Saudi foreign policy most significantly. Saddam failed to understand that Cairo would see Saddam’s initiatives as threatening and America’s entreaties more attractive than Iraq’s. As Egypt went, so too Saudi Arabia, and with it Saddam’s hopes for an Arab world united behind him.7
In light of these miscalculations, American pre-war diplomacy had little effect on Saddam’s decision for war. The Persian Gulf War was not the result of a failure of American deterrence.8 Had the United States sent stronger signals against Iraqi aggression earlier in the crisis, the effect would likely have been a region more receptive to Saddam’s vision and more willing to support his policies.9 The United States, Ambassador April Glaspie informed Saddam on July 25, 1990, in their face-to-face meeting, took no official position on the location of international borders, but insisted that Washington, “can never excuse settlement of disputes by other than peaceful means.” Following that message, Richard Haass notes, Saddam expressed his willingness to meet with the Kuwaitis in order to settle their differences peacefully.10 This statement belied Saddam’s powerful motivations for war, even when pressured by a global coercive diplomacy campaign led by the United States.11
American Motivations for War
Despite Iraq’s desperate financial straits following the Iran–Iraq War, it was Iran that came out of the conflict weaker. Sensing the opportunity to contribute to both regional stability and, perhaps, to make headway in Arab–Israeli relations, the United States sought to cultivate Baghdad as a potential partner through a policy of “constructive engagement.” American officials were not blind to Iraq’s relative power and hostility after 1988. Still, Washington adopted a conciliatory approach toward Saddam in the hope that eventual Iraqi economic reconstruction would pay dividends to the United States and would, in the words of the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft, “transform Iraq into a moderately responsible leader in world politics.”12 Between the end of the Iran–Iraq War and the invasion of Kuwait, the United States was wary of Saddam, but was ultimately hopeful that conciliation would foster a mutually beneficial relationship.13
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait caught the United States strategically by surprise, but the nature of the attack, and the stakes entailed by it, induced a quick and comprehensive response in Washington. Four distinct motivations drove American policy in the Persian Gulf War. The first was the fear that Saddam’s attack would give him control over international oil markets. From that position, moreover, Saddam would have been able to coerce—or worse, attack—Saudi Arabia, thereby achieving uncontested dominance as a global supplier of oil. Washington’s fear was that if Saddam’s invasion went unanswered, the entire international political economy would be dependent on a single supplier of a vital strategic resource.14 National Security Directive 26, approved well before the invasion of Kuwait in October 1989, made clear that such an outcome was intolerable to the United States. “Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security,” the document asserted. “The United States remains committed to defend its vital interests in the region, if necessary and appropriate through the use of US military force, against the Soviet Union or any other regional power with interests inimical to our own.”15 If Iraqi aggression went unchecked, the American economy would be subject to a replay of the 1973 and 1979 oil crises. With an economy in recession, the United States would have less opportunity to play an active role in managing the end of the Cold War.16 For Secretary of State James Baker, the crisis resulted from “a dictator who, acting alone and unchallenged, could strangle the global economic order, determining by fiat, if you will, whether we all enter our recession [sic] or whether even when we enter the darkness of a depression.”17 More so than the sanctity of Kuwaiti sovereignty, maintaining access to Persian Gulf oil motivated Washington in its confrontation with Iraq.18
Leaving Iraq’s aggression unanswered would have dire consequences in the broader Middle East. This fear, the second factor motivating the American response to Saddam, was a direct result of Washington’s assessment that the Soviet Union no longer had sufficient influence with its erstwhile patrons to prevent them from destabilizing their respective regions, or from seeking weapons of mass destruction. The decline in Soviet power coincided with Iran’s. To American officials, this window of opportunity acted as a permissive condition for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Left unchallenged, Saddam would likely feel emboldened and continue developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.19 Such an outcome would be a direct threat to vital American national security interests.20
President George Bush, Scowcroft, and Baker never viewed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as a strictly regional matter. Saddam’s attack, rather, was seen as the first test of American global leadership in the post-Cold War era. The attack came at a crucial moment in Soviet–American relations, when both sides saw in the crisis the opportunity to work together to forge a more peaceful world. For the President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in particular, condemning Iraq’s aggression would solidify his vision of international affairs and demonstrate to the Americans that his reforms were genuine.21 For Bush and Scowcroft, Saddam’s actions challenged US aspirations in the new era. In a critical memo to Scowcroft for presentation at the second National Security Council meeting of the crisis, Haass assessed the stakes in confronting Saddam with military force:
I am aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be. But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging “post Cold War” era. We would be encouraging a dangerous adversary in the Gulf at a time when the United States has provided a de facto commitment to Gulf stability—a commitment reinforced by our statements and military movements—that also raises the issue of US reliability in a most serious way.22
Failing to act, in short, would undercut a central tenet of US leadership. How the president understood American leadership in the world was also at stake. American security and prosperity would be greatly enhanced by cultivating allies and acting through the United Nations to address grave threats to international stability. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, thus, offered the president the chance to reify US leadership in the world by confronting an actor widely viewed as despotic and dangerous, in ways that would enhance the legitimacy of America’s global power and position.23
President George Bush and Senior Advisers
On September 11, 1990, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush articulated his vision of American leadership in the post-Cold War era, making clear that a war with Iraq would be about much more than regional matters:
We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times . . .—a new world order—can emerge: a new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.24
Bush’s vision of a “new world order” has been the subject of much scholarly debate. For some, the idea was gauzy and confused25; others question the degree to which the president’s actions were actually guided by this vision.26 Yet, there is little reason to doubt Bush’s sincerity and the impact this idea of American leadership had in motivating the ultimate decision for war against Iraq. The possibilities for security in a post-Cold War international system aligned with his prudential and cautious strategic sensibilities. Far from being a utopian, Bush’s goal was a world that was better and more secure than what had come before. The president’s understanding of the proper exercise of American power, moreover, guided the administration’s policies in the months preceding the American attack. Specifically, the determination to garner as many allies as possible and to work through the United Nations (UN) reflected Bush’s belief that effective leadership required the legitimacy that only the UN could provide.27 For Bush, the Persian Gulf War presented an opportunity to solidify America’s position of preponderance and leadership in the world.28
Exercising leadership in the post-Cold War era, President Bush believed, required that the United States avoid repeating key mistakes made at pivotal points in American history (or, in American historical memory). The first was that dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and now Saddam had to be confronted forcefully and early. The activating analogy for Bush was Munich, where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Adolf Hitler, thus paving the way for the eventual German conquest of continental Europe.29 The second was that the United States would ultimately fail militarily if its efforts were piecemeal and half-hearted. Here, the relevant analogy was the Vietnam War, wherein President Lyndon Johnson was argued to have denied the American military what it needed to “win” that war. As the historian H. W. Brands explains, these analogies “informed the thinking of the Bush administration and permeated its rhetoric.”30 Together, they constituted the final motivation for war against Iraq.
