Traitement en cours, merci de patienter...
Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne
Saut de ligne
Image
Image
Saut de ligne
 
Saut de ligne
Image
Saut de ligne
Engagement opérationnel

Saut de ligne

Military victory does not mean political success. A historical perspective through the 1991 Gulf War

Image

Par le Chef d’escadrons Valentin SEILER

Image

Any judgements about political success or failure in war at the strategic level must be based on a clear understanding of the initial political objectives of both sides. In this way, the relevance of war as a tool of policy can be assessed in accordance with the aims and the outcomes of war. Carl von Clausewitz precisely argues that “the political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose[1]”.

Image
Image

 



The outcome of the 1991 Gulf War is a symptomatic example, which illustrates the paradox of the necessity and the utility of force. Despite international pressure and the vote of numerous UN resolutions, the international community did not succeed in curbing Saddam Hussein's will, after the invasion of Kuwait on the 2 August 1990. As a result, the United States built up a large international coalition in order to compel the Iraqi pullout and to restore Kuwait's sovereignty. Although Iraqi forces were defeated in a humiliating manner, did war prove to be a successful means of achieving all political objectives? There is no immediate and unconditional response to such a question because Iraq faced a heterogeneous coalition. There was only a minimal consensus on the political objectives within the coalition. Thus, this essay will focus on the US political objectives because the 1991 Gulf War was waged by a US-led coalition and the United States provided about 90 per cent of the armed forces for the military campaign.

This essay will demonstrate that war only proved to be successful in achieving explicit political objectives by restoring the regional status quo from a US-led coalition perspective. However, from the Iraqi point of view, war proved to be successful in that it reinforced Saddam Hussein's internal hegemony and regional pre-eminence. Moreover, the coalition victory did not usher in stability in the Persian Gulf.

In order to address these issues, it is first necessary to clarify and evaluate the political objectives of both sides. In fact, some of them are ambiguous. Second, it will be shown that the US-led coalition waged a limited war for limited objectives. As a result, the Gulf War was a decisive operational victory. Third, it will be argued that the outcome of the military campaign was above all a strategic incompletion.

 

 

*

 

*   *

Saddam Hussein's political objectives are not easy to evaluate because they were confusing. But broadly speaking, his “motives were greed and need[2]”. These two elements provide an understandable background of his political objectives. The first one was related to a megalomaniac ambition, whereas the second one was a rational calculation for internal necessity and political survival.

The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was longer than expected. The acquisition of many modern weapons purchased to wage war was source of strength for Iraq. But it was costly and it impoverished the country. When war ended in 1988 with no real victory, Iraq had numerous debts. Saddam Hussein promised his own population to slash the foreign debt and to launch a reconstruction programme. But the decline in Iraq's revenues from oil exports resulting from elevated production by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made the economic situation worse. Saddam Hussein faced a huge economic and financial crisis in 1990 and his regime was threatened.

Kuwait was one of the most important creditors for military purchases and at this time Iraq was unable to pay the debt of about $10 billion. Saddam Hussein mentioned numerous charges against Kuwait. It was accused of exceeding OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) production quota and for stealing Iraqi oil. The revenue problem became enduring. Iraq also pointed out the Kuwait unwillingness to forgive the loan by cancelling the debt. Saddam Hussein tried to persuade Kuwait that Iraq fought on behalf of other Arab states against a threat from revolutionary Iran. There was consequently a moral debt on the part of other Arab nations.

Despite Saddam Hussein's declarations, the Iraqi interest was not really related to historical rights on Kuwait as a province of Iraq. The objective was to seize Kuwait's wealth because of the numerous debts resulting from the Iran-Iraq War. This objective included the seizure of oil facilities plus a large harbour and some 120 miles of Gulf coastline. Consequently, the invasion of Kuwait was a rational calculation. The achievement of Saddam Hussein's political objective was above all a means to ensure his political survival.

If “need” was the cornerstone of Saddam Hussein's short term policy, “greed” was a permanent underlying element of comprehension in his attitude. The long term political objective was actually to secure regional hegemony by dominating the Persian Gulf. The unity of the Arab world was his dream[3]. After the failure of the policy toward Iran, he took the opportunity to enlarge Iraq's sphere of influence through the annexation of Kuwait. It was a new test in his megalomaniac pursuit of power. At the same time, he intimidated all his Arab creditors[4]. However, there was a certain degree of rationality in Saddam Hussein's mind. He decided to invade Kuwait only because he thought that the risk of an American military response was unlikely. As it will be considered later, the miscalculation was patent given the new geo-political context. Nevertheless, Iraq became a potential threat for numerous neighbours.

Besides, by linking the aggression to the Palestinian problem, Saddam Hussein hoped to portray himself as the leader of the pan-Arab cause. In fact, on the 12 August 1990 he offered to withdraw if Israel withdrew from occupied Arab lands. This attitude confirms his pan-Arab ambition as a political objective or that at the very least he was calculating in his attempt to widen the crisis.

 

In response to the violation of Kuwaiti sovereignty, the international community voted numerous UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCR). The first one, condemning the invasion, “demands that Iraq withdraw immediately and unconditionally all its forces to the positions in which they were located on 1 August 1990[5]”. The last one, offering a final opportunity to Saddam Hussein to pull out, acts under chapter VII of the UN Charter on behalf of collective security and authorises the use of military force as of 15 January 1991[6].

But, whatever the consensus of the international coalition on the principle of use of force to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it is necessary to explore furthermore the US political objectives. According to the National Security Directive 54 published on the 15 January 1991, the use of military force was supposed to achieve four political objectives: “This authorization is for the following purposes: to effect the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait (1); to restore Kuwait's legitimate government (2); to protect the lives of American citizens abroad (3); and to promote the security and the stability of the Persian Gulf (4)[7]”. If objectives (1) to (3) are explicit and understandable, objective (4) is more ambiguous. In addition, if the achievement of the three first objectives is easy to measure, it is more difficult for the last one. It depends on what security and stability means from an American perspective. This could potentially have meant the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The US feared a further Iraqi aggression, probably toward Saudi Arabia to seize the Hama oil fields. In this case, Iraq would exercise a critical influence on the world oil market. Such an option would have some dramatic consequences on America's vital interests. The economic dimension was actually paramount because of the American dependence on oil resources. Oil is one of the most real determinants of the US policy in the Persian Gulf in a long term perspective[8]. The US needs to ensure adequate supplies of oil at reasonable prices. A major oil crisis like the one in 1973 could have a huge impact on the American economy and consequently on the US ability to maintain worldwide supremacy. In this way, the US permanent objective is to maintain a favourable balance of power, preventing the emergence of a regional power capable of threatening US vital interests[9].

As a result, the debate on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a central secret question in the Bush Administration. Of course, the removal of the dictator from power was never stated as an explicit political objective. The international community would not have accepted such a proposition. But it was an implied objective because President Bush thought that Saddam Hussein was the principal cause of instability in the Persian Gulf. According to Bard O'Neill, it became clear just after the annexation of Kuwait: “Another objective, reportedly articulated on August 3 by Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security advisor, was to topple Saddam Hussein through covert action[10]”. But, rather than a clear political objective, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was probably a hoped outcome of the war.

Political objectives of both sides having been now identified and analysed, it is possible to consider how far they have been achieved.

 

The military campaign was one-sided and the victory complete. Iraqi armed forces suffered a humiliating defeat through an intense air campaign and a 100-hour ground war. The result of the military decisive and overwhelming victory was the restoration of the Sabah family in Kuwait. The US achieved de facto the two first objectives. Besides, American citizens in the area were not really threatened; it can be considered that the third objective was also completed.

