A quarter-century after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, we still haven’t learned the right lessons from that warAug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By VANCE SERCHUK
Just after midnight on August 2, 1990, an invasion force of approximately 100,000 Iraqi troops crossed into Kuwait. As mechanized and armored Republican Guard divisions breached the border and sped southward across the desert, Iraqi Special Forces commandos launched airborne and amphibious assaults into Kuwait City. The Kuwaiti military, outnumbered and taken by surprise by the well-coordinated offensive, was swiftly routed. By nightfall that first day, the country’s main bases and international airport were in Iraqi hands, as was the palace of the Kuwaiti emir, who narrowly escaped to Saudi Arabia. Within 48 hours, the occupation of Kuwait—proclaimed by Saddam Hussein to be Iraq’s long-lost 19th province—was largely complete.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of these events—the first major international crisis to confront the United States as the Cold War drew to a close, and one that culminated a few months later in America’s biggest war since Vietnam.
To leaders and policymakers at the time, it was taken for granted that the invasion of Kuwait, and the international response with which it was met, would carry far-reaching strategic consequences. Today, by contrast, the significance of the Gulf war is less obvious. In a world of transnational terrorist networks, resilient insurgencies, and hybridized warfare, much about the conflict seems like a relic from a bygone age—from its tank battles to the very notion that a war could be decisively won or lost over a couple of days by conventional armies clashing on open ground. For this reason, there is a temptation to remember Desert Storm a bit wistfully, as America’s last great triumph of the 20th century, rather than the opening act of the 21st.
This, however, would be a mistake. For all that the events of 1990-1991 feel distant from the problems of the present, the invasion of Kuwait very much did mark the dawn of a new period in U.S. foreign policy—one that, in key respects, continues to this day.
First, starting with the Gulf crisis, the most pressing tests for international order and U.S. leadership would emerge disproportionately from the greater Middle East, rather than the traditional incubators of upheaval—the geopolitical hothouses of Europe and Asia—where the United States had previously fought all of its major foreign wars. While challenges elsewhere would compete for Washington’s attention in the years after Desert Storm—including the disintegration of Yugoslavia, periodic tensions with North Korea, and the rise of China—it has been the problems of the Middle East that, rightfully or not, have dominated the U.S. diplomatic and security agenda during this period.
Second and relatedly, the Gulf crisis commenced the entry of the American military into the modern Middle East in a big way for the first time. Since the British withdrawal from east of Suez in the early 1970s, the United States had been gradually drawn into the vacuum left in London’s wake. This process was accelerated by the multiple crises of 1979—the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution foremost among them—which inspired the Carter administration to establish a joint military task force for the region, an arrangement that would grow into U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Later in the 1980s came the dispatch of U.S. peacekeepers to Sinai under the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, the ill-fated Marine mission to Lebanon, and naval skirmishes with Iran.
But these were relatively modest or transient deployments. At the moment that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, CENTCOM—in contrast to its European and Pacific counterparts—had no assigned forces of its own; it was a combatant command without combatants, composed of a planning headquarters in Florida and little else.
The Gulf war changed all of that, as nearly half a million troops surged into the Arabian peninsula to protect the Saudis and then liberate Kuwait. Even more important, a year after the ceasefire with the Iraqis, tens of thousands of American forces remained in the region, deployed in newly built desert garrisons and on ships offshore—part of a new force posture designed to contain a weakened yet still treacherous Saddam Hussein. Those troop numbers would soar under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, with the dispatch of over 150,000 forces to Iraq and then another 100,000 to Afghanistan, before sharply falling off again. Yet even at the peak of the Obama administration’s military drawdown from the Middle East, before the rise of the Islamic State, CENTCOM still had tens of thousands of “enduring” forces in its area of responsibility—and that is without counting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
4:14 PM, Jul 22, 2015 • By SHOSHANA WEISSMANN
A new report by the American Action Forum, a center-right policy institute, details adverse economic consequences of the Keystone XL pipeline's delay.