In a nationally televised address on August 8, 1990, President Bush articulated American objectives in its conflict with Iraq:
1. The immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
2. The restoration of Kuwait’s legitimate government.
3. A commitment to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf.
4. The protection of the lives of American citizens abroad.
These objectives were codified in National Security Directive 45 on August 20.
Operation Desert Shield and American Diplomacy
While reversing the invasion of Kuwait was Washington’s ultimate objective, Washington’s immediate concern was deterring an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia. As Baker details in his memoirs, both efforts comprised a broader coercive diplomacy campaign which would begin “with diplomatic pressure, then add economic pressure, to a great degree organized through the United Nations, and move toward military pressure by gradually increasing American troop strength in the Gulf.” This strategy envisioned the United States leading a global effort to isolate and sanction Iraq, with the intent of coercing Saddam into quitting Kuwait. If that effort failed, the United States would head the coalition to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait by military force.31 Not only was a substantial multilateral effort required to enhance the effectiveness of economic sanctions, but if war should come, Washington believed its actions and leadership would be viewed as legitimate if they were blessed by states in the region, its democratic allies, and by the great powers.32
Key to building and maintaining this coalition through crisis and war were three states in particular: the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.33 Occurring at a crucial period in Soviet–American relations, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait presented Bush and Baker with an historic opportunity to leverage American gains at the Cold War’s end. Soviet support for the anti-Saddam coalition would further demonstrate Gorbachev’s commitment to liberal reforms, just as it would be essential to any action through the UN. Much of the diplomacy toward the Soviet Union was handled by Baker who happened to be in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic when Iraqi tanks crossed into Kuwait. Leveraging his relationship with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Baker managed an early joint condemnation of Iraq’s actions. In the run-up to war, Baker accommodated Soviet concerns regarding the multiple UN Security Council resolutions that were soon passed.34 Despite the positive developments in Soviet–American relations, however, Scowcroft was adamant that the United States should seek only Soviet support; active involvement in the crisis by the Kremlin had to be avoided.35
Military coercion would only be possible if Saudi Arabia were fully aligned with US policy. Riyadh, however, was not an eager partner at the start of the crisis. Central to Saudi concerns were the twin possibilities that the United States would either leave Saddam wounded, but still capable of exacting revenge on the kingdom, or that the United States might remain on Saudi territory uninvited for an extended period of time. For the United States, the first objective was to convince the Saudis that appeasing Saddam would be disastrous. The second was securing Saudi permission to host a massive deployment of American forces to defend the kingdom from attack (Operation Desert Shield) and then, if necessary, to serve as a launching point for a counter-invasion (Operation Desert Shield).36 Led by Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, the United States sent a high-level delegation on August 4 to King Fahd to allay his concerns and secure his partnership.37 Days before Cheney’s departure, Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan received a private briefing on current American intelligence on Iraq and the status of the US military deployment plan to the region, OPLAN 90-1002.38 As was the case with diplomacy toward the Soviet Union, Riyadh’s preferences were taken seriously in order to maintain its support throughout the crisis and war.39
Whereas active Saudi participation was seen as crucial to the building of a regional coalition against Saddam, keeping Israel from getting involved was essential to preventing its dissolution.40 US efforts to keep Israel at bay were extensive and would be all the more so as Saddam began launching SCUD missiles onto Israeli territory. The United States offered Tel Aviv both positive and negative inducements to prevent it from entering the crisis and war. On the positive side, Washington promised Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Iraq’s military power would be massively degraded and its WMD programs destroyed, established a secure communications link between the Israeli and American defense chiefs, and redeployed anti-missile batteries during the war to protect Israel from incoming fire.41 Yet to increase the potential cost of military intervention, the United States denied Israel identification codes of US and coalition aircraft, a measure that would have made any Israeli air mission extremely dangerous.42
America’s coalition-building diplomacy was extensive and driven by the personal ties that President Bush had developed with world leaders over his career in international affairs. Bush’s efforts paid off: the United States sought and received backing from all of the great powers, the Soviet Union most importantly, and all of the states in the Persian Gulf region, with the lone exception of Jordan.43 With respect to multilateral diplomacy, Washington engaged the United Nations to isolate Iraq and put as much economic and political pressure on Saddam as possible. Twelve UN Security Council resolutions were passed in total, including the initial global condemnation of Iraqi aggression, the imposition of robust sanctions on Iraq, and the authorization to “use all necessary means” to extricate Iraq from Kuwait. In many respects, the decision to work through the UN enhanced American influence, paradoxically, by constraining US ambitions. UN member states were willing to confront Iraq, and contribute substantially to an American military campaign,44 but only if the objective stopped short of regime change. Forty nations contributed personnel, equipment, and financial support, an indication that American legitimation efforts succeeded.45
American F-15s Assembled for Operation Desert Shield
Operation Desert Shield was launched on August 6, 1991. Within a week, the United States deployed 122 F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia, along with a contingent of 2,300 ground combat forces to “maximize the immediate deterrent effect.” By mid-September, the number of combat forces, air power, and logistical capabilities deployed had grown substantially to include a total of 150,000 American military personnel. On October 31, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell met with Bush and his top advisers to discuss the force levels needed if the United States were to switch from a defensive to offensive strategy. Strongly opposed to half-measures, Powell advocated for a doubling of US combat power in the region.46 Specifically, US Central Command (CENTCOM) planners requested substantial increases in air-to-air and dual role aircraft, heavy brigades and mobile expeditionary force elements; massive expansion of America’s naval capacities in the Persian Gulf was also deemed essential. In making this force augmentation request, Powell was determined to avoid what he considered to be the strategic mistakes of the Lyndon Johnson administration in the Vietnam War. Powell insisted he did not “do marginal economic analysis looking for crossover points,” but rather that he wanted sufficient combat power in theater to “win decisively.” Bush’s matter-of-fact response was, “If that is what you need, we’ll do it.”47
Planning Operation Desert Storm
