On February 24, 1991, after 39 days of a devastating air campaign, the U.S. led coalition began to liberate Kuwait and systematically destroy most of Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s army, the 4th largest army in the world. 100 hours was all it took. Four days of a stunning display of speed and technology.
On January 17, 1991, U.N. Resolution had expired for Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait. The next 5 weeks saw an air campaign destroy the capability of Iraqi forces to conduct combat operations that the ground war was almost over before it began. Two other key factors would play a huge role in the ground war: Night Vision and G.P.S.
Night vision allowed the coalition forces to seek and destroy Iraqi Republican guard forces at will. The vision system gave coalition forces the ability to detect Iraqi armor through heat detection. In most cases, Iraqi troops were scrambling to even get in their vehicles before U.S. Forces fired. Night vision enhanced the speed capabilities of Bradley Fighting vehicles and the Abrams tank. In addition, the vision systems also provided the ability of the Abrams tank to fire up to a mile and a half away from its target.
New to the battlefield in 1991, GPS, or global positioning system, gave coalition forces a distinct advantage. In a desert, it is easy to get lost. There are no roads, no signs, nor vegetation to give one a clue as to where one is. GPS did. Coalition forces could maneuver, and out manuever, the enemy at will due to the fact that it knew where it was at all times. The US would be able to send forces into a region of Iraq even the Iraqis refused to enter and thereby gain an advantage in outflanking the enemy.
The operation to now liberate Kuwait (Operation Desert Sabre) began and ended quickly. The biggest fear in America was that Saddam would use chemical weapons against ground troops. As the invasion began, the world held its breath. It did not have to hold it very long. Iraqi forces pummeled in the air campaign were physically and mentally incapable of combat. Several Iraqis surrendered to news agencies. In fact, news agencies made it into Kuwait City before the coalition.
As the coalition moved along a single front, a second force sped north into the open desert to outflank the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard. Schwarzkopf called this maneuver a left hook. The left hook provided what some call a turkey shoot of retreating Iraqis and what has since come to be known as the “Highway of Death”. As Iraqis tried to get back to Iraq with all of Kuwait’s treasures, they were met with a barrage of power ending the retreat.
Four days earlier, Americans had been filled with trepidation. After 100 hours of combat, On January 27, 1991, President George H.W. Bush called off the operation as Kuwait had been liberated. It was a controversial move. James Baker, then Secretary of State, commented the fear the US had at the time was of angering the Saudis and other Arab members of the coalition. Many Americans felt the US should have gone on to Baghdad and ousted Saddam Hussein. One person who did not was Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. Listen to this…
Dick should have listened to himself some nine years later.
In early March of 1991, Iraq agreed to terms of the cease-fire. These included a no fly zone over southern and northern Iraq. Also, inspections of weapons facilities were a part of trying to keep Saddam in check. Two more US presidents would struggle to enforce these terms.
What Desert Storm proved was the US military was back – faster, stronger, and much more technical than ever before. After over 40 years of trying to contain communism, the US military had met with limited and poor results on the battlefield. First in Korea, then in Vietnam, the U.S. was still reeling by the mid 1980s. By the end of 1991, the USSR was no longer a major player on the world stage. The cold war was over. The US was the only major player left, a hyper power in the mold of a Roman Empire. The victory of Desert Storm renewed American enthusiasm at home. The malaise of the 1970s dissipated and the transformation of American optimism was in fashion.
Unfortunately, it would be the highpoint of Bush’s single term in office. A tax hike a year later would doom his presidency. The might of US forces in the Middle East would not last. With limited aims as a peacekeeping force in Somalia two years later, the US would struggle as it had in the 1970s.
But the oil did flow after Desert Storm. The Persian Gulf became a major base of operations for US to protect that flow. By 2001, the US had moved its bases from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. These three countries would be the staging grounds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Operation Desert Storm began the hegemonic role of the US in the Persian Gulf.
Great Britain never saw the sun set on its flag in the 1800s. Germany wanted its own place in the sun. Spain saw an empire flutter away over a twenty year period in the 1820s and 1830s, and France…well, they’re France. But the United States on the other hand, is a different story. While the rest of the world has been reeling since the Great Depression and World War II and imploding into smaller and smaller countries, the US has been spreading its influence around the globe. But is the United States an empire? And if it is not, then what is it doing around the world?
