On August 7, 1990, President George H. W. Bush, as part of Operation Desert Shield, summoned 500,000 American troops to guard the even more strategically crucial oil resources of Saudi Arabia, which had become vulnerable to Iraqi attacks and on whose border massive buildups of Iraqi troops were observed.
The United Nations ultimately endorsed Resolution 678, authorizing the use of military force against Iraq if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. It did not, and the United States, at the head of a coalition of 34 countries, was poised to respond with Operation Desert Storm.
Prior to the First Gulf War, a major source of incapacitation for the United States military had been the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome,” the fear of entangling U.S. personnel in a third-world quagmire where conventional tactics were futile and civilian leadership overly encumbered the ability of the military to achieve its objectives.
During the First Gulf War, this attitudinal affliction was dispelled by a major shift in military tactics and the government’s approach toward military management. George H. W. Bush, wary of excessive regulation by civilian authorities, of the sort that Richard Nixon had used to initiate a large-scale withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam in the critical years following the Tet Offensive, wrote of his determination to practice a laissez-faire approach with regard to the tactics and targets selected by General Colin Powell of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Commander-in-Chief Norman Schwarzkopf.
The result was one of the most spectacularly efficient campaigns in military history. The war began with a massive air bombardment conducted by the largest air force ever assembled, targeting both the occupied territory of Kuwait and the Hussein regime’s infrastructure in Iraq.
Only then, on Day 39 of the war, were ground troops dispatched in Operation Desert Sabre to rout the Iraqi occupants of Kuwait and devastate Saddam’s elite Republican Guard, all in a mere hundred hours. While Iraqi casualties numbered about 100,000, the United States only lost 148 lives, 35 of those from friendly fire accidents, compared to over 58,000 casualties in Vietnam (Norton 1068). When the United States military was allowed to act as it saw fit, countless soldiers’ lives were preserved, and the enemy was defeated with unprecedented swiftness.
Colin Powell foresaw a new age of America’s military confidence and the use of the threat of overwhelming force to contain its enemies. He noted that the Iraqi army had been cut to less than forty percent of its original strength, and Kuwait possessed new strategic ties with the United States that would ensure its future defense.
Norton, Katzman, et. al. A People and a Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Wikipedia. Gulf War. 16 Apr 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War.