Despite mounting international pressure through August and September, Saddam Hussein evinced no willingness to withdraw from Kuwait. President Bush, too, was under increasing pressure to act more forcefully, much of which originated with America’s partners in the Gulf. Speaking on behalf of Riyadh, Cairo, and Damascus, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal and Bandar impressed on Bush at a meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine, on August 16 that it would take more than economic sanctions to expel Saddam from Kuwait. Military force would be needed in such measure to destroy Iraq’s war-making capacity “so that they wouldn’t have to continue to live in fear and in Saddam’s shadow.”48 The American ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering was similarly concerned about the trajectories of US diplomacy and military policy. In a memo drafted on August 3, Pickering urged policymakers in Washington to act with the region’s long-term security in mind. Saddam’s overall military capacities would need to be substantially diminished, and WMD programs destroyed, Pickering maintained, if the Gulf were to be stabilized after the crisis.49
The Deputies Committee of the National Security Council was tasked with drafting what would become US objectives in the Persian Gulf War. The first and least problematic aim was the complete removal of Iraq’s military from Kuwait. Second, the United States would seek the elimination of the Republican Guard as a fighting force, a provision necessary to ensure that Iraq “did not emerge as the principal power of the Gulf” in the war’s aftermath.” The final objective, heavily debated, but ultimately universally agreed to, was that the United States would not seek regime change in Iraq. According to deputy national security adviser Robert Gates, the Deputies Committee “unanimously recommended to the president and to our bosses that that not be a war aim . . . because we couldn’t figure out how to guarantee that we could achieve it. That was for us the Vietnam scenario.”50
War planning commenced in September. Planning for the ground offensive initially fell to General Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff at CENTCOM, while plans for the air campaign were the responsibility of the Air Force.51 On October 11, President Bush and his senior advisers were briefed on the planning effort to date. Presenting the plan for the air campaign, Lieutenant General Buster Glosson anticipated that as a result of coalition air power, Saddam would have no way of communicating with his military nor of sending reinforcements to Kuwait. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Purvis delivered the briefing on CENTCOM’s ground campaign plan, a massive attack directly into the middle of Kuwait. Upon hearing CENTCOM’s approach, Scowcroft immediately questioned why the plan needlessly plunged American forces headlong into the teeth of Iraqi prepared positions.52 “I was appalled with the presentation and afterwards I called Cheney to say I thought we could do better,” Scowcroft later recalled. “Cheney shared my concern and sent the planners back to the drawing board.”53
Under pressure from the White House and Office of the Secretary of Defense,54 Powell directed the Joint Staff to plan for a massive westward flanking maneuver that would envelop and destroy the Republican Guard. Schwarzkopf’s CENTCOM team drafted similar plans, but from Powell’s perspective, they lacked the “roundhouse punch” the Army should deliver.55 Schwarzkopf and Powell were, nevertheless, determined to ensure that whatever form the western envelopment took, it would be heavily resourced and focused on the destruction of Iraq’s military power.56 Finally, Cheney and Powell met with Schwarzkopf on December 19 to receive a final briefing of the campaign plan. By that time, Cheney was well-versed in the Department of Defense’s multiple planning efforts. While he asked many probing questions of Schwarzkopf and was determined to understand the plan in intricate detail, he informed the CENTCOM commander that he fully supported the new approach.57
On January 9, 1991, Baker met with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva in what was billed as an “extra mile for peace.” The Baker–Aziz meeting changed little: the United States was determined to see Iraq withdraw from Kuwait, while Saddam remained defiant.58 On January 15, President Bush signed National Security Directive 54, the document stipulating American aims in the Persian Gulf War.59 The war began the next day.
The Air Campaign
From January 17 to February 24, the United States and its coalition partners waged a massive air campaign against Iraqi forces both in the Kuwaiti theater of operations (KTO) and Iraq. With complete command of the skies, coalition aircraft pummeled command and control and infrastructure targets in Iraq, and Iraqi military formations in the KTO. Iraq’s immediate response to the opening of the air war was to begin firing SCUD missiles into Israel, a move which prompted Cheney to redeploy air, ground, and Patriot anti-missile systems to protect Israel and prevent Tel Aviv from acting forcefully against this threat.60
At the outset of the bombing campaign, Iraqi forces, deployed logically in a defense-in-depth scheme, remained in their positions in the KTO. Iraq’s military formation entailed three echelons of forces. Along the Kuwaiti border with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Saddam deployed his most poorly trained, equipped, and motivated soldiers. Reinforcing these were heavy divisions of Iraq’s regular army, followed by heavy divisions of the elite Republican Guard—professional soldiers, equipped with the best armor (including T-72 main battle tanks) and fighting vehicles in Iraq’s arsenal. Iraq’s military plan was to slowdown an American ground invasion, channeling it into positions where regular army and Republican Guard armor could bloody the American invaders.61 Left undefended was the Iraqi army’s western flank; not an unreasonable choice, given the anticipated navigational problems the Americans would confront in the featureless terrain of the open desert.
The US air campaign was guided by two distinct strategies. The first, which lasted the first six days of the war, was a decapitation strategy. According to this plan, code named “Instant Thunder,” American forces would “kill, overthrow, or isolate Saddam Hussein and his regime or use the threat of these events to compel Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait.” For its principal architect, Colonel John A. Warden III, this plan held out the possibility that Saddam would be forced to quit Kuwait by air power alone. Warden’s hope was that Saddam’s forces would become demoralized, disorganized, or both if the Iraqi leadership were severed from the main body of the army. This approach failed in its objective. American war aims, moreover, included a massive reduction in Iraq’s combat power, an outcome the decapitation strategy could never deliver.62
The second strategy was a denial campaign that sought the destruction of Iraq’s army in Iraq and the KTO. Based on this plan, coalition air power would fix Iraqi units in place, destroy as much of them from the air as possible, and then with the planned ground invasion, neutralize Iraq’s remaining forces. The denial strategy focused on interdicting Iraqi forces on the move, undermining their morale by decimating logistics networks and supply stores, and attriting forces in their fielded positions.63 Unlike the decapitation strategy, the denial strategy did have a substantial effect on the Iraqi military. According to a Central Intelligence Agency analysis, 40 percent of Iraqi armored vehicles had been destroyed or otherwise neutralized in the KTO on the eve of the ground campaign.64
The Ground Campaign
Saddam’s theory of victory did not require the outright defeat of coalition forces on the battlefield. His objective, rather, was to inflict a sufficient number of American casualties to coerce the United States to halt its offensive and withdraw from Kuwait. Two weeks into the air campaign, however, Saddam’s strategy was proving to be untenable; casualty-generating quagmires cannot be created if the opponent refuses to attack with its ground force. Calculating that his only hope was to begin the ground war himself, Saddam ordered a two-division attack on Saudi Arabia, taking the town of Khafji on the evening of January 29. In short order, Saudi forces, supported by American air power, retook the town. This episode showed, first, that Iraq could not execute multi-divisional offensives with antiquated anti-aircraft artillery systems pitted against advanced American aircraft.65 Additionally, the Battle of Khafji made clear that Saddam’s strategy would fail. The United States would either decimate Iraqi forces from the skies, or its superiority in technology and training would deny Saddam’s army the ability to inflict casualties on the ground.
