Iraq's August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait sent shockwaves around the world. Not only were the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf important to the world economy. President George H.W. Bush also saw the invasion as a direct threat to the international system.
Good and Evil
Bush, a World War II veteran, condemned the aggression and spoke of it in terms of "good and evil," often comparing Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler. For Bush, the only possible resolution to this "naked act of aggression" would be a clear and unequivocal withdrawal of Iraqi forces. And Bush became convinced early on that only military action would force Saddam to pull back.
Building and International Coalition
Bush saw the invasion as a chance to strengthen the international community. Soon after Iraq's action became known, Bush drew on a lifetime of international contacts to begin putting together an international coalition. Within hours the United Nations Security Council had condemned the invasion and within days it had imposed sanctions on Iraq. The unanimous actions by the Security Council were the international body's strongest show of unanimity since its inception. Only a day after the invasion, the United States and the Soviet Union stood together in condemning the attack and cutting off the supply of arms to Baghdad. In all, the Security Council would approve 12 resolutions on Iraq.
The Post-Cold War World
For Bush the Security Council provided domestic political cover -- his advisors felt strong U.N. action would help to convince the American public of the importance of American involvement. But the president also felt that a show of force by the international community would help to set a precedent for the post-Cold War world. He hoped that the creation of what he called the "new world order" might help to deter such situations in the future and define a new era of international cooperation.
Seeking Clear-Cut Victory
President Bush's experiences in combat were never far from his mind as he began to discuss possible war plans with Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. Powell would later remark that he was surprised by the level of detail in the president's questioning about the plans. After reviewing the initial draft, the president sent the war planners back to the drawing board. Bush wanted an approach that left no room for defeat. He was determined to provide the military with whatever they needed to win quickly and decisively. Cheney referred to Bush's approach as a post-Vietnam "don't screw-around school of military strategy."
Stopping Short of Baghdad
On January 17, 1991, American and allied forces began launching air attacks on Iraqi forces and on February 24 the ground campaign began. By February 27, the coalition had achieved their stated mission of ejecting the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Exactly 100 hundred hours after the ground battle had begun, the allies suspended all offensive operations. While Bush's decision to conclude the war without removing Saddam Hussein from power would become controversial, his advisors would recall that the president was insistent that the war should not exceed the authorization of the Security Council. Interviewed in 2007, when the U.S. had been fighting in Iraq for more than four years in a war initiated by Bush's son, President George W. Bush, Colin Powell remarked, "In recent months, nobody's been asking me about why we didn't go to Baghdad. Pretty good idea now why Baghdad should always be looked at with some reservations."
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?