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.
Discrimination is a terrible thing, but only when the wrong people do it.3:33 PM, May 26, 2015 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The Guardian had a story last week about the soon-to-be completed Abraj Kudai, a new hotel in Mecca which will have 10,000 guest rooms, 70 restaurants, four helipads, and five floors reserved for the sole use of the Saudi royal family.
The Saudis push back against the Obama foreign policy. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
The Obama administration put a happy face on its Camp David summit last week, even as four of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six leaders turned down Obama’s invitation to attend. The most significant absence, of course, was that of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman. In his place, Riyadh sent Salman’s 55-year-old nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Salman’s 28-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defense minister.
8:01 AM, May 14, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Barack Obama greeted Crown Prince Bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office yesterday by getting some names wrong. Here's how the president began the remarks:
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND CROWN PRINCE BIN NAYEF OF SAUDI ARABIA BEFORE BILATERAL MEETING
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s wonderful to welcome back the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Salman. We are very pleased to have them both here today, as well as the delegation from Saudi Arabia.
9:02 AM, May 13, 2015 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
The early Cold War period might be called the Age of the Treaty Organization. The United States, scrambling furiously to respond to the fact that it had become the guarantor of the “Free World,” had discovered a surprising interest in entangling alliances of all sorts and in all parts of the world. NATO, of course, was the biggest pact of them all, but in 1954 the “Manilla Pact” created the Southeast Asian Treaty Organiz
3:30 PM, May 11, 2015 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
It was a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away: In July 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama made big, bold news by travelling to Berlin to – as The New York Times triumphantly recorded – “restore the world’s faith in strong American leadership and idealism.” With 200,000 Berliners waving
8:12 AM, Apr 16, 2015 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A prominent Pakistani-born women's rights activist is asking presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, to pledge not to accept donations from foreign nations that oppress women. Raheel Raza, the Canadian journalist behind the documentary film Honor Diaries, is requesting all the presidential candidates, from both parties and both "men and women," to sign her pledge.
Unlike President Obama.12:08 PM, Mar 5, 2015 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Following the death of Saudi King Abdullah at the end of January, and the succession of his half-brother, now King Salman, 79, many observers of the desert monarchy have speculated on its future.
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.
9:45 AM, Jan 26, 2015 • By JERYL BIER
Obama administration officials have been effusive in their praise for late Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz who died last week at the age of 90. Now comes word that chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E.