Yet, the Battle of Khafji did demonstrate that Iraq retained the ability to go on the offensive in the first place, despite being pounded from the air. The optimism of air power enthusiasts notwithstanding,66 the air campaign did not neutralize Iraq’s army prior to the ground campaign, nor was the air campaign a necessary condition for the historically lopsided outcome of the Persian Gulf War. In a meticulous study of the condition of Iraqi forces on the eve of the ground campaign, Daryl Press shows that by February 24, the Iraqi army could still maneuver; had sufficient command, control, communications, and intelligence; was sufficiently supplied; was large enough to mount a tenacious defense (at least, theoretically); and retained the will to fight.67 Far from being a mop-up operation, the four-day ground campaign was necessary to the coalition’s military victory in the war.68
According the ground campaign plan, two US Marine divisions would attack into the middle of Iraqi defenses in Kuwait. The purposes of the Marine’s attack were to goad Iraqi reserve forces (especially the Republican Guard) into believing that this frontal assault was the main American effort and respond accordingly by maneuvering into supporting positions behind the Iraqi front line troops. The coalition’s main effort, however, was further west. Two US Army corps, the VII and the XVIII, were positioned during the air campaign along the Saudi–Iraqi border, from which they would wheel northeasterly into Iraq. According to the plan, the combined effect of the Marine’s feint and double-corps flanking maneuver would envelop the Republican Guard, a move that would enable coalition air and ground forces to utterly destroy Iraq’s most lethal divisions.69
In part due to the easy victory achieved by Saudis and Americans at the Battle of Khafji, the Marines altered their strategy for taking Kuwait. Under the new plan, two Marine divisions would break through Iraqi lines and move deep into the KTO at a much faster operational tempo than was initially anticipated. The rapidity and lethality of the Marines’ advance, however, created problems for the overall campaign plan. “Instead of luring the Iraqis into a kill zone,” Michael Gordon explains, “the Marine attack acted like a piston pushing them out. The Iraqis began to flee, and the war quickly turned into a footrace.”70
The Highway of Death
Further west, Iraqi regular army and republican guard divisions recognized and began moving to block the lead elements of the American and British “left hook.” The results of the ensuing battles with the VII and XVIII corps were disastrous for the Iraqis.71 Had the war lasted five days instead of four, American ground elements would likely have completely destroyed their target, Iraq’s Republican Guard. Images of Iraqi soldiers being killed in great number, however, were being broadcast on CNN and other news networks. The “Highway of Death” made clear to the world that Iraq stood no chance of winning. Continuing the fight could be counterproductive, officials in Washington believed, as they would be guilty of piling on once the war’s outcome was evident. After conferring with Schwarzkopf, Powell and the president’s top advisers met with Bush to discuss their options. Assessing that there was little to gain by continuing the war, and concerned about losing the support of the international coalition should it appear that Americans were slaughtering “Iraqis who were simply trying to escape, not fight,” the president made the decision to end the war at the hundred-hour mark.72 A ceasefire was arranged, despite Schwarzkopf’s objections that the destruction of Iraqi combat power was incomplete.73 Schwarzkopf’s concerns were reasonable: roughly half of the Republican Guard’s T-72s escaped the KTO and made their way back to Iraq, while numerous Iraqi headquarters units remained intact. Along with the helicopter units that were spared destruction as part of the ceasefire negotiations, the headquarters units would be instrumental in the brutal response to the Shia uprising in southern Iraq in the wake of its defeat.74
Assessing the War’s Outcome
These command decisions notwithstanding, the Persian Gulf War resulted in one of the most lopsided military victories in history. Iraqi forces in the Kuwaiti theater of operations were completely routed, thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed, and multiple hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed in battle. On the coalition’s side, VII Corps, which bore the brunt of the Iraqi army’s blocking efforts, lost only thirty-six armored vehicles in the four days of war; 148 US military personnel in total were killed in battle.75 The loss rate of coalition forces in the war was fewer than one in 3,000 soldiers, less than one tenth the loss rate of Israeli soldiers in the 1967 war and less than one twentieth that of German forces in Poland or France in 1939–1940. The reasons for this outcome, the political scientist Stephen Biddle argues, stem from the interaction of coalition technological superiority and tactical prowess, and the Iraqi army’s mistake-riddled tactical performance. That is, American forces’ mastery of the modern tactical system (the employment of cover, concealment, fire, and movement), coupled with technologies that afforded superior target acquisition, standoff range, and navigation, enabled the coalition to severely punish Iraq for its force employment errors.76 The tactical proficiency of American forces on display in the Persian Gulf War, moreover, was the culmination of a process, begun in the 1970s, to deal with Soviet military advances. “The combination of professionalism and skill in the all-volunteer force, the improved training, which included rotations through the National Training Center in the high California desert, and the fielding of the M1 and Bradley team of ground combat vehicles all left even the best Iraqi troops helpless.”77
American M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank
Focusing only on the military aspects of the war, however, provides too narrow an understanding of America’s strategic success. A more holistic view must include the diplomatic side of the Persian Gulf War. In terms of its diplomatic objectives, the United States constructed and maintained a massive international coalition which isolated and pressured Saddam, and in the process, achieved the explicit backing of the United Nations. All of the great powers either blessed the American-led effort or, in the case of China, refrained from obstruction. With the exception of Jordan, all of the states in the Arab Middle East were coalition members. And despite being targeted by Iraqi SCUD missiles, Israel deferred to American leadership and refrained from entering the war. Washington’s military and diplomatic efforts were, finally, tightly coordinated throughout the crisis and war. American war aims were limited to what was diplomatically possible through the United Nations, specifically the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty and dramatic reduction in Iraqi combat power. Such tight military-diplomatic coordination resulted from a decision-making process in Washington that institutionalized the widespread sharing of information across national security organizations. American strategic decision-making in the Persian Gulf War was comprehensive: military and diplomatic lines of effort reinforced each other from August 1990 to February 1991. The result was not simply a military victory for the United States, but a military-diplomatic victory that, it was hoped, would contribute to President Bush’s vision of a new world order.78
