According to navy lore, a sea story starts with “there I was” — and everything that follows is a falsehood. So there I was, 25 years ago today, staring out across the vast Atlantic as a gunnery officer in the battleship USS Wisconsin. Destination: Persian Gulf. Herewith, five takeaways from Operations Desert Shield and Storm a quarter-century hence.
In war, the outcome is never final. Upon Wisconsin’s homecoming in 1991, I remember hazarding my very first political prognostication: that it was great to be back from the first Gulf War. War is negotiation in a real sense. The defeated must agree that they’ve been defeated for the postwar order to prove durable. Otherwise the losers can try to overturn the outcome. They can resume the fight later by military means, after they’ve regenerated combat strength. Or they can deploy political measures to isolate the victors, degrade or splinter hostile coalitions, and otherwise shift the balance of power in their favor. They can nullify the verdict of arms.
Saddam Hussein was the quintessential refusenik. He defied a series of United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolutions, spent most of the 1990s taking potshots at allied warplanes policing no-fly and no-drive zones in northern and southern Iraq, and deftly divided the permanent five Security Council members among themselves. By 2003, an Anglo-American caucus stood firm on sanctions enforcement while a loose consortium among France, Russia, and China took a softer line. Schwarzkopf was right: Saddam was a slipshod military strategist. But he played a weak diplomatic hand shrewdly. Give the devil his due.
Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks