War in the Persian Gulf

H.W. Bush initiated a war in Iraq instead of imposing economic sanctions, drawing criticism from the American people and members of Congress.


Narrator: He would now have enough military might to force Saddam to withdraw.

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1961-68 (archival): The point is it's going to be bloody. There are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of casualties.

Narrator: Members of Congress were shocked that Bush had acted on his own and began hearings on the possibility of a war in Iraq. Even the architect of the Vietnam War favored economic sanctions instead. 

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1961-68 (archival): Who can doubt that a year of blockade will be cheaper than a week of war?

Senator Sam Nunn (archival): Of course there are no guarantees on economic sanctions. There are also no guarantees on war! 

Narrator: If attacked, Saddam Hussein threatened to use Western hostages as shields, including children. If attacked, Saddam threatened to attack Israel. Israelis prepared for chemical warfare. The Iraqi leader had not hesitated to use chemical warfare in its eight-year war against Iran -- or against his own people, Kurds in northern Iraq. Yet even Iran now backed Iraq and threatened holy war against the U.S. if Iraq were attacked.

News announcer (archival): Tonight in a televised speech written by Saddam Hussein and read by his spokesman, the Iraqi President again called for the Muslim world to unite in the holy war against America. "We are the ones who scared America," chant the soldiers, "and if death comes our way we will not be scared."

Narrator: Some feared a war in the Persian Gulf could escalate into World War III. Especially if Israel responded to an attack.

George H. W. Bush (archival): An Iraq permitted to swallow Kuwait would have the economic and military power as well as the arrogance to intimidate and coerce its neighbors. Neighbors who control the lion's share of the world's remaining oil reserves. We cannot permit a resource so vital to be dominated by one so ruthless and we won't.


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  • NEH