It should also be noted that by the time the Persian Gulf War commenced, the American people supported the president leading the country to war (64 percent in favor).79 That US public opinion favored the use of force in Gulf in 1991 was testament to George Bush’s leadership capacity. As late as 1998, American survey respondents registered only tepid support (49 percent in favor) for the option of being “prepared to commit our military strength” to assist Saudi Arabia in a hypothetical scenario of an Iranian invasion of the kingdom. The likelihood appeared small that the American public would support a war in defense of a much smaller and less strategically significant country, such as Kuwait, just two years later. Nevertheless, as John Mueller argues:
[Bush] managed to lead the country to war because, as President, he was able to keep the issue brewing as an important one; because he could unilaterally commit the country to a path that dramatically increased a sense of fatalism about war and perhaps convinced many that there was no honorable alternative to war; because he could credibly promise a short, beneficial, and relatively painless war; because he and his top aides enjoyed a fair amount of trust in matters of foreign policy at the time; and because Saddam Hussein played the role of a villain with such consummate skill.80
On January 12, 1991, Congress registered its support for the use of military force to oust Iraq from Kuwait, but the outcome was not a resounding victory for Bush (250–183 in the House and fifty-two–forty-seven in the Senate). By the end of the war, however, public opinion would sway decisively (though temporarily) in Bush’s favor. In a Gallup poll taken shortly after the war, 89 percent of Americans approved of the president’s performance during the war.81 From the onset of the crisis to the termination of hostilities, in short, President Bush demonstrated a capacity for leadership sufficiently strong to mobilize and sustain the support an American public still struggling with the legacy of the Vietnam War.
Despite the coalition military’s performance on the battlefield and the Bush administration’s deft handling of the military and diplomatic components of its strategy, America’s victory in the Persian Gulf War eroded overtime.82 The ultimate cause of America’s fleeting success was that, for good or ill, the Bush administration adopted limited war aims which precluded regime change in Iraq. As the political scientist William Martel describes, “Iraq’s political leadership survived the war, consolidated its power, reasserted Iraq’s role as a powerful state in the Middle East, and continued to threaten its neighbors.”83 Saddam Hussein’s survival was, for President Bush and his top advisers alike, something of a surprise. Officials in Washington fully anticipated a coup would be launched by the disaffected and humiliated Iraqi officer corps.84 Those hopes were dashed, however, as uprisings in Iraq’s Shia south and Kurdish north were brutally quashed. Saddam was able to consolidate his power domestically, in part due to the coalition’s incomplete victory and hastily arranged cease-fire agreement on the final day of the war. The agreement brokered by Schwarzkopf permitted the Iraqi military to retain many of its helicopter units, which Saddam subsequently used against the regimes opponents in the north and south. Determined to avoid being drawn into the morass of conflicts internal to Iraq, and hesitant to undermine Schwarzkopf’s authority, the President and his top advisers insisted that American ground forces not intervene to stop the slaughter.85
Eventually the United States would provide safe havens for the Kurds and American and British aircraft would enforce no-fly zones in the northern and southern regions of Iraq. Thus, the United States never disengaged militarily from Iraq when the war officially “ended.” From a grand strategic perspective, victory in Iraq proved elusive. No matter how wise the choice to circumscribe American objectives, “the abrupt conclusion of the war suggested faint-heartedness,” Lawrence Freedman writes. The result of that choice “was to leave residual uncertainty about the meaning of American power and the ruthlessness of its deployment.”86 In that mismatch between purpose and power lie the Persian Gulf War’s final casualty, President Bush’s vision of a new world order.
Nowhere was the idea of an American victory in the Persian Gulf War more thoroughly rejected than in Iraq itself. For Saddam Hussein in particular, America’s overwhelming power and military acumen should have produced an even more decisive defeat of Iraq’s military—and Ba’athist regime. Because the United States failed to remove him from power, and because the Iraqi military was able to do “better than expected against a very powerful opponent,” Saddam reasoned in 1993, Iraq emerged victorious from the war. Furthermore, Iraq’s SCUD missile attacks against Israel were argued to have deterred Israeli aggression in Arab lands. Finally, Saddam understood his victory in personalist terms, the ultimate demonstration of which was his observation to Ba’ath Party members in January 1993 following George Bush’s electoral loss to Bill Clinton: “Now he is removed and Saddam Hussein still exists.” These perceptual biases had a deleterious effect on American–Iraqi relations over the ensuing decade. Due to his ability to enforce conformity throughout the Iraq’s armed forces, for example, military officers skewed their analyses of Iraq’s military capacity in order to placate Saddam. Overtime, a set of beliefs took hold throughout Iraq’s national security establishment that US power was weaker than it looked, that Iraq’s military was highly effective due to a surfeit of morale, and that America’s aggressive tendencies would be checked by the American electorate. These beliefs resulted in Saddam downplaying threats emanating from Washington (indeed, internal insurrection and regional challenges were ranked as higher-order concerns), thereby making it nearly impossible for him to understand clearly the implications for his regime of America’s post-9/11 grand strategy.87
Discussion of the Literature
The literature on the Persian Gulf War is substantial, though the majority of the scholarship on the war is found in volumes that place the war in broader contexts (e.g., American foreign relations at the end of the Cold War, American foreign policy toward the broader Middle East, the so-called revolution in military affairs, and the presidency of George H. W. Bush). Essential treatments of the war itself include: Bob Woodward, The Commanders; Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of Conflict in the Gulf; Rick Atkinson, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War; Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order; and Steve A. Yetiv, Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision Making and the Persian Gulf War.88 Two excellent review articles by Robert Divine address the state of the Persian Gulf War literature in the first ten years after the conflict. See Robert A. Divine, “Review: Historians and the Gulf War: A Critique”; and “The Persian Gulf War Revisited: Tactical Victory, Strategic Failure.”89 Jeffrey A. Engel’s Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War is an invaluable source for the most up-to-date scholarship on the various aspects of the war.90 On Iraqi preparations and strategy in the war, see Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War.91
