Rather Be


The Gulf War of 1991 Reconsidered

By: Andrew J. Bacevich and Efraim Inbar

The multiple authors and editors of this book are all scholars or professors of political science, international relations, or military strategy. The majority of the authors are from the United States while Ben-Dor, Cohen, and Inbar are from Israel. Karsh is the odd man out from England. These professors have years of experience in their field.

The Gulf War of 1991

By: Michael Bonfiglio

The Gulf War is presented in the book titled The Gulf War of 1991 Reconsidered written by eight authors and edited by Andrew J. Bacevich and Efraim Inbar analyzes the different perspectives of the war and its effects ten years after the event. The book begins with talking about the prelude to the Gulf War and continues from there. It analyzes the Arab and Israeli perspectives on the situation. After that, it goes into the decision to end the Gulf War. The last section of the book then details the effects of the war in the Middle East.

The author of this section Michael T. Klare begins by explaining the arms purchases of Iran and Iraq that took place during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988. On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran unannounced, hoping to take advantage of the chaos caused by the revolution that had occurred one year prior. Iraq was able to build up its military strength throughout the war by purchasing weapons from different nations. Those nations were France, Russia, and America. Many American weapons supplied to the Iraqis were first purchased by other Middle Eastern nations, who then sold it to Iraq. The author also addresses how the U.S. never directly supplied Iraq, but how they never stepped in to prevent other nations from selling American made weapons to Iraq. They approved of the invasion of Iran, since in 1979, American citizens were taken hostage there and were not allowed to return to America. On the other hand, Iran had to receive weapons from North Korea and China. These two nations had less advanced weaponry at the time, since they mainly relied on old or modified soviet weaponry. By the end of the war, Iraq had received over four times the number of weapons, tanks, artillery, helicopters, and planes than Iran. Because of this spending and the war, Iraq was devastated economically. When a peace deal was brokered by the United Nations in 1988, Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, realized his country was in a problematic situation. He had a battle-hardened army, a ruined economy, devastated infrastructure, and the country was not doing well in the oil market. In addition, he realized that relieving his soldiers of duty would cause mass unemployment resulting in more problems. The arms debt of 54 billion dollars was staggering for the crippled Iraqi government. Saddam needed to find a way to pay off the debt with the resources he had at his disposal.

The next quarter of the book written by F. Gregory Gause begins with making the connection that the Gulf War was not just any war, but an Arab civil war. This viewpoint is understandable since it seemed as though Arab nations were fighting amongst each other because of the instability Saddam had caused by invading Kuwait. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq did this because they saw an easy target which had the resources they needed, which was mainly oil, to bolster their economy, enough to get their country back up and running. The initial invasion only took two days. Iraq managed to occupy the territory for several months until foreign nations intervened. Saudi Arabia was also seen as a potential target for Iraq so the U.S. offered to station troops there to defend the nation from a potential attack. Saudi Arabia accepted the offer in fear of an invasion. This was code named Operation Desert Shield, which later developed into Operation Desert Storm in its attack phase to retake Kuwait and push the Iraqis out. Once Saudi Arabia had acquired U.S. support, Saddam urged the people of Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchs to rise up and overthrow their governments. Saddam used tactics like this to try and gather support for his cause. U.S. involvement in the region turned some Islamist groups to Saddam’s side. The chapter after this is written by Gabriel Ben-Dor and it talks about the Arab world ten years after the Gulf War. It goes on to say how this was a precursor to much of the instability in the region and that the rise of radical Islam was not unexpected.