Saddam Hussein's miscalculations by confronting the US-led coalition are now clear. Having got all his calculations wrong, he lost the 1991 Gulf War. The major miscalculation was to underestimate American will and military capabilities. Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in a period of strategic reassessment following the collapse of the Soviet empire. In fact, Saddam Hussein decided to confront the US just after the Cold War when the Eastern threat ended[11]. He also miscalculated the cohesion[12] of the coalition despite its political fragility due to its heterogeneity. Some countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Libya supported his appeal to jihad on behalf of the struggle of Islam against the Western imperialism in the Middle East. However, Saddam Hussein did not succeed in turning the Arab world against the war on behalf of the struggle against the infidel, neither the Western public opinion, which feared heavy casualties. Thereby, he miscalculated his ability to achieve his own objectives through military confrontation. But above all, Saddam Hussein accepted the ineluctable war as a question of personal pride within the Arab world[13].

The US focused politically on the withdrawal of Iraqi forces and the restoration of Kuwait's sovereignty. There was a common and understandable agreement for those objectives within the coalition. However, it was fragile. Arab states suspected the US imperialism in the Persian Gulf and its selfish interests for oil. In addition, countries such as France which provided one division, would not have accepted to go beyond the UN mandate. The march toward Baghdad was in particular unacceptable for most partners. Thus, the US waged a limited war with limited objectives. Colin Powell, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted on the achievement of minimalist objectives, in this case the pullout of all Iraqi forces and the restoration of the legitimate government in Kuwait.

 

If the 1991 Gulf War was clearly won by the coalition, the military campaign plan did not work as far as expected. From an American perspective, the real objective at the operational level was to destroy Iraqi armed forces in a manner that would in the best case make Saddam Hussein's fall from power likely. This minimum outcome of the war was to weaken his regime and consequently his influence in the Persian Gulf. Concretely, the objective on the ground was to destroy the three Republican Guard divisions held in reserve before their withdrawal toward the Euphrates River. These elite Iraqi units were considered strongly loyal to the dictator. The US Central Command (USCENTCOM) plan was based on manoeuvre and envelopment. A flanking action was scheduled to separate the in-theatre Iraqi forces from their home base and prevent reinforcement or escape over the Euphrates River. The land campaign involved two force grouping: the US Marines for deception and two Corps, which constituted the “left hook” designed to envelop and defeat the main body. The Marines had to fix the first operational echelon South of Kuwait City by attacking through the centre of the Iraqi defences, forcing the engagement of the Republican Guard divisions. In the same time, the heavy VII Corps had to turn and envelop the second echelon. The important task was to cut the bridges, the roads and the rail lines south of Basra to block Republican Guard's withdrawal. But the enveloping action by armoured divisions did not occur because the Marines struck too strong. The Republican Guard units were unable to reinforce the first operational echelon. On the contrary, the Marines pushed them across the Euphrates River before their envelopment. When USCENTCOM understood that the gate was not closed and the Republican Guard units not enveloped, it was too late. Half of the Republican Guard got away and Iraqi forces tried to save as much forces as possible.

In fact, the land war was a race between the US will and ability to destroy and Saddam Hussein's acceptance of all the demands of the UN resolutions. In essence, the escape of the Republican Guard was due to an operational confusion in terms of intelligence collection and analysis. The decision to end the war was taken on the basis of fragmentary intelligence reports. Therefore, the military objective was not completed. According to Laurence Freedman, “it was later judged to have been flawed by a final misjudgement of timing, by which Saddam's forces were allowed to escape before their route had been blocked[14]”.

Despite the confusion on the ground, all explicit objectives were completed in an unexpected rapid manner. But the strategic consequences of the escape of the Republic Guard in the achievement of the implied objectives had not been fully considered. The early termination of the war raised issues concerning stability in the Middle East.

 

The decision to end the war was not easy to take. On the one hand, Colin Powell wanted to end the war as soon as his minimalist objectives had been achieved. On the other hand, Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the troops, needed one or two additional days to complete the destruction of Iraqi forces.

At the strategic level, the US Administration did not immediately realise the magnitude of the escape of the Iraqi forces. President Bush did not want to change the cease-fire decision after a symbolic 100-hour victory. He would have been suspected to go beyond the objectives stated within the UN resolutions. Several additional factors explain the premature cease-fire. The US Administration suffered huge national and international pressure. Some advisors feared the disintegration of Iraq because of the internal tensions between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds. Such a result would have been counterproductive for regional stability. After many years of Cold War, the US also remembered the Vietnam syndrome, particularly the fear of heavy casualties. Finally, the international pressure and the strength of the anti-war lobby reinforced the idea of quick and overwhelming victory. Thus, the war termination seems to be short of strategic victory.

Planning a war does not exclude preparing the peace. The decision to end the war was taken hastily without consideration to the peace settlement. The American leaders miscalculated the outcomes of the war. They thought that a humiliating defeat would trigger a military coup or an internal revolt. Shia and Kurds were actually strongly opposed to the Iraqi regime. The Bush Administration thought that Iraqi people themselves would remove Saddam Hussein from power. It was believed that he could not survive such a humiliating defeat. President Bush revealed his real objective on the 15 February 1991, inviting the Iraqi people to “take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside[15]”. However, the US confirmed quickly that the agenda has not changed and that it was not useful to move ground forces toward Baghdad. The risk of a political quagmire was actually considered high and the US did not want to show an imperialist attitude. The US objective was confirmed later by General Sir Rupert Smith. He wrote that “the strategic intention was to create a condition in which Saddam Hussein's behaviour was much modified, or better still his people deposed him[16]”. The ambivalence over the opportunity to depose the dictator outlines the absence of clear post war political strategy[17].

 

The strategic outcome of the 1991 Gulf War was not satisfactory because the US decided to end the war prematurely. The coalition missed the opportunity to transform an outstanding military victory into a favourable post war situation. In fact, the US focused on the military campaign to the detriment of war termination. The post war settlement was not carefully prepared[18] Consequently, there was no new world order with peace and stability in the Middle East. The long term strategic issue remained unsolved. In addition, the hoped downfall of Saddam Hussein did not occur partly due to the escape of his loyal Republican Guard.

The US-led coalition could potentially have made more because Saddam Hussein's power was weakened and the internal tensions between the different communities were blatant. But the US decided to keep the regional status quo. The outcome of the war was not strategically conclusive. The American victory was incomplete because Saddam Hussein's regime remained in place. However, the world oil balance was restored[19] The economic dimension of the war was actually paramount for the US because the second oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia are in Iraq. The military success failed to complete all its political objectives. In this sense, war did not prove to be a successful means of achieving all US political objectives.

From an Iraqi perspective, after the ground campaign, the only strategy was Saddam Hussein's political survival. Despite the unconditional military defeat, he remained on the political offensive. In the contrary, the US was unable to transform its military victory into a complete political success[20]. The Bush Administration remained in a political defence because it was leading a fragile and heteroclite coalition. This paradox provided Saddam Hussein with an unexpected opportunity. Ironically, the overwhelming military defeat and the presumption of the downfall helped him. He politically appeared to be in a position from which he could not withdraw from Kuwait without being seen to be forced out by a huge mass of forces.

This defeat was a great political achievement for Saddam Hussein and he became a symbol of resistance against the American superpower. He said fallaciously on Baghdad Radio on the 28 February 1991: “O Iraqis, you triumphed when you stood with all this vigor against the armies of 30 countries... You have succeeded in demolishing the aura of the United States... The Guards have broken the backbone of their aggressors and thrown them beyond their borders[21]”. This incredible propaganda worked toward his partisans. Facing such a coalition, his internal power was reinforced. Moreover, he could present himself in the Arab world as a heroic defender against the US attempt of hegemony. Finally, Saddam Hussein lost the 1991 Gulf War. However, war proved to be a successful means to ensure not only his political survival, but also his regional pre-eminence. Thomas Mahnken suggests that “like Nasser in 1956 and Sadat in 1973, Saddam was able to turn defeat into victory

[22]”.