Works situating the Persian Gulf War in the context of American foreign relations toward the Middle East include: Lawrence Freedman, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East; Geoffrey Wawro, Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East; and Marc J. O’Reilly, Unexceptional: America’s Empire in the Persian Gulf, 1941–2007.92 Studies that situate the war in the context of the broader sweep of American foreign policy include: Hal Brands, From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World; Stephen Sestanovich, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama; and Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11: The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror.93 On the Gulf War’s place in the revolution in military affairs, see Max Boot, War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World; and Andrew F. Krepinevich, “Cavalry to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions.”94
Apart from broader histories of the Persian Gulf War are studies that emphasize particular elements of the crisis and war. For example, the personal diplomacy of President George H. W. Bush is argued to have been key to the building of the international coalition. On Bush’s leadership, see Jeffrey A. Engel, When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War; and Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.95 Multilateral diplomacy through the United Nations was also critical to American strategy. See Andrew Bennett, Joseph Lepgold, and Danny Unger, Friends in Need: Burden Sharing in the Persian Gulf War; Alexander Thompson, Channels of Power: The UN Security Council and U.S. Statecraft in Iraq; and David A. Lake, Entangling Relations: American Foreign Policy in Its Century.96 For treatments of wartime civil-military relations, see Dale R. Herspring, The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations From FDR to George W. Bush; Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime; Michael C. Desch, Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment; Richard K. Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security; and Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today.97
There is strong scholarly consensus that the foreign policy process in the George H. W. Bush administration was particularly, if not uniquely, effective. Due in large part to the talents and temperaments of the president and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, US strategic decision-making in the Gulf War (and in diplomacy at the end of the Cold War) is seen as a model to be replicated. See Spencer D. Bakich, Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars; Bartholomew Sparrow, The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security; Bartholomew Sparrow, “Organizing Security: How the Bush Presidency Made Decisions on War and Peace”; Ivo H. Daalder and I. M. Destler, In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served—From JFK to George W. Bush; and David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power.98
A lively debate surrounds the origins of the Gulf War, specifically whether the war resulted from a failure of deterrence and the extent to which the Bush’s vision of a “new world order” spurred America’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A sampling of this debate includes Betts, American Force; Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and Compellence in the Gulf, 1990–91: A Failed or Impossible Task?”; and Richard N. Haass, “The Gulf War: Its Place in History.”99 On the meaning of the new world order, see Engel, When the World Seemed New; Sparrow, The Strategist; Brands, From Berlin to Baghdad and Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order; and Rosemary Hollis, “The U.S. Role: Helpful or Harmful?”100
The role of air power in the Persian Gulf War is another contested element of the war. See Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War; John Warden, “Employing Air Power in the Twenty-First Century”; Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf Air Power Survey Summary Report; Daryl G. Press, “The Myth of Air Power in the Persian Gulf War and the Future of Warfare”; Frederick W. Kagan, Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy; Stephen Biddle, “Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict”; and Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).101
The legacy of the Persian Gulf War, specifically how America’s “incomplete victory” in the conflict set the stage for later conflicts, is discussed in Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11; and Christian Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq.102 For a powerful competing perspective, see Joshua Rovner, “Delusion of Defeat: The United States and Iraq, 1990–1998.”103
The most valuable archive for conducting research into the Persian Gulf War is the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The George Bush Library Guide to Holdings can be accessed. Of particular value are the memoranda of meetings and telephone conversations (memcons/telcons), NSC meetings, NSC/DC (Deputies Committee) meetings, National Security Reviews, National Security Directives, and the Selected Persian Gulf Conflict Documents. President Bush’s Public Papers are searchable online. The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA), a component of the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, DC, offers an important collection entitled, “Iraqgate: Saddam Hussein, U.S. Policy and the Prelude to the Persian Gulf War, 1980–1994,” which can be accessed. Also available through the National Security Archive are three excellent electronic briefing books: William Burr and Jeffrey T. Richelson, “Operation Desert Storm: Ten Years Later”; Jeffrey Richelson, “Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction”; and Joyce Battle, “Saddam Hussein Talks to the FBI: Twenty Interviews and Five Conversations with ‘High Value Detainee # 1’ in 2004.”104 Kevin M. Woods, David D. Pakki, and Mark E. Stout, eds., The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant’s Regime, 1978–2001 offers annotated transcripts of hours of secret recordings, captured by coalition forces in the 2003 Iraq War after the fall of Baghdad, among Saddam and his senior advisers.105
The following oral history collections are particularly valuable: “The George H. W. Bush Oral History”; “The Bush Administration National Security Council”; “Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training”; and “The Gulf War: An Oral History.”106
Memoirs of key actors in the Persian Gulf War are plentiful and should be thoroughly consulted. First among these is George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed.107 Memoirs from other top officials in the George H. W. Bush administration include: James A. Baker III with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992; Dick Cheney with Elizabeth Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir; Colin Powell with Joseph E. Perisco, My American Journey; H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf; Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War; Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice; and Dennis Ross, The Missing Piece: The Inside Story of the Fight for the Middle East Peace.108
I would like to express my gratitude to Barbara Perry, Russell Riley, Mike Nelson, and the staff of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia for helping me refine my thoughts on the presidency of George H. W. Bush. I would also like to thank Jack L. Bakich for his assistance in selecting the images that appear in this article.
