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oral history: robert gates

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Interview with Robert Gates, Deputy National Security Advisor
CIA had provided us with some very good information on what Iraqi capabilities were, and what kind of chemical weapons they had and so our troops were provided with, or at least the front elements of our troops were provided with protective equipment; a number of them were given inoculations. I remember we had a serious logistics problem in trying to get enough of the serum or the inoculations for the troops. If you took all of the supplies available all over the United States it was enough only for a fraction of our forces and for very few of our allies as well. So we were trying to figure out which units should receive this.

But the general view I believe in the government at the very highest level was, first of all there was a real likelihood that Saddam would use chemical weapons. And we had then very carefully to focus on military targets and infra-structure bridges, roads and things like that. We really worked hard to avoid civilian targets. In fact at one point, just before the air war began, the President sent me over to the Pentagon and I had lunch with Colin Powell and his Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dave Jeremiah. And my job was to review the target list one more time, or be briefed by them on the target list, to make sure from the President's stand point that we would not be hitting civilian targets and we were completely satisfied on that score.

In any event, the general feeling was that if the Iraqis used chemical weapons that we would simply expand that target base significantly and damage Iraq and the civilian infer-structure and the economy much worse than we were under that war plan.

Q: The land wars are approaching, and the Soviet initiative comes to the surface. How did you first know the Soviets were going to have one last try?

Gates: We got word that a call was coming through from Gorbachev for the President, usually these things take a while to arrange--the long distance companies haven't quite got the arrangement between Moscow and Washington figured out yet, but we knew in advance that Gorbachev would be calling. And I went up to his office in the residence where he took the call from Gorbachev, and that's really I think the first time we were aware that there would be a last attempt by Gorbachev to find some way to avoid the land war. Gorbachev to me was making one last attempt to try and have it both ways. He wanted to stay with the United States, and the course of this conflict and yet he also was under, I think, great pressure from various elements of the Soviet bureaucracy to try and preserve this client relationship with the Iraqis and with Saddam Hussein who after all had been a Soviet client for many many years. And I think the KGB and the Military and the Foreign Ministry all had elements in that strongly wanted to keep that relationship alive.

Q: Was there a moment when the President covered the hand of the mouth piece of the phone and say, 'Hey he's saying this?'

Gates: Well I think that there was various times.....a certain rolling of the eyes as though, do we have to go through this one more time? at the eleventh hour, before this thing starts? And it was clear that we did not want anything to interrupt going forward with the land war. After all we had all this preparation, we had gone through the air war and now for something to come up at the last minute that might delay the ground war was very frustrating for us. And so we were trying to figure out what there was about, what Gorbachev was saying that was simply unacceptable. And it was the question of how to deal with Gorbachev that really was the subject of the meeting that the President called for after his return from Fords Theatre that night.

Q: Did you feel that Gorbachev was desperate, was he really pushing this, or was he just going through the motions?

Gates: Somewhere in between, I didn't have any sense that he was desperate by any means. And by the same token there was a certain urgency to what he was saying that conveyed the sense that, you know that this was something that he really hoped might come to pass. I think he knew, that the chances of successwere negligible. But I think he really did hope that maybe he would hit on something that might click with the President, and where he might at least get a delay in the ground war, while something was explored.

Q: What did the President say to him, what was the President's basic position.

Gates: The President that night was basically in a listening mood. He clearly was taking aboard what Gorbachev was saying, but was not giving him anything that could be considered a definitive response by any means, said it clearly that will come later.From the very beginning in this process there had been a tension inside the administration of over how to deal with the Soviets. Between those such as Dick Cheney, who basically wanted to kiss off the Soviets and considered them a complication in the whole process. To Baker and, I think ultimately Bush, who felt that the Soviets were immensely useful allies, especially in the United Nations Security Council. And wanted to do everything they could to keep the Soviets on board as long as it didn't interfere with accomplishing our objective and I think it was in that vain that Bush took that call that night, and in that vain that he responded to Gorbachev. He did not rain on Gorbachev's parade that night, he did not say, well, hell this is just out of the question, or anything like that. He agreed as I recall to think about it and, and that he would get back to Gorbachev.

Q: Describe the scene afterwards. What do you remember the President saying when he returned from the theatre?

