28 February 2011

The Video Game War: A look back at the 1991 Gulf War

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the 1991 Gulf War; the cease-fire coming into effect on this day. Rather than a full history (which would be predictable), I'm going to post a few thoughts on the war, how it was fought and the impact of it.

So here are some of my thoughts with the advantage of 20 years of hindsight and the disadvantage of not being old enough to remember the war at the time:
  1. Saddam made a massive gamble in the invasion of Kuwait that might well have worked had he tried it pre-glasnost. Had the Soviet Union, the main armer of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, vetoed a UN resolution or made clear it was prepared to come on Saddam's side in some form, then it is unlikely that Desert Storm would ever have been mounted as it was.
  2. Saddam Hussein could not have been allowed to control Kuwait's oil and threaten Saudi Arabia as well. That is a strong argument in itself. In addition, military invasion is no longer a justifiable way to resolve border disputes - it hasn't been since 1939.
  3. Some of Kuwait's PR moves to gain support for a risky UN-led operation could be argued to be a case of the end justifying the means. We'll never know if the US would have gone in without them.
  4. Desert Storm in itself was made possible by the clear technological superiority that the Coalition possessed. There is no way that Schwarzkopf's pincer movement could have been made without GPS and no way that Iraq's powerful air defence could have been handled without the F-117A.
  5. Taking out said Iraqi air defence on night one must be considered one of the best air strike operations in the 20th century.
  6. The "Scud" attacks may have helped Iraq by diverting resources onto a fruitless hunt from the TELs, but that is all.
  7. The primary duty of a commander is the protection of his own force; this may mean he has to use controversial methods to protect it. However, if there is a better way to do that does not have political ramifications, it should be taken. It's a case-by-case thing.
  8. The attack on the retreating convoys on the Basra road was militarily justifiable, but politically a mistake. Perception is important in any war.
  9. Controlling the media is a common part of modern war. The US lost in Vietnam due to free-roaming media. The Coalition would have a lot more difficulty with Twitter et. al today.
  10. We should have provided broader support to the 1991 Shia uprising; it could have prevented a lot of problems later.
  11. Saddam's armed forces were never the same after 1991; he never even got near the capability he had then.
  12. Things could have turned out very differently for the Coalition. Their rapid success may have coloured views on military action too much for the next decade and a bit.
  13. The 1991 Gulf War was arguably the last clear-cut "just war", although I am sure some would disagree with that.
Your thoughts?

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