Alfonsi, Christian. Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq. New York: Doubleday, 2006.Find this resource:
Atkinson, Rick. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.Find this resource:
Baker, James A. The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992. New York: Putnam, 1995.Find this resource:
Bakich, Spencer D. Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.Find this resource:
Biddle, Stephen. “Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict.” International Security 21, no. 2 (1996): 139–179.Find this resource:
Brands, Hal. From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008.Find this resource:
Brands, Hal. Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post Cold War Order. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.Find this resource:
Bush, George, and Brent Scowcroft. A World Transformed. New York: Knopf, 1998.Find this resource:
Cohen, Eliot A., ed. Gulf War Air Power Survey. 5 vols. Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, 1993.Find this resource:
Daalder, Ivo H., and I. M. Destler. In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisors and the Presidents They Served: From JFK to George W. Bush. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.Find this resource:
Engel, Jeffrey A., ed. Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:
Engel, Jeffrey A. When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2017.Find this resource:
Freedman, Lawrence, and Efraim Karsh. The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.Find this resource:
Gordon, Michael R., and Bernard E. Trainor. The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.Find this resource:
Haass, Richard. War of Necessity: War of Choice. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.Find this resource:
Pape, Robert A. Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.Find this resource:
Powell, Colin L., and Joseph E. Persico. My American Journey. Rev. ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.Find this resource:
Press, Daryl G. “The Myth of Air Power in the Persian Gulf War and the Future of Warfare.” International Security 26, no. 2 (2001): 5–44.Find this resource:
Scales, Robert H. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1997.Find this resource:
Schwarzkopf, H. Norman. It Doesn’t Take a Hero: General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.Find this resource:
Sparrow, Bartholomew H. The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security. New York: PublicAffairs, 2015.Find this resource:
Thompson, Alexander. Channels of Power: The UN Security Council and U.S. Statecraft in Iraq. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Woods, Kevin M., David D. Palkki, and Mark Stout, eds. The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant’s Regime, 1978–2001. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Find this resource:
Woodward, Bob. The Commanders. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.Find this resource:
Yetiv, Steven A. Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision-Making in the Gulf Wars. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2011.Find this resource:
(1.) Lawrence G. Potter and Gary G. Sick, “Introduction,” in Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War, ed. Lawrence G. Potter and Gary G. Sick (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 8.
(2.) Pierre Razoux, The Iran–Iraq War, trans. Nicholas Elliott (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2015), 573; and Kevin M. Woods, David D. Palkki, and Mark E. Strout, eds., The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of Tyrant’s Regime, 1978–2001 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 166–167.
(4.) Lawrence Freedman, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008), 219.
(5.) Engel, “The Gulf War at the End of the Cold War and Beyond,” 26–29.
(6.) Woods, Palkki, and Stout, The Saddam Tapes, 168–167.
(7.) Shibley Telhami, “The Arab Dimension of Saddam Hussein’s Calculations: What We Have Learned from Iraqi Records, in Into the Desert, 148–168.
(8.) Cf. Geoffrey Wawro, Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (New York: Penguin, 2010), 408.
(9.) Some officials in Washington, however, were concerned that Ambassador Glaspie’s message would be interpreted by Saddam in more favorable terms. Recalling his reaction to the Glaspie–Saddam meeting, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department Dennis Ross stated, “Well, I’m reading this account of what April has said to Saddam Hussein. And if I were Saddam Hussein, the only conclusion I could draw from this is that basically he can go into Kuwait. We aren’t going to do anything and he doesn’t have to worry about anything. We’re so interested in having a relationship with him, that you know, he doesn’t have to worry about us at all.” Dennis B. Ross interview, August, 2, 2001, George H. W. Bush Oral History Project, Miller Center, University of Virginia.
(10.) Glaspie quoted in Richard N. Haass, “The Gulf War: Its Place in History,” in Into the Desert, 60–63.
(11.) Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and Compellence in the Gulf, 1990–1991: A Failed or Impossible Task?” International Security 17, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 179.
(12.) Quoted in Steve A. Yetiv, The Absence of Grand Strategy: The United States in the Persian Gulf, 1972–2005 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 70.
(13.) Rosemary Hollis, “The U.S. Role: Helpful or Harmful?” in Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War, 199.
(14.) Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress (Washington, DC: United States Department of Defense, 1992), xiv–xvi.
(17.) Quoted in Melvyn P. Leffler, Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism: U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920–2015 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 258.
(18.) Engel, “The Gulf War at the End of the Cold War and Beyond,” 39.
(19.) Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand, 101–107, 140–141.
(20.) National Security Directive 26, 2.
(24.) President George Bush, “Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Persian Gulf Crisis and the Federal Budget Deficit,” September 11, 1990.
(25.) Bartholomew Sparrow: The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015), 480–481; and Leffler, Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism, 259–260.
(27.) Engel, When the World Seemed New, 415–429.
(29.) Steve A. Yetiv, Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision Making and the Persian Gulf War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 64–77.
(30.) H. W. Brands, “Neither Munich nor Vietnam: The Gulf War of 1991,” in The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft, ed. Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016), 73–74.
(32.) Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice, 103–104.
(34.) Dilip Hiro, Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War (New York: Routledge, 1992), 435.
(35.) Bush and Scowcroft, A World Transformed, 338.
(38.) Colin Powell with Joseph E. Perisco, My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995), 465.
(39.) Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand, 123–125.
(40.) Vice Chairman and Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff David Jeremiah Interview, November 15, 2010, George H. W. Bush Oral History Project, Miller Center, University of Virginia.
(42.) Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 109–114.
(43.) Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (New York: Random House, 2015), 440.
(44.) Andrew Bennett, Joseph Lepgold, and Danny Unger, Friends in Need: Burden Sharing in the Persian Gulf War (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).
(46.) Gordon and Trainor, The Generals’ War, 153–155.
(48.) Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice, 79–80.
(49.) Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand, 102–107.
(50.) Interviews with Gates and Haass reported in Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand, 144–145.
(51.) General Buster Glosson, War with Iraq: Critical Lessons (Charlotte, NC: Glosson Family Foundation, 2003), ch. 2.
(52.) Gordon and Trainor, The Generals’ War, 126–127.
(53.) Bush and Scowcroft, A World Transformed, 381.
(54.) Henry S. Rowen, “Inchon in the Desert: My Rejected Plan,” National Interest 40 (Summer 1995).
(55.) Gordon and Trainor, The Generals’ War, 149.
(57.) Woodward, The Commanders, 330, 347.
(58.) Freedman and Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 253–261.
(60.) Atkinson, Crusade, ch. 3.
(61.) Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948–1991 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 237–241.
(63.) Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win, 223–226.
(64.) Central Intelligence Agency, Operation Desert Storm: A Snapshot of the Battlefield, Report IA 93–10022 (Washington, DC: GPO, September 1993).
(65.) Michael R. Gordon, “The Last War Syndrome: How the United States and Iraq Learned the Wrong Lessons from Desert Storm,” in Into the Desert, 130.
(66.) John Warden, “Employing Air Power in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Future of Air Power in the Aftermath of the Gulf War, ed. Richard H. Schultz and Robert L. Pfalzgraff, Jr. (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1992); and Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf Air Power Survey Summary Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), 116–117.
(68.) Frederick W. Kagan, Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), 137–143.
(69.) Brig. Gen. Robert H. Scales, Jr. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1994), 128–133.
(70.) Gordon, “The Last War Syndrome,” 132.
