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“Violence should express the political purpose, and express it in a rational, utilitarian manner; it should not take the place of the political purpose, nor obliterate it” -Carl von Clausewitz, On War

I’m beginning to pivot in my reading from the 2003 Iraq War to the Persian Gulf War. I’m currently on an excellent, dense history of the interwar period, Sarah Graham-Brown’s Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of Intervention in Iraq and Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam HusseinI haven’t read many of the key books on the Persian Gulf War just yet (give me another two months), but I’m beginning to get a feeling that many of the politico-military dynamics of the second war in Iraq were present in the first.

Not having previously studied the Persian Gulf War in any detail, I think I inherited the general left-of-center view of that war as a military and political success. That George H. W. Bush’s calculus of not moving on Baghdad to depose Saddam had been an intelligent decision, which was borne out by the experience of George W. Bush in Baghdad. That the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings were unfortunate but ultimately not relevant for the US strategically. But as I read, that view appears to be fading, and I am beginning to see the elder Bush’s handling of the end of the Persian Gulf War as an inordinate failure. Not for the reasons neoconservatives would assert, but because of the same reason the Iraq War of 2003 was a failure: there was no plan for the post-war and extemporaneous policy-making failed to adequately secure the stated political goals of the war.

I’ve written before about the lack of adequate political goals or, rather, the lack of planning to achieve the purported political goals in the Iraq War of 2003. That the necessity of securing political support of the war undermined the planning, which in turn undermined the political outcome of the war. Could it be that those same dynamics were present in the Persian Gulf War? I just came across this passage in Out of the Ashes:

Militarily, an advance on Baghdad might not have been difficult. General Steven Arnold, the U.S. Army’s chief operations officer in Saudi Arabia, actually drew up a secret plan after the cease-fire entitled “The Road to Baghdad,” which he calculated could easily be carried out with a fraction of the forces available. Arnold’s commanding officer, horrified at such an implicit admission that the victory was less than complete,  put the plan under lock and key. Unfortunately, neither the military nor the White House had as yet any other plan for dealing with Iraq once the issue of Kuwait had been settled.

According to Chas. Freeman, wartime ambassador to Saudi Arabia, this lack of forethought was deliberate. “The White House was terrified of leaks about any U.S. plans that might unhinge the huge and unwieldy coalition that George Bush had put together to support the war,” he recalled later. “So officials were discouraged from writing, talking, or even thinking about what to do next.” [italics mine]

And, not to put too fine a point on it:

Faced with such awkward considerations, the conduct of the war had been left largely to the military, whose vision had its limitations. Before the bombing started, an air force general paid a call on Ambassador James Akins, a distinguished former diplomat with a wealth of experience in Iraq. The general explained that he wished to consult the ambassador on the selection of suitable bombing targets. Akins suggested that the Pentagon might find it more useful to draw on his knowledge of Iraqi politics and of Saddam, whom he had known for years. “Oh no, Mr. Ambassador,” said his visitor. “You see, this war has no political overtones.”


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