Gates: We gathered in the Oval Office later that night, and the preliminaries in some respects were as interesting as the actual meeting. It was a very strangely dressed group of people, as I recall the President and one or two others wearing black tie from the performance at Fords, others were in turtle necks and sweaters, others were in coats and ties and so on. But the eight of us gathered in the Oval Office, and the President decided that he wanted a fire in the fireplace, as he often did, and what I don't think any of us realised was, that the flue in the chimney was electronically operated by the Secret Service. So the President started the fire, but the flue was closed, and so the Oval Office quickly filled with smoke. And we were all sitting there trying to look cool as we were choking on the smoke and finally Dick Cheney got up and went out and found the Secret Service man who could open the flue and, Dick was even looking for a fire extinguisher. And anyway we ended up having this meeting in the middle of February with all the doors to the Oval Office including to the outside open to try and get the smoke out of the room. And all of us reeking of this wood smoke from this failed attempt to have a fire in the fire place. The basic issue at the meeting was how to deal with Gorbachev, and it was a repetition of the basic argument that had been going on from August. And Dick Cheney and my recollection is that Brent as well, were basically inclined to tell him to buzz off. To not get in the way, and that what he was proposing was totally unacceptable. The President and Baker were much more inclined to go back to Gorbachev and very carefully point out the shortcomings and the proposal for the ceasefire and how it didn't require the Iraqis to leave immediately, it made no provisions for a whole host of things, such as the repatriation of Kuwaiti, wealth, and reconstruction of Kuwait and so on and so forth. And that was ultimately the decision that was made. But the back and forth of the meeting was basically about how to go back to Gorbachev. I didn't have the sense at the time that, people believed, the entire enterprise was about to go off the rails. It was really more a tactical question of how to deal with Gorbachev in a way that would try and go the last mile to keep the Soviets on board. There was no question in my mind that the President was going to order the commencement of the land war. And it didn't matter what Gorbachev said or thought.

Q: And what was the bottom line of the meeting, how did that come about?

Gates: Well the bottom line was basically the President went back to Gorbachev the next morning, with a very, very long telephone call which was basically a hand holding call. And he told Gorbachev all the things that were wrong with the proposal and so on and so forth. And then indicated that he may have agreed that we would give them another 24 hours or something like that. But basically, he conveyed I think to Gorbachev that we were going forward unless there was just a total capitulation on the part of Saddam.

Q: It wasn't enough at this stage for Saddam just to say, 'Hey, I'm withdrawing?'

Gates: Absolutely not. We had done a great deal of contingency work on this in the government. Because we figured from the time that we began assembling offensive force in the Gulf after the end of October, that Saddam at some point, might agree to withdraw or might make some gesture that would immensely complicate our situation. We were afraid that, you know, he would say, well I will get out, or I will withdraw over a period of time. And so we drew up contingency plans where he had said, 'I will get out.' We had contingency plans and datelines in which we would have said, 'Alright, now if you are serious, within 24 hours you have to be out of Kuwait City within 24-28 you have to be out of the Rumaila Oilfields, within 72 hours you have to be out of the islands off the coast. In other words we were going to make him withdraw from the most valuable parts of Kuwait first, rather than allow him simply to withdraw some of his forces from the border with Saudi Arabia pull them back a few kilometres or something and pretend like that counted for a cease fire.

So we had done a lot of thinking about the different ways in which Saddam could try and play a game with us, and as far as we were concerned this last call from Gorbachev was just another part of that. and Saddam's sort of half- hearted, acceptance of some of the demands.

Q: Tell me the story about the Kuwaiti oilfield.

Gates: We were having a Deputies meeting in the White House and the situation room on, sort of next steps in, diplomatic course and so on, and the President was on the telephone with a call from President Mitterrand of France, who was a little concerned I think about going forward, and should we wait a while and so on. And we received word and I don't remember whether it was from CIA, or the military, or whoever, that Saddam had blown the oil wells. That the oil wells in Kuwait were on fire. So I took this piece of information and wrote it down on a slip of paper and rushed up and went into the President's study which is right off the Oval Office, a very small office, maybe 10 by 10. And gave him this slip of paper,and Bush used it right then in the telephone call-- we just received this piece of information that shows that we cannot delay. That Saddam is going to produce catastrophe in Kuwait, he's already set all the oil wells on fire and God knows what he may do next. And that pretty well resolved that issue.

Q: Do you remember running down the corridor and bumping into Paul Wolfowitz? Tell me that story.

Gates: Well, I mean we had been immensely fortunate, no country in history, I think, has ever been so fortunate in the nature of its adversary as the United States was in facing Saddam Hussein. Because every time the coalition was about to fragment or every time that we had a problem at home, the domestic support was slipping away, Saddam would do something stupid and play right into our hands. And that was exactly the case with setting the fires in Kuwait and I told Wolfowitz at the time, when going to the Oval Office excited and Paul had been in the Deputies meeting, and he said he's done it again, he's pulled our chestnuts out of the fire.

