History and Consequences of the First Persian Gulf War of 1991 (2004)
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This paper was originally written in 2004 and published in three parts on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it earned over 11,500 views until the closure of Yahoo! Voices in 2014. I no longer hold many of the views expressed in this paper - particularly, the all-too-favorable view of aggressive American foreign policy or of war in general. However, the facts in the paper remain accurate. Moreover, this paper is part of my historical writings, and I wish to honestly represent my previous positions. Therefore, I have given this paper a permanent presence on this page.
Events Leading to the First Persian Gulf WarThe onset of the 1990s was a time of great relief for the United States, the victor of the Cold War, but also of immense uncertainty with regard to the future course of United States foreign policy, especially concerning the volatile but economically critical Middle East region.
The U.S. faced its first major test of the decade in August, 1990, when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein occupied and proclaimed the annexation of Kuwait. The result was the First Persian Gulf War, waged from January 16 to February 27, 1991, in which the United States demonstrated a substantial shift in its Middle Eastern foreign policy, including a renewed military efficiency, increased political influence, and the willingness to firmly defend its strategic interests in the Middle East.
United States foreign policy in the Middle East prior to 1990 showed a surprisingly supportive attitude toward a dictatorship inthat the U.S. would later confront. From 1980 to 1988, the Hussein regime was engaged in a bloody stalemated war against the militant theocracy of Iran. To contain Iran's sphere of influence in the Middle East, the United States sent foreign aid and high-tech equipment to Hussein's government (Norton 1069).
In the meantime, the United States government seemed oblivious to massive human rights violations within Iraq's territory, as, in 1988, Saddam Hussein employed toxic nerve gas in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against thousands of Kurdish civilians in the north of Iraq.
The Soviet Union, meanwhile, reinforced Iraq's arsenal with shipments of efficient T-72 tanks, while Hussein began to embark on a project for the research and development of nuclear weapons. Despite this dangerous buildup, many U.S. politicians feared to disrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East by intervening, as Iraq was a prominent member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Nevertheless, the threat to the economic status quo would come as a result of American passivity, when Saddam Hussein decided to annex Kuwait in order to cancel his own $14 billion debt to that country and seize its substantial oil industry (Norton 1067). Saddam Hussein intended to artificially boost OPEC's profits by curtailing Kuwait's dynamic oil production and thus spiking up the price of oil for the American consumer. The United Nations responded with an imposition of sanctions on the Hussein regime, while, for the next five months, containment and diplomacy were wielded in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the situation.
Changes in American Military Management and Tactics During the First Persian Gulf War
On August 7, 1990, President George H. W. Bush, as part of Operation Desert Shield, summoned 500,000 American troops to guard the even more strategically crucial oil resources of Saudi Arabia, which had become vulnerable to Iraqi attacks and on whose border massive buildups of Iraqi troops were observed.
The United Nations ultimately endorsed Resolution 678, authorizing the use of military force againstif Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. It did not, and the United States, at the head of a coalition of 34 countries, was poised to respond with Operation Desert Storm.
Prior to the First Gulf War, a major source of incapacitation for the United States military had been the so-called "Vietnam Syndrome," the fear of entangling U.S. personnel in a third-world quagmire where conventional tactics were futile and civilian leadership overly encumbered the ability of the military to achieve its objectives.
During the First Gulf War, this attitudinal affliction was dispelled by a major shift in military tactics and the government's approach toward military management. George H. W. Bush, wary of excessive regulation by civilian authorities, of the sort that Richard Nixon had used to initiate a large-scale withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in the critical years following the Tet Offensive, wrote of his determination to practice a laissez-faire approach with regard to the tactics and targets selected by General Colin Powell of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander-in-Chief Norman Schwarzkopf.
The result was one of the most spectacularly efficient campaigns in military history. The war began with a massive air bombardment conducted by the largest air force ever assembled, targeting both the occupied territory of Kuwait and the Hussein regime's infrastructure in Iraq.
Only then, on Day 39 of the war, were ground troops dispatched in Operation Desert Sabre to rout the Iraqi occupants of Kuwait and devastate Saddam's elite Republican Guard, all in a mere hundred hours. While Iraqi casualties numbered about 100,000, the United States only lost 148 lives, 35 of those from friendly fire accidents, compared to over 58,000 casualties in Vietnam (Norton 1068). When the United States military was allowed to act as it saw fit, countless soldiers' lives were preserved, and the enemy was defeated with unprecedented swiftness.