The next quarter of the book is about Israel and their perspective on the situation. The first chapter is written by Efraim Inbar. This chapter details the prewar period and Israel’s initial reaction to the events that transpired. Israel was seen by Saddam as a way to gain support for his cause. In the past, Israel had been the major contention point for many Arab nations. Many believe that Israel does not hold claim to the land they occupy to this day, and consider them a threat or an enemy. Saddam attempted to use this to his advantage and attempted to draw them into the war. By doing this, he would have gained the support of other Arab nations because of their shared hate for the nation of Israel. On January 18, 1991 eight scud missiles were launched at Israel. Loud sirens went off alerting the people of an imminent attack. Many scrambled to get gas masks and find shelter. This attack raised fear among many coalition nations since they knew the involvement of Israel meant a possibly loss of support from the majority of the Arab nations. Fortunately, no civilians were killed and only a few suffered injuries. Many nations advised Israel not to get involved because of the potential problems it could cause for the coalition and the rest if the middle east. Israel was eager to fight but knew that involvement in this might spell disaster and so they decided to hold back on a retaliation for now and let the coalition forces deal with the Iraqis instead of being directly involved. Scud missile attacks against Israel would continue for the rest of the war. A total of 38 missiles would be launched in 19 separate attacks on Israel. Surprisingly, only 13 people died as a result of these attacks. However, 433 people were injured. 225 of them being a result of injecting atropine when not needed because they thought there was a chemical weapon attack. Damage to general property on the other hand was astonishing. 1,302 houses, 6142 apartments, 23 public buildings, 200 shops and 50 cars were destroyed in the attacks from scud missiles. Israel was extremely close to retaliating. The next chapter written by Stuart A. Cohen is about the legacy left behind from an Israeli perspective. The main points it makes are about IDF strategies to defend against future attacks from foreign powers. The main perspective provided is that as this event recedes into history, it becomes more apparent that this was a catalyst for future events.

The last quarter of the book deals mainly with the U.S. and the events ten years after the war. The first chapter is written by Thomas G Mahnken. The chapter goes over the U.S. attack and points out how stopping the war too early may have caused more problems in the future than anticipated. It also talks about taking into consideration public support and how perceptions can change the enemy’s morale. The United States involvement in this conflict is of massive importance. The operation spearheaded and mainly organized by the U.S. displayed just how outmatched the Iraqis were. The modern, trained, and well-disciplined U.S. forces had no trouble pushing back the weak and poorly organized Iraqi military that consisted mainly of conscripts who were barely trained. American citizens were very hesitant to support the war because of recent and past embracement’s in the 1900’s that caused many nations and U.S. citizens to view the U.S. in a negative light when it came to foreign affairs. On the first few days of the operation, Americans were shocked to hear only one American was killed in combat. However, when the scud missiles hit Israel Americans worried that this would evolve into something far greater. In a sense, they were right but their fears of Israeli involvement would be squashed by the diplomatic talks George Bush senior engaged in to dissuade them from taking military action. This action taken by the president at the time and the military helped to secure support from home towards the conflict. This is a surprising change in attitude from the American populace especially during post-Vietnam. After the The Highway of Death controversy George Bush opted to call for a ceasefire determining that the war was all but won. The Highway of Death controversy begins when 1,400 Iraqi vehicles were leaving Kuwait using the main highway on February 26 and 27. They were spotted by a reconnaissance plane flying overhead and soon after attack planes such as the A-10 warthog were dispatched to eliminate them. By daybreak, there were 60 kilometers of destroyed vehicles and dead. This caused much controversy since the attack targeted a fleeing enemy. Reports from the pilots on the mission said that they were receiving fire constantly and that their attack on a fleeing enemy was not unjust. There have also been accounts of the Iraqis killing any civilian on the highway, but that is heavily disputed. The main point of the chapter is to explain how the government did not take ending the war into much consideration. This is evident by the conflicts and turmoil in the area today. After toppling Saddam’s regime after over ten years, the Gulf War steps have been taken to strengthen the Iraqi forces in order to help them prevent terrorism. U.S. weapons have been purchased by Iraq in recent history. The Iraqis have also received training from U.S. forces on how to deal with the guerrilla fighters that plague the region. In retrospective, the goal of the war was a good one, but the unfortunate conclusion and aftermath sent shock waves through history which can still be felt to this day. Now that many years have passed since this event, the results of it and the events that followed it are laid out clear enough to understand how the U.S. has gotten to where it is today. The clear progression of instability in the region is directly linked to the Gulf War. The next chapter by Andrew J. Bacevich, is about how the perspective of the war has changed in the ten years after it. Towards the start of the war the U.S. saw it as a “courageous and adeptly executed stroke of statesmanship” however at the time this book was written people began to see the larger picture and the effect the war had on events occurring at the time. Many saw that the collective solidarity of the coalition formed against Saddam as a potential “new international world order”. This is not the case however. Things have vastly changed since that time and when this book was written new problems and conflicts were arising in the region or area of the world. Many people saw this war as mainly positive. However, there have been some people that have questioned what would have happened if Iraq had not invaded Kuwait. Many think that they could have possibly developed into a nuclear power by the end of the 1900’s, however, all hopes of that in recent future were crushed by their poor decision to invade Kuwait. Iraq put itself in this situation and payed a very heavy price that has caused major setbacks in the development of their country. For coalition forces, mainly the U.S., this war provided a chance for them to redeem themselves after past experiences. This helped to unify the country and improve relations with foreign nations who supported the cause. Israel also saw an increase in approval from Arab countries because of the restraint it showed and many also thought it was less than a threat than Iraq. This didn’t help too much in the long run since there is still very much turmoil between Arabs and Israelis.

The main point or thesis the authors are trying to get across is “The Iraqi conquest of Kuwait in August 1991 marked something of a watershed in the international history of the Middle East.” They make these points by outlining how perspectives and conflicts in that area have changed in the decade after the Gulf War. In addition, in 2003 when this book was written, the Afghanistan war was underway, and the Iraq War had just begun highlighting their points about this being a “watershed” even more.

The spectrum of authors is pretty diverse. Four of the authors, Bacevich, Gause, Klare, and Mahnken, are from the United States. Ben-Dor, Cohen, and Inbar are from Israel. The odd man out Karsh is from England. The bias is definitely rooted more closely to coalition side but that is expected. This book was written because of the outbreak of both the Afghanistan and Iraq war. These two wars are directly linked to the Gulf War. This also furthers their points made in the book.

Peter Slugget reviewed this book and saw a problem with it. He thought that it was too “Israleo-centric” focused at some points and did not give a full perspective on certain issues. He then says title was misleading because of the biases the authors have especially the Israeli ones since it did not give the full view of the event. This is to be expected since three out of the eight authors are Israeli. Their biases are understandable since they grew up during the time period. It would have been nice however to get an Arab authors perspective just to see their point of view. This however is counteracted by the other authors who provide clear and generally unbiased data that supports their claim or thesis.

The conclusions the authors meant for people to draw from this book are heavily emphasized throughout. Its emphasis on the Gulf War being a watershed for the middle east is extremely evident especially in today’s current events. The farther away from the Gulf War people get, the easier it is to see its effects on the world as a whole. Mistakes, such as ending the war too early were made, but it could have ended badly if the coalition forces had pushed in farther. Some might say that the U.S. and the other coalition members shouldn’t have gotten involved, but that might have only brought more problems into that region. This event is extremely complicated and the book does a good job at simplifying it and delivering facts to help the reader draw a clear and concise conclusion. The Gulf War was a catalyst for many events that have already transpired and for possibly future ones.

The Gulf War of 1991 Reconsidered shows the the transition from a world gripped in fear of nuclear annihilation to a world in fear of terrorist by informing the readers of the events that caused this transition. The Gulf War is seen as a turning point since it led up to the eventual terrorist problems that plague the world today. The book addresses the political changes that occurred during the gulf war by detailing the change in perspective Arab countries had towards America. The book does not reflect the social or economic changes in America since it mainly deals with the new political relations developed between coalition, Israel, and Arab nations at the time. The book also does not address the impact of digital technology and the important role it will play in the future. For the most part this book seems to focus primarily only on the political shifts in the early 90’s.

This book provided a detailed look into the Gulf War, the events before the war, and the decade preceding it. Not only that but it’s more than qualified authors give reason to believe that this book is accurate and factual. The main point this book was trying to get across is expertly pointed out and looking at modern events clear connections can be made.

[1] Bacevich, A. J., and Efraim Inbar. The Gulf War of 1991 reconsidered. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
[2] Sluglett, Peter. “The International History Review, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 2004) pp. 451-453.” Rev. of The Gulf War of 1991 Reconsidered by Andrew J. Bacevich and Efraim Inbar.