Q: Do you have any memories of the beginning of the land war?

Gates: No, not really. I have been in the White House on a number of occasions when military operations are launched and once the decisions are made and the orders have been issued the people in the White House from the President on down are really out of the action, at least is they are smart. And President Bush was a specially good as was President Reagan of giving the military their mission, their orders and staying the hell out of the way. And not trying to micro-manage the conflicts, so you don't have a Lyndon Johnson going down the situation room picking targets as he did in Vietnam. Bush and Reagan stayed out of the way, so when the land war started we were basically in the receive mode, just waiting for information to be past in the Presidents case from either Powell or Cheney and in our case the same way, about how things were going and the only information we really had after the beginning of the ground war was simply that it was going well and that the units had broken through the lines very fast.

Q: What would you have done if Saddam Hussein in that land war had used chemical weapons, biological weapons and started to cause serious casualties?

Gates: We had prepared for the possible use of chemical and biological weapons by the Iraqis. CIA had provided us with some very good information on what Iraqi capabilities were, and what kind of chemical weapons they had and so our troops were provided with, or at least the front elements of our troops were provided with protective equipment; a number of them were given inoculations. I remember we had a serious logistics problem in trying to get enough of the serum or the inoculations for the troops. If you took all of the supplies available all over the United States it was enough only for a fraction of our forces and for very few of our allies as well. So we were trying to figure out which units should receive this.

But the general view I believe in the government at the very highest level was, first of all there was a real likelihood that Saddam would use chemical weapons. And we had then very carefully to focus on military targets and infra-structure bridges, roads and things like that. We really worked hard to avoid civilian targets. In fact at one point, just before the air war began, the President sent me over to the Pentagon and I had lunch with Colin Powell and his Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dave Jeremiah. And my job was to review the target list one more time, or be briefed by them on the target list, to make sure from the President's stand point that we would not be hitting civilian targets and we were completely satisfied on that score.

In any event, the general feeling was that if the Iraqis used chemical weapons that we would simply expand that target base significantly and damage Iraq and the civilian infer-structure and the economy much worse than we were under that war plan.

Q: What type of things would have been bombed. And what would the United States have done?

Gates: Well I don't remember specifically some of the targets. We might have hit the petroleum infra-structure much more heavily. We might have hit the manufacturing section much more heavily. I don't think there was ever an explicit warning to Saddam on this issue. I don't think there was a letter or anything like that. But there was a good deal of thought given to it in our Government and that was the general way we looked at it.

Q: Why didn't he use chemicals, did you ever get a satisfactory answer to that?

Gates: I believe that his not using the chemicals is one of the great mysteries of the Gulf War. We expected him to, we knew he had the capability. We had some information that they had been moved forward, and it may be that he did grasp in this case that the consequences of using those, would be devastating for Iraq. And he may have believed that we would have used nuclear weapons. But I don't believe anybody ever said that. And it was never even discussed.

Q: Ending the war... How was the decision taken?

Gates: On Tuesday morning the 26th, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney came over to the White House to give the President the daily report on how the war was going, and by that time we knew both from the military reports and by satellites about the 'highway of death' leading north out of Kuwait City and the incredible destruction of the Iraqi convoys and so on, we knew all this would eventually be on television. And I remember very clearly Colin Powell saying that this thing was turning into a massacre. And that to continue it beyond a certain pointwould be un-American and he even used the word unchivalrous.

And he said that he thought that they were probably within 24 hours of concluding the war of completing their objective and as I have said on other occasions, once the orders were given the President basically stayed out of the military decision making and was essentially deferring to the military in terms of their judgement about the course of the events in the region. In any event Colin said that he thought that another 24 hours would do it and so President said well let's be thinking along those lines then.

When Colin came in then, Colin and Dick Cheney came in the next day the morning of the 27th, Colin said we'd basically done it. We have destroyed the Republican Guard, we have expelled them from Kuwait, we have essentially completed our objectives and I believe we are just a few hours from completing that effort and to avoid this thing looking like we are just killing Iraqi soldiers for the sake of it, is probably getting close to the time that could cut this off.

