In the late 70’s the US and Iraq weren’t getting along very well. Iraq had been on the Soviet Union’s side during the Cold War, they were anti-Israel, and they supported Palestinian groups that were considered terrorists. This attitude changed starting in early 80’s when Iraq invaded Iran. Because the US disliked Iran even more, under the principle of “my enemies enemy is my friend” the US started to back Iraq. This backing was covert at first, but became more obvious over time. The Iran-Iraq war lasted all the way through the 80’s, and ended in bloody stalemate, with borders returning to their pre-war locations. (Kuznick, 474-475).
Now during this time Iraq had built up a rather large army (using American funds), but it had also gotten itself into a large amount of debt (mostly to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia). When Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to forgive the debt Iraq accused them of manipulating oil prices and engaging in economic warfare against them. Iraq started to bring up a long held claim that Kuwait was actually part of Iraq, and by doing so threatened to take Kuwait by force. Saddam met with the American ambassador to let her know that he was preparing for a hostile conflict with Kuwait, and she replied that American would not take a position on arab land disputes. Saddam interpreted this to mean that the US approved the invasion. (Kuznick, 475).
Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. The speed with which they conquered Kuwait surprised many in the western world, as they thought the long war with Iran would have diminished Iraq’s military power. America became concerned that Iraq had a large enough force (and one with a decade of experience in warfare), that they may continue on and invade Saudi Arabia as well. If that were to happen, they feared Iraq would become the dominant player in the world oil market, and they did not like that idea at all. The UN immediately started economic sanctions of Iran and the rest of the arab world was split on how to react. The Saudi’s asked the US for help, fearing that they would not be able to prevent an invasion, and the US started moving troops into Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. (Kuznick, 476-478).
The UN passed numerous resolutions demanding that Iraq leave Kuwait. This eventually lead to a deadline being given to Iraq to leave Kuwait or the UN would authorize force to remove them from Kuwait. During this time the US created a large coalition of countries that would militarily support the potential conflict, growing to 34 countries and nearly 1 million troops, lead by General Norman Schwarzkopf. When the deadline passed without Iraq leaving Kuwait, Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm. (Kuznick, 477).
The coalition forces used their air superiority to quickly destroy the Iraqi air force. It then spent 37 days of non-stop bombing of Iraqi military targets. The US strategy was destroy the communications infrastructure so that Saddam would lose direct control over his military, and to inflict enough morale damage that the Iraqi forces wouldn’t put up much of a fight. After the air campaign came the counter-invastion and liberation of Kuwait. The coalition sent their forces out well into the desert, far further west than Iraq expected. This was one of the first usages of GPS technology in warfare (which was required to navigate in the large deserts west of Kuwait). This allowed the coalition to cut off the Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and give them almost nowhere to run. When the main thrust of the attack pushed them out of their positions in Kuwait, they attempted to retreat towards Basra. Once out in the open they became bottlenecked on the highways heading to Basra, and the coalition air force completely decimated them. Highway 80 (nicknamed Highway of Death) was a complete violation of the Third Geneva Convention Common Article 3, which outlaws the killing of soldiers and civilians who are out of combat. These highways not only contained escaping Military personnel, but women and children and refugees. (Kuznick, 480-481).
Within 100 days the fighting was over. Having completed it’s objective of removing Iraq from Kuwait, and having further destroyed enough of the Iraqi forces so they were no longer a threat to Saudi Arabia, the coalition agreed to a cease fire. President Bush rejoiced “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!” He later wrote in his private journal that he actually “had no feelings of euphoria or joy”, but rather “it hasn’t been a clean end, the victory felt hallow and incomplete.” (Kuznick, 481). The Unseen Gulf War, an article by Peter Turnley is a great article explaining the costs of the Gulf War:
Since World War II, every armed conflict the US gets involved in has ended in utter failure, or ends up getting us into more wars further in the future. America does not know the word peace, as we have been fighting since the birth of this nation, with everyone in the world including ourselves. Maybe it is time we look around and realize it’s not the rest of the world to blame, it’s us.
Stone, Oliver , and Peter Kuznick. The Untold History of the United States. New York: Gallery Books, 2012. Print.