12:01 AM, Jul 18, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Two big deals were signed this week, with one thing in common – can-kicking. The Eurozone countries, more precisely Germany, kicked the Greek debt can down the road for three years by lending the already over-indebted country another €86bn.
5:29 PM, Apr 20, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The original corn laws put tariffs on imported grain in an effort to help domestic producers. That was nearly two centuries ago, in England, and the experiment is taught as an example of bad economic policy. But people never learn and in this country, today, we have the renewable fuel mandates which have been a boon to corn farmers in Iowa (among other states) where presidential candidates are obliged to speak in favor of a policy that is a drag just about everywhere else in the country.
The Hawkeye state is first, don’t think about cutting in line. Big corn will crush you.1:05 PM, Mar 22, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Iowa took umbrage, last week, over something an operative for Scott Walker said. Or, to be precise, something she once tweeted. For her indiscretion, Liz Mair was forced to resign from Walker’s political action committee. Walker is not yet an officially declared candidate for president but that is just political coyness.
Fraudulent 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill Claims6:10 PM, Feb 20, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
A former IRS tax examiner was indicted Friday along with three conspirators
Secessionism on the left.Feb 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 23 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
Rivers have rights, they say down in Mora County, New Mexico—“inalienable and fundamental rights,” beyond the power of any government to touch. Aquifers, too. Wetlands, streams, ecosystems, and even “natural communities,” whatever that undefined term means: All of them have rights to “exist and flourish.” The land itself has an “intrinsic right” to “exist without defilement.”
12:01 AM, Feb 7, 2015 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
We should “stop thinking about the economy as being in a perpetual crisis” commented Charles Plosser, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, after the government announced on Friday that the private sector added 267,000 jobs in January, and that upward revisions to November and December data brought total job creation in 2014 to over three million.
The politics of oil Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
"We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.” As recently as two years ago, that’s what the president was saying—with his usual self-assurance—about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and on oil in general. And he wasn’t the only one. The line was widely echoed on the political left, where the instinctive feeling is that petroleum is poison. It helped that the opposition, led by archvillainess Sarah Palin, was meanwhile chanting, “Drill, baby, drill.”
What more proof was needed?
Time to counter the Saudis with a tariff? Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
We are in a war with Saudi Arabia—and losing. The Saudis aim to regain substantial control of our oil supply by driving from the industry many of our shale-oil-producing frackers who have reduced the power conveyed to the kingdom’s rulers by the underground ocean of oil on which their palaces sit. And we seem prepared to let them do just that, by failing to do what is necessary to prevent a reversal of the major strides we have made to get out from under the boot of an avaricious oil cartel.
2:22 PM, Feb 3, 2015 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI AND STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Following the death of King Abdullah Bin Abd Al-Aziz, at 90 or 91, on the night of January 22-23, Saudi Arabia is very likely to continue its policies of opposition to Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and its participation in the coalition effort against the Islamic State. These alignments are not an expression of mere rivalry between Sunni Saudis and Shia Iranians, or between Saudi fundamentalists and ISIS radicals.
2:33 PM, Dec 30, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The economic news has been getting better, especially regarding the price of oil. Which the consumer sees as what he forks over at the pump. And that, as we all know, is one price the trend of which we follow every day.
2:29 PM, Dec 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
We’re hearing from all over just how good things are – and are becoming ever more so – and how on top of the game the president is. There is that 5 percent GDP growth last quarter and an unemployment rate that has dropped below 6 percent (the bar has, obviously, been lowered) and the stock market is burning it up.
7:35 AM, Dec 27, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
An estimated 90 million of us will drive 50 miles or more during this holiday season, and recent years’ gnashings of teeth at the pump are being replaced with smiles. The price of gasoline is down 36 percent since April, to a national average of around $2.40 per gallon, with some cities reporting prices of below $2.