Joel B. Pollak:
Stormin’ Norman, Warrior, at Peace
Not since General Douglas MacArthur had Americans celebrated a general as we did “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, who cut a figure of strength on the world stage as he decimated Saddam Hussein’s military–which was then thought to be the world’s fourth most powerful–and restored our confidence in our armed forces.
In the Gulf War of 1991, Gen. Schwarzkopf not only liberated a small nation, Kuwait, from an aggressive invader, but also liberated the U.S. from the timidity and apprehension that had hovered over our military since the end of the Vietnam War. What President Ronald Reagan made possible with his investment in military technology and hardware in the 1980s, Gen. Schwarzkopf brought to fruition in Iraq, shocking even our European allies with the degree to which our military had leapt generations ahead of friend and foe alike.
It is almost difficult to imagine today, but Schwarzkopf led a broad coalition of armies that included every significant Arab military power, with the exception of Jordan. The coalition’s crushing victory set the stage for American military, economic, and cultural dominance in the post-Cold War era, enabling President George H. W. Bush to embark on building both the “kinder, gentler” nation and the “new world order” he had promised.
Judging by the reaction of some of the Vile Progs last night they must be too young to remember the liberation of Kuwait because they seem to have confused it with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. General Schwarzkopf led the former effort but retired nearly a dozen years before the latter.
Rarely in history do we find moral clarity in a war. Saddam Hussein was a truly evil man. While it is true that the United States bears some responsibility for enabling his crimes that does not relieve him of his own culpability.
In 1991 the United States had not fought a conventional war since the Korean Conflict but we had spent most of that 40 years preparing for war against the Soviet Union. Part of the legacy of that Cold War was that Iraq was armed with Soviet tanks and missiles and its army was trained in Soviet-style military tactics. Those tactics included the heavy use of armored units.
Another legacy of the conflict between the US and USSR was our involvement in Iran. This led to the Iranian Revolution, the overthrowing of the Shah and the rise of radical Islam. As a reaction to those events we encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, which he did. The Iran-Iraq War lasted eight years and claimed a million lives, most of them Iranian.
When it was over Iraq had the 4th largest army in the world, most of them veterans of the conflict. Iraq also had weapons of mass destruction, including nerve gases and weaponized Anthrax. We know this for a fact because we gave them to him. He was also determined to develop nuclear weapons. He could afford to do all this because Iraq is a major oil producer.
Iraq’s oil fields lie near its borders with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Basically it’s one huge oil field that is divided between three countries by man-made borders. Only one of those countries had a large army. Whoever controls those fields controls a big chunk of world oil production.
By 1991 Saddam’s usefulness to us had come to an end. When he launched the invasion of Kuwait he became an active threat to our strategic interests. World consensus was that Kuwait should be liberated, peacefully if possible, by force if necessary.
The decision to make war is a political one. The military trains for war, plans for war, prepares for war, and fights wars. But politicians start wars. When it comes to moral clarity the decision to liberate Kuwait was about as easy as it gets. But it wasn’t just a moral issue.
The United States was traumatized by the outcome of the War in Vietnam. Many people wondered if we still possessed the will to fight a war, especially if casualties on our side were heavy. Iraq was trained and equipped with Soviet weapons and they had a large, combat-experienced army frequently compared to Nazi Germany’s at the beginning of World War II.
There were legitimate concerns that a military intervention in Kuwait would result in a prolonged, bloody conflict. Saddam openly promised to follow a strategy of inflicting maximum casualties in order to destroy our will to fight. Lots of arm-chair experts believed that strategy would be effective. He also threatened to launch SCUD missiles containing nerve gas at Israel.
During Congressional debate on the Gulf War resolution, Senator Ted Kennedy said,
“When the bullets start flying, 90 percent of the casualties will be American. It is hardly a surprise that so many other nations are willing to fight to the last American to achieve the goals of the United Nations. It is not their sons and daughters who will do the dying.
“The administration refuses to release casualty estimates. But the 45,000 body bags the Pentagon has sent to the region are all the evidence we need of the high price in lives and blood we will have to pay.”
Enter General Schwarzkopf. It is no coincidence that he was assigned to lead the military attack on Iraq’s forces:
In 1988, he was promoted to General and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command. The U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida, was responsible at the time for operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. In his capacity as commander, Schwarzkopf prepared a detailed plan for the defense of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf against a hypothetical invasion by Iraq, among other plans.
The Iraq plan served as the basis of the wargame of 1990. Within the same month, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Schwarzkopf’s plan had an immediate practical application, which was as the basis for Operation Desert Shield, the defense of Saudi Arabia.
A few months later, General Schwarzkopf’s offensive operational plan, called Operation Desert Storm (co-authored with his deputy commander, Lieutenant General Cal Waller and others on his staff), was the “left hook” strategy that went into Iraq behind the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait and was widely credited with bringing the ground war to a close in just four days.
I remember when the Gulf War started. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear as our deadline to withdraw passed and Iraq continued to defy peaceful resolution. Then the air war started.
CNN made its reputation reporting live from Baghdad as their “SCUD Studs” sat on a hotel rooftop shooting video of explosions and anti-aircraft fire. A buddy called me up and invited me over to drink beer and watch the war.
Thirty days of air war followed by four days of ground fighting and Iraq was defeated and on the run. Even better, US casualties were relatively light. That was when President GHW Bush made the decision (correct in my view) to halt the war and accept Iraq’s surrender with Saddam still in power.
It was a stunning victory and much of the credit goes to General Schwarzkopf. Then the politicians took control of events again, and General Schwarzkopf began to fade away like old soldiers do.
I opposed the Second Gulf War, but General Schwarzkopf was not involved in that conflict. Initially he supported that war but ultimately he was critical of it. All that is irrelevant.
His leadership during the First Gulf War is a thing worthy of respect and honor. General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was a real American hero. May he rest in peace.
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