(71.) Daryl G. Press, “Lessons from Ground Combat in the Gulf: The Impact of Training and Technology,” International Security 22, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 139–143.
(72.) President Bush quoted in Gordon and Trainor, The Generals’ War, 416.
(73.) Michael C. Desch, Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 31.
(74.) Gordon, “The Last War Syndrome,” 134.
(75.) The total American deaths in the war were 383; the 235 difference is attributable to accidents. Nese F. DeBruyne, “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics,” Congressional Research Service (April 26, 2017).
(76.) Stephen Biddle, “Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict,” International Security 21, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 139–165; and Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 135–149.
(77.) Kagan, Finding the Target, 140.
(78.) Bakich, Success and Failure in Limited War, ch. 5, 238–239.
(79.) This figure represents the average favorability score across sixty-three different surveys conducted from 1990 to 2001. Richard C. Eichenberg, “Victory Has Many Friends: U.S. Public Opinion and the Use of Military Force, 1981–2005,” International Security 30, no. 1 (Summer 2005): 157.
(80.) John Mueller, Policy and Opinion in the Gulf War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 49–58.
(81.) Meacham, Destiny and Power, 466.
(82.) Cf. Joshua Rovner, “Delusion of Defeat: The United States and Iraq, 1990–1998,” Journal of Strategic Studies 17, no. 4 (2014).
(83.) William C. Martel, Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Strategy, revised and expanded edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 249.
(84.) Timothy Naftali, George H. W. Bush (New York: Times Books, 2007), 128–129.
(85.) Sparrow, The Strategist, 416–417.
(86.) Lawrence Freedman, “The International Politics of the Gulf War,” in Into the Desert, 108–109.
(87.) Kevin M. Woods and Mark E. Stout, “Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of ‘Desert Storm’,” Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no 1 (February 2010).
(88.) Bob Woodward, The Commanders (New York: Touchstone, 1991); Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of Conflict in the Gulf (New York: Little, Brown, 1995); Rick Atkinson, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993); Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Steve A. Yetiv, Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision Making and the Persian Gulf War, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
(89.) Robert A. Divine, “Review: Historians and the Gulf War: A Critique,” Diplomatic History 19, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 117–134; and “The Persian Gulf War Revisited: Tactical Victory, Strategic Failure,” Diplomatic History 24, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 129–138.
(91.) Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008).
(92.) Lawrence Freedman, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (New York: Public Affairs, 2008); Geoffrey Wawro, Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (New York: Penguin Press, 2010); and Marc J. O’Reilly, Unexceptional: America’s Empire in the Persian Gulf, 1941–2007 (New York: Lexington Books, 2008).
(93.) Hal Brands, From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008); Stephen Sestanovich, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama (New York: Vintage, 2014); and Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11: The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).
(94.) Max Boot, War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Gotham, 2006); and Andrew F. Krepinevich, “Cavalry to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions,” National Interest, no. 37 (Fall 1994).
(95.) Jeffrey A. Engel, When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017); and Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (New York: Random House, 2015).
(96.) Andrew Bennett, Joseph Lepgold, and Danny Unger, Friends in Need: Burden Sharing in the Persian Gulf War (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Alexander Thompson, Channels of Power: The UN Security Council and U.S. Statecraft in Iraq (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009); and David A. Lake, Entangling Relations: American Foreign Policy in Its Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).
(97.) Dale R. Herspring, The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations From FDR to George W. Bush (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005); Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime (New York: Anchor, 2003); Michael C. Desch, Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); Richard K. Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); and Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today (New York: Penguin, 2013).
(98.) Spencer D. Bakich, Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Bartholomew Sparrow, The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security (New York: Public Affairs, 2015); Sparrow, “Organizing Security: How the Bush Presidency Made Decisions on War and Peace,” in 41: Inside the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, ed. Michael Nelson and Barbara Perry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Ivo H. Daalder and I. M. Destler, In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served—From JFK to George W. Bush (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011); and David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2006).
(99.) Betts, American Force; Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and Compellence in the Gulf, 1990–91: A Failed or Impossible Task?” International Security 17, no. 2 (Fall 1992); and Richard N. Haass, “The Gulf War: Its Place in History,” in Into the Desert.
(100.) Engel, When the World Seemed New; Sparrow, The Strategist; Brands, From Berlin to Baghdad; Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016); and Rosemary Hollis, “The U.S. Role: Helpful or Harmful?” in Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War, ed. Lawrence G. Potter and Gary G. Sick (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
(101.) Robert A. Pape, Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); John Warden, “Employing Air Power in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Future of Air Power in the Aftermath of the Gulf War, ed. Richard H. Schultz and Robert L. Pfalzgraff, Jr. (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1992); Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf Air Power Survey Summary Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993); Daryl G. Press, “The Myth of Air Power in the Persian Gulf War and the Future of Warfare,” International Security 36, no. 2 (Fall 2001); Frederick W. Kagan, Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy (New York: Encounter Books, 2006); Stephen Biddle, “Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict,” International Security 21, no. 2 (Fall 1996); and Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
(102.) Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Random House, 2006); and Christian Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq (New York: Doubleday, 2006).
(103.) Joshua Rovner, “Delusion of Defeat: The United States and Iraq, 1990–1998,” Journal of Strategic Studies 17, no. 4 (2014).
(104.) William Burr and Jeffrey T. Richelson, eds., “Operation Desert Storm: Ten Years Later,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, no. 39 (January 17, 2001); Jeffrey T. Richelson, ed., “Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, no. 80 (February 11, 2004); and Joyce Battle, ed., “Saddam Hussein Talks to the FBI: Twenty Interviews and Five Conversations with ‘High Value Detainee # 1’ in 2004,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, no. 279 (July 1, 2009).
(106.) “The George H. W. Bush Oral History,” Miller Center, University of Virginia, Presidential Oral History Project; “The Bush Administration National Security Council,” Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland, Oral History Roundtables, The National Security Council Project; “Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training,” Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), housed at the Library of Congress; and “The Gulf War: An Oral History,” Frontline, PBS.
(107.) George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Knopf, 1998).
(108.) James A. Baker III with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992 (New York: Putnam, 1995); Dick Cheney with Elizabeth Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir (New York: Threshold Editions, 2011); Colin Powell with Joseph E. Perisco, My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995); H. Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (New York: Bantam Books, 1992); Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007); Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009); and Dennis Ross, The Missing Piece: The Inside Story of the Fight for the Middle East Peace (New York: Ballantine, 1996).