Colin Powell foresaw a new age of America's military confidence and the use of the threat of overwhelming force to contain its enemies. He noted that the Iraqi army had been cut to less than forty percent of its original strength, and Kuwait possessed new strategic ties with the United States that would ensure its future defense.
Consequences of the First Persian Gulf WarAs a result of the First Persian Gulf War, the United States undertook a long-term military presence in Saudi Arabia at the request of its ally in the war and economic partner, King Fahd. Along with the Vietnam Syndrome, the hesitancy of the United States to use force to bring about a politically and economically stable Middle East was also greatly diminished. General and Commander-in-Chief Norman Schwarzkopf recollected that even he, prior to the war, was uncertain whether the United States would risk entangling itself in a potentially long and costly conflict over the tiny Kuwait, but, after the war, there was no longer any question of American readiness to do so.
Increased United States military activity was one component of its shift toward a more assertive and dynamic foreign policy. Another was its employment of its success to bring about a political "New World Order" in the Middle East, with ramifications throughout the world. In a post-war speech describing this "order," President George H. W. Bush emphasized the need to create networks of regional security with Middle Eastern allies, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who had cooperated with the U.S. during the war.
Additionally, Bush sought to influence the economic development of the region by discouraging dictators like Hussein from diverting the resources of their people toward massive arms programs and the devastation they brought about, as was evidenced during the massive post-war starvation inand the Iraqi army's wanton incineration of Kuwaiti oil fields (Norton 1068). In the interest of thwarting further military developments in Iraq, the United Nations, with American support, maintained sanctions on the country with respect to almost every major commodity, which would linger until 2003.
Furthermore, in 1992, the United States, with broad international support, designated "no-fly zones" over the vast majority of the North and South of Iraq, over which the Saddam Hussein regime would not be able to test its aircraft and airborne weapons. This policy also assisted in protecting the Kurdish and Shiite populations of Iraq against terroristic intrusions by the regime similar to the 1988 massacre of Kurds. The United States later demonstrated a willingness to defend these political decisions against Iraqi violations when, in December, 1998, Iraq attacked American aircraft in the no-fly zones, resulting in a retaliatory series of air and missile strikes on key Iraqi targets in Baghdad and elsewhere, known as Operation Desert Fox.
The Persian Gulf Wars: From the First to the Second
After the First Persian Gulf War, the United States government sought to prevent the development of a potentially far graver threat from Saddam Hussein, that of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's possession and prior use of chemical and biological weapons, as well as his ongoing nuclear weapons development program, prompted the introduction of United Nations arms inspectors intofollowing the First Gulf War. Until 1998, when they were expelled, the inspectors worked in Iraq to effectively dismantle Saddam Hussein's WMD arsenal.
Nevertheless, dramatic as the United States' decision to liberate Kuwait and subsequently practice active containment against Hussein's government may have been, the U.S. foreign policy shift was by no means complete in the 1990s. In 1991, rebelling Kurds in Northern Iraq, inspired by American victory in Kuwait, saw an opportunity to unseat their dictator. Yet, having received only half-hearted consultation from a few American military advisors, they were crushed by Saddam's re-mobilized police forces.
As Saddam continued to remain in power, his iron grip on the fates of his subjects as well as his confidence in the vitality of his regime grew. In 2003, in an interview with CBS's Dan Rather, Hussein boldly and aggressively stated that he had not been defeated in 1991 and that the Iraqis were still prepared to take "a patriotic stand" against foreign intervention, signaling that his was still a threat to be reckoned with, while suspicions about the restoration of his WMD capacity grew.
A consistent and thorough eradication of the menace posed by the Hussein Regime would be delayed for twelve years after the First Gulf War, and only during the Second Persian Gulf War of 2003 would the United States dethrone Hussein and occupy Iraq to work for its reformation into a peaceful, freedom-respecting society. This is a challenging task that continues to this day, but there is no doubt that the Iraqi people are better off today than they were under the reign of a brutal tyrant.
Among the accomplishments of the Second Persian Gulf War, bringing Saddam Hussein to justice for his massive and repeated crimes against humanity cannot be overlooked. A vile, murderous, sadistic dictator has been removed from power, finally giving his oppressed subjects at least a chance at forming a free society. Yet if the United States had finished the job in 1991, perhaps the Second Gulf War would have been entirely unnecessary, and a whole decade of Saddam's reign of terror might have been averted.
Norton, Katzman, et. al. A People and a Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Wikipedia. Gulf War. 16 Apr 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War.
Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.