At that point President said well, you ready to conclude today, and Colin said he thought so, and, I don't remember the exact conversation but in essence ....why don't you call General Schwarzkopf and see what his view is upon this and make sure that he is comfortable with this approach and with this decision. So, sort of like a spy reaching out for his shoe for the phone, President pulls out the bottom, well actually President didn't pull out the drawer because Colin as National Security Adviser already knew that in the lower right hand corner of the President's desk was a secure telephone. So he pulls that phone out, calls Schwarzkopf, and they talk and Schwarzkopf as I recall, asks for a few more hours, he says that we have encircled the final battle against the last two Republican Guard Divisions is under way. They have engaged and we just need a few hours to complete that. If you can give us those few hours then my recollection of the conversation as Colin reported was, I am comfortable with decision to end the fighting at that point. Now we were all very careful.

We were not really talking about a cease fire we were simply talking about a cessation of the fighting and then we would talk about what the terms would be. But it clearly was a discussion between the two military officers in terms of the timing and only when at the end of war--at that particular juncture--first being raised by Colin and then be ratified by Schwarzkopf with the addition of several additional hours, at Schwarzkopf's request, that the decision was made to end the war. And in fact we added a couple of more hours on to that for the announcement to be made at the appropriate time on American television and also because it made a nice even hundred hours.

Q: Can you describe the Baker call coming in about the Kurds...and the effect it had?

Gates: By the time Jim Baker visited the border area and called the President to report what he had seen, I think we were a fair way down the track to deal with the situation there. But there's no question that Baker's call and clearly the impact that seeing this first hand had made on him, he was able to convey to the President.

I think the President wasn't as moved but also understood that, something had to be done and it was under those circumstances that the decisions were then made, that the US would become involved.

Q: Why did something have to be done, why did the President say, 'Okay let's do something?'

Gates: I think that the decision to act was, was primarily motivated by two factors. The first was pragmatic and that was the concern of our ally Turkey. We still needed Turkish co-operation, after all the big oil pipeline goes through Turkey, there still a major staging base for US forces, they were opposite Iraq and so on. So their concerns about the Kurds were an important factor for us and a sort of hardheaded world of geo-politics, I also think that there was a humanitarian element to it and a feeling that this was a consequence of an action that we had taken in some respects and however, indirect and that we did in fact have some responsibility to try and help.

Q: If you gave yourself a luxury of hindsight is there anything you would do that you didn't do to try and alter that ending of the war?

Gates: I do not believe I would have made decisions or recommendations differently in terms of how we dealt with the end of the war. All of the alternatives to the way things turned out in my judgement would have resulted in the American troops still being in Iraq today. And I believe that the American people would not tolerate that. We accomplished the objectives we set for ourselves. Our objectives do not include the total destruction of Iraq it did not include the total destruction of the Iraqi Army. We wanted to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq, we didn't want Syria taking a piece here and the Iranians taking a piece here and somebody else taking a piece there. We wanted the territorial integrity of Iraq. We believe that enough army divisions were left for the regular army to be able to protect Iraq from intrusions into its territory. But its ability to invade its neighbours have been destroyed--the Republican Guards. So I think you have to keep coming back to what the objectives were in this war. Why we were there in the first place and not over time began to expand those objectives in retrospect, and those of expansion would have resulted in, in what I believe would have been a quagmire.

Q: Mrs Thatcher said, 'George Bush is no longer President, I'm no longer Prime Minister, Saddam Hussein is still President, who won, who won?'

Gates: I think if you want to know who won, you only have to look at the state of the Iraqi people today and the state of the Iraqi army. There's no question in anybody's mind who won. It maybe some source of consolation to Saddam that he's there at a time when Mrs Thatcher and President Bush are no longer in office. But he still has no offensive capability to attack his neighbours.

Q: What did the war achieve?

Gates: It achieved the two objectives that United States set for itself. We destroyed the Republican Guard as an offensive arm of the Iraqi Army, and of the Iraqi Government. And we liberated Kuwait from an invader. But I would go beyond that.

We destroyed Iraq's recent nuclear program, and we have now put in place a system of controls that makes it most unlikely that program will be restarted again, at least as long as the UN is paying attention.

Q: And if the war hadn't been fought?

Gates: If the war hadn't been fought, I believe that Iraq would have a nuclear weapon today and more than one nuclear weapon. I believe they would have longer range missiles, I believe there would have been another war by now. Because of Saddam's offensive capabilities. I don't believe we would have maintained 200,000 troops in Saudi Arabia for four years simply to deter further aggression by Saddam. I think that the Gulf would be a far, far more unstable place today, than it now is because we fought the war.

Q: In the Summer of 1990 how did you view Saddam Hussein?

Gates: The notion that there was some kind of love feast going on and some great relationship between the United States and Iraq during the period before the war in 1990 or whenever is just a cock. That is just not true at all.