The United States was born into expansion. Beginning with 13 British Colonies, its conquest of land coincided with its birth of Independence in 1776. For the very next year in 1787, George Rogers Clark (the older brother of William), headed out with his band of Long Knives and captured British forts in Indiana and Illinois. By the time the Revolutionary War ended, the new fledgling country had expanded all the way to the Mississippi River. 25 years later, a crafty Thomas Jefferson added the Louisiana Purchase and the race was on. The US even tried to add Canada throuh invasion twice, once during the Revolutionary War and then again in the War of 1812. Throughout the 1800s, the US added land through the Mexican Cession (California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada) after the Mexican War, through Purchase (Alaska, the Gadsden Purchase), through treaty (Oregon and Washington) and through Annexation (Texas and Hawaii). By 1900, the US spread from coast to coast and beyond with islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean. We would build the Panama Canal and stretch our influence into Central America.
After all that land grabbing and expanding into markets beyond Mexico and Canada, the US is not an empire in the truest sense of the term. It may not look like the British, French, or Spanish who had massive tracts of land all over the globe, but it sure has acted like one the last 100 years. In spreading its interests around the globe before World War II, the US assured itself of being involved in the daily affairs of Latin America and the Pacific rim. It is after World War that US has shown its empirical teeth; part of it through the Cold War, part through expansion of markets, and the third part of its own quest for oil. Some times it has met with success, some times failure, and some times the outcome is undecided. These exercises in enterprise have fallen into two areas around the globe – The Middle East and East Asia. For this day and age, the Middle East is the focus of all its attention. African intentions have fallen by the way side, Latin America has become too dangerous, and East Asia is a crap shoot.
Key dates of US involvement in the Middle East (not all events were deemed as important
1933 – US discovers oil in Saudi Arabia1945 – FDR and Al-Aziz sign security for Oil pact
1948 – Truman recognizes Israel
1953 – The Central Intelligence Agency overthrows the democratically elected Mossadeq of Iran and installs the Shah in his place.
1966 – US begins selling Jets to Israel
1973 – OPEC Oil Embargo – the price of gas skyrockets in the US
1978 – USSR invades Afghanistan. The CIA and the Saudis arm and train the Mujahadeen including Osama Bin Laden
1979 – The Shah is overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeini assumes power
1980 – Iran – Iraq War begins – US and Saudis aid Saddam Hussein
1982 US troops sent to Lebanon – not a good ending
1988 – The Soviets leave Afghanistan – the Mujahadeen turn into the Taliban. Osama bin Laden remians
1989 – Iran-Iraq War ends
1990 – Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. Saudi Arabia calls on US to help defend the Kingdom and the Holy Land.
1991 – US and coalition forces liberate Kuwait. Saddam, however is still in power. US troops remain in the region to protect Saudi Arabia
2001 September 11th attacks – US invades Afghanistan
2003 – US invades Iraq. US forces finally leave the Kingdom and move into Kuwait and Iraq.
When one looks at the amount of US forces in the region, it is clear that the presence of US forces in the region is overwhelming.
Now whether that is to protect the flow of oil in the region or to aid US troops on the ground, the fact remains certain that Iran is certainly surrounded. The gradual buildup of troops, bases, and influence is unprecedented in American History. Now the question becomes, what is the US going to continue to do in the region? Are the bases there just to protect oil? Are these countries truly our allies? Is the presence of US forces alienating the Muslim world? Is the US gearing up for something more? This region too is a giant sandbox if not for the oil. Spreading democracy may have been the Bush agenda, but I don’t know where it is spreading to and if it does, will the US like what Democracy looks like in the Middle East? That is a tough question. What would happen if Democracy spreads in this region and the new governments turn their noses up at America – what will happen then?
This is not your typical empire. For if the US is anything right now, it is not a superpower, but a hyper-power. It has become since the end of the cold war, the only power willing to risk getting involved in conflicts across the globe. This unmatched hegemony could be dangerous to the American economy. For if we are there for the oil and to spread democracy, then we could be in for more than we bargained for. This is about as close as one country can get to being a lone wolf. It is reminiscent of the Roman Empire more so than the hey day of Great Britain in the 1700s. Neither empire was able to sustain itself at its peak for more than 200 years. Will this American Empire pass into the pages of history too? The past is written but the future of the Middle East is more in the hands of the masses than it is in either the US’s or the current leaders in the region. For if history is anything, it is the story of the masses. What mass shall happen to the US in the Middle East?