Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why the United States did not overthrow Saddam following Gulf War I

Two UN weapons inspectors, Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler, both explain that the decision to stay away from Baghdad was geopolitical in nature. The mandate for Gulf War I was to eject Iraq from Kuwait, not to change the government in Baghdad. If the military leaders had tried to go into Baghdad and remove him from power, the Coalition would have collapsed, just as it would have if Israel had entered the war.

The 29 coalition partners during that war joined us in only in the effort to oust Iraq from Kuwait, but that is as far as their loyalty would go. The Arab coaltion partners were willing to stop Saddam from invading a neighbor. Once Saddam had successfully invaded Kuwait, the question among them was, "Who's next?" We now know today that the answer was Saudia Arabia. Saddam had produced car license plates that contained the phrase "Iraqi Saudi." After having claimed Kuwait as his 19th province, his plan was to annex the northeast portion of Saudi Arabia to make it #20.

Even with all of this in mind, the Arabs couldn't tolerate a Western-led coup in any Arab nation (Iraq). If they had, they would have asked the question again, "Who's next," meaning which Arab country was the US going to overtake next?

Conversations with leaders in the region afterwards said they all supported the decision that was made not to go to Baghdad. They were concerned that we not get into a position where we shifted, instead of being the "leader" of an international coalition to roll back Iraqi aggression, to one in which we were an imperialist power willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world taking down governments.

It's easy to hold the view 15 years after the Gulf War that we should have, and I suspect that it was a mistake to have left Saddam in power. But would it have been an good idea to move against what our coalition had agreed to do? Should we just ignore their concerns for American aggression against another Arab country? It should be realized that at the end of the Gulf War the judgment of the Bush 41 was that to change the objective from simply expelling Iraq from Kuwait to getting Saddam's government would not have been acceptable to the Gulf War coalition partners. That was probably the correct judgment then, but the judgment of history is that it has proven to be a very great pity and very costly that Saddam was then left in power.

In 1991, there was a general consensus among the coalition that we’d gone as far as we should after this objective had been accomplished. We’d achieved our objectives when we liberated Kuwait and that we shouldn’t go on to Baghdad. But there were several assumptions that we based our agreement on. One that all those U.N. Security Council resolutions would be enforced. Unfortunately, none of them has been. And it was based on the proposition that Saddam Hussein probably wouldn’t survive. Most of the experts believed based upon the severe drubbing we administered to his forces in Kuwait that he was likely to be overthrown or ousted. Of course, that didn’t happen. There were uprisals, but they were all put down. Saddam proved to be a much tougher customer than anybody expected.

So it was more of a consensus among our Arab coalition that we leave well enough alone, our unanimous objective was complete, that the Resolutions would provide enough enforcement to keep him in check, and/or that he would be overthrown by his own people. It had nothing to do with Baghdad being "too difficult," or whatever the popular idea is.

In 1996, PBS Frontline did a 4-hour special called The Gulf War. In the following video, General Norman Schwarzkopf explains why the Coalition did not go into Baghdad and overthrow Saddam at that time:


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