 

 

*

*   *

 

In conclusion, avoiding war meant persuading Saddam Hussein to withdraw voluntarily from Kuwait. The international community voted numerous UN resolutions. It deployed a large military coalition in the Persian Gulf with an objective to influence Saddam Hussein's determination. It tried to make him withdraw through economic sanctions and threat of military confrontation. All diplomatic efforts failed. As a result, the US-led coalition waged war because war became inevitable.

This essay showed that war only restored the regional status quo. War did not achieve all US political objectives because the military victory did not necessarily promote “security and stability in the Persian Gulf”, which was the fourth American political objective. War also failed to achieve the hoped downfall of Saddam Hussein from power[23]. On the contrary, his regime was reinforced.

The outcome of the 1991 Gulf War also underlines the difficulty of the timing of war termination in a relevant political manner. The coalition confused operational success and strategic victory. The failure to exploit the benefits of an outstanding military victory is in essence due to a premature end to the war and to an ambivalent strategy for post war settlement. The 1991 Gulf War was military focused to the detriment of the achievement of political aims and a more favourable post war situation. In this sense, the Clausewitzian teaching was not applied by the coalition. Besides, it is doubtful whether the destruction of the bulk of the Republic Guard would have by itself led to regional stability and security or indeed the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

As a final comment it is perhaps fitting to finish with Henry Kissinger's statement: “The end of the 1991 Gulf war brought about yet another demonstration of America's congenital difficulty with translating military success into political coin[24]”.

 

 

References

 

 

Ø  Books

 

 

·         Calvocoressi, Peter, World politics since 1945 (London: Longman, 7th edn, 1996).

·         Chauprade, Aymeric, Geopolitique: Constantes et changements dans l'histoire (Paris: Ellipses, 2nd edn, 2003).

·         Clausewitz, Carl von, On war (London: Everyman's Library, 1993).

·         Cordesman, Anthony H, and Wagner, Abraham R, The lessons of modern war (Vol IV): The Gulf War (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996).

·         Freedman, Laurence, and Karsh, Efraim, The Gulf conflict 1990-1991 (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1994).

·         Friedman, Norman, Desert victory: The war for Kuwait (Annapolis: The Naval Institute Press, 1991).

·         Gordon, Michael R, and Trainor, Bernard E, The generals' war: The inside story of the conflict in the Gulf (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995).

·         Khadduri, Majid, and Ghareeb, Edmund, War in the Gulf, 1990-91: The Iraq-Kuwait conflict and its implications (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

·         Kissinger, Henry, Does America need a foreign policy?: Toward a diplomacy for the 21st century (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001).

·         Paris, Henri, USA: Echec et mat? (Paris: Laffont Editeur, 2004).

·         Smith, Rupert, The utility of force: The art of war in the modern world (London: Penguin Books, 2006).

 

 

Ø  Essays in books

 

 

·         Inman, Bobby R, Nye, Joseph S, Perry, William J, and Smith, Roger K, ‘US strategy after the storm' in Nye, Joseph S, and Smith, Roger K (ed.), After the storm: Lessons from the Gulf War (New York: Maddison Books, 1992).

·         Mahnken, Thomas G, ‘A squandered opportunity?: The decision to end the Gulf War', in Bacevich, Andrew J, and Inbar, Efraim (ed.), The Gulf War of 1991 reconsidered (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003).

·         Trainor, Bernard E, ‘War by miscalculation' in Nye, Joseph S, and Smith, Roger K (ed.), After the storm: Lessons from the Gulf War (New York: Maddison Books, 1992).

 

 

Ø  Articles

 

·         Cigar, Norman, ‘Iraq's strategic mindset and the Gulf War: Blueprint for defeat' in The journal of strategic studies, Vol 15, No 1, March 1992.

·         Divine, Robert A, ‘The Persian Gulf War revisited: Tactical victory, strategic failure', in Diplomatic History, Vol 24, No 1, 2000.

·         Freedman, Laurence, and Karsh, Effraim, ‘How Kuwait was won: Strategy in the Gulf War', in International Security, Vol 16, No 2, 1991.

·         Mylroie, Laurie, ‘Why Saddam invaded Kuwait' in Orbis, Winter 1993.

·         O'Neill, Bard E, and Kass, Ilana, The Persian Gulf War: A political-military assessment, in Comparative strategy, Vol 11, No 2, April-June 1992.

 

 

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von, On war (London: Everyman's Library, 1993), Book 1, p.99.

[2] Calvocoressi, Peter, World politics since 1945 (London: Longman, 7th edn, 1996), p.444.

[3] Mylroie, Laurie, ‘Why Saddam invaded Kuwait', in Orbis, Winter 1993, p.123.

[4] Friedman, Norman, Desert victory: The war for Kuwait (Annapolis: The Naval Institute Press, 1991), p.43.

[5] UNSCR 660 (2 August 1990) [On Line]. Available from: http://www.un.org/Docs/scres/1990/scres90.htm [Accessed October 20 2006].

[6] UNSCR 678 (29 November 1990) [On Line]. Available from: http://www.un.org/Docs/scres/1990/scres90.htm [Accessed October 20 2006].

[7] NSD 54 (15 January 1991), ‘Responding to Iraqi aggression in the Gulf' [On Line]. Available from: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB39/ [Accessed October 20 2006].

[8] Chauprade, Aymeric, Géopolitique: Constantes et changements dans l'histoire (Paris: Ellipses, 2nd edn, 2003), p.654.

[9] O'Neill, Bard E, and Kass, Ilana, The Persian Gulf War: a political-military assessment, in Comparative strategy, Vol 11, No 2, April-June 1992, p.216.

[10] Ibid., p.219.

[11] Trainor, Bernard E, ‘War by miscalculation' in Nye, Joseph S, and Smith, Roger K (ed.), After the storm: Lessons from the Gulf War (New York: Maddison Books, 1992), p.215.

[12] Cigar, Norman, ‘Iraq's strategic mindset and the Gulf War: Blueprint for defeat' in The journal of strategic studies, Vol 15, No 1, March 1992, p.9.

[13] Khadduri, Majid, and Ghareeb, Edmund, War in the Gulf, 1990-91: The Iraq-Kuwait conflict and its implications (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p.241.

[14] Freedman, Laurence, and Karsh, Efraim, The Gulf conflict 1990-1991 (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1994), p.409.

[15] Quoted in Freedman, Laurence, and Karsh, Efraim, op. cit., p.412.

[16] Smith, Rupert, The utility of force: The art of war in the modern world (London: Penguin Books, 2006), p.273.

[17] Gordon, Michael R, and Trainor, Bernard E, The generals' war: The inside story of the conflict in the Gulf (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), p.477.

[18] Inman, Bobby R, Nye, Joseph S, Perry, William J, and Smith, Roger K, «US strategy after the storm» in Nye, Joseph S, and Smith, Roger K (ed.), After the storm: Lessons from the Gulf War (New York: Maddison Books, 1992), p.286.

[19] Paris, Henri, USA: Echec et mat? (Paris: Laffont Editeur, 2004), p.174.

[20] Cordesman, Anthony H, and Wagner, Abraham R, The lessons of modern war (Vol IV): The Gulf War (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996), p.961.

[21] Quoted in Freedman, Laurence, and Karsh, Effraim, ‘How Kuwait was won: Strategy in the Gulf War', in International Security, Vol 16, No 2, 1991, p.35.

[22] Mahnken, Thomas G, ‘A squandered opportunity?: The decision to end the Gulf War', in Bacevich, Andrew J, and Inbar, Efraim (ed.), The Gulf War of 1991 reconsidered (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003), p.136.

[23] Divine, Robert A, ‘The Persian Gulf War revisited: Tactical victory, strategic failure', in Diplomatic History, Vol 24, No 1, 2000, p.129.

[24] Kissinger, Henry, Does America need a foreign policy? Toward a diplomacy for the 21st century (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), p.189.

Image
Image