We had done study in the International Security Council in the fall of 1989 on policy in the Gulf and policy with respect to Iraq. And in essence the policy said this is a very bad man, this is an aggressor, this is a man who has weapons of mass destruction, and the question is whether by offering some inducements, whether offering trade and so on, we might be able to bring him inside the tent, we may be able to moderate his behavior in some way. It was a long shot, nobody, had any confidence or optimism that it would work.

In the intervening months beginning in early 1990 we began taking a number of actions against Saddam Hussein that were antagonistic from his stand point. We co-operated with our British colleagues in exposing and capturing the fuses that were being sent to Iraq. We co-operated in uncovering the supergun thing. We refused to give him a second charge of, assistance in terms of loan guarantees to buy American rice, so there were a number of things that were done in the first months of 1990 that clearly were a manifestation that the American Government had become convinced that he was in effect ir-reconcilable. That there was no way we were going to get this guy, to .moderate his behavior or his rhetoric or anything else. And it was during that period that he made his inflammatory comments about attacking is real and so on.

So there were no illusions about Saddam Hussein and what kind of a person he was. I remember very explicitly the CIA Deputy Director my successor, at the time Richard Kerr, at a International Security Council meeting, saying this is a man with blood all over his hands, and he will continue to have blood all over his hands. So I don't think there were any illusions about this.

We knew, beginning in the Spring, that he was beginning to assemble forces. Presumably looking towards Kuwait. Everyone, who knew Saddam all of the Arab Leaders, including the Emir all believed that this was a typical Saddam tactic to try and intimidate his neighbors and to reducing their OPEC quotas and thereby increase the price of oil, he was in desperate economic shape. And everybody assured us, not just the CIA's analysis and the others but even more importantly King Fahd and the Emir and King Hussein and Mubarak and all the rest, not to worry this is the way Saddam does business, he's not going to invade.

Q: The President was getting his morning briefings from William Webster, the National Intelligence Briefing, the build up was being monitored, marvellous tactical intelligence. Why didn't the President pay attention to this?

Gates: I think that there needs to be a greater understanding of the contribution that Intelligence can make in an environment such as we faced in the Summer of 1990. We had wonderful Intelligence on the Iraqi Military build-up. Colin Powell would later say, 'No Field Commander ever had better Intelligence' there has been a lot of quibbling later even by some of the Commanders, a lot of criticism of the Intelligence. But time and time again, Powell and others would say it was the best Intelligence the Field Commander ever had. We knew where every single Division of the Iraqi Army was. We knew exactly how much equipment they had. We knew the capabilities of that equipment and throughout the war there wasn't single technological surprise of the American Forces, so we had great Intelligence from military standards. After all it was Intelligence that made smart weapons smart, knowing where the tele-communications, knowing where the targets were and so on.

So there is a lot of mythology that's grown up about Intelligence during the war, that I think is not fair and is not realistic.

The question of intentions is very different. One has to remember, that we faced an adversary at that time, who operated in an extremely closed circle. Even his own generals, we would later learn did not know that Saddam intended to invade Kuwait. I think that President Bush and the rest of us who had some familiarity and experience with intelligence had no expectation that intelligence would be able to provide us with convincing information one way of the other in terms of Saddams intentions.

What was important, was not necessarily what the guess work of some American college-educated-however-good-analysis that CIA might think--but that the Arab leaders themselves were convinced that Saddam had no aggressive intent against Kuwait. Mubarak, King Hussein, the Emir, King Fahd. These people knew Saddam far better than any western analyst could have ever known Saddam, they dealt with him for many, many years, they had spent intimate time with him in negotiations and talks and so on. The people who knew him best did not think that he would attack. And I believe that the President and the rest of us attached considerable importance to their view of what Saddam was up to. So we had great tactical warning on the part of Intelligence. But intentions -- he basically fooled everybody. Nobody thought that he would be that crazy. I used to have a sign on my office wall, when I was Director of CIA, er, that in effect said, 'The greatest strategic surprise is when an adversary does something that is totally contrary to his own self-interest. And that's what Saddam did.

Q: Why wasn't an explicit cable-- message sent to Saddam Hussein?

Gates: It's an interesting question why an ultimatum or some kind of explicit warning was not sent to Saddam. I think again you have to put yourself back in time to that period. One of the things that I think characterized the Bush foreign policy team was that they were pretty experienced in foreign affairs and one of the things that they were experienced about is that you don't make threats, you're not prepared to carry out. And there was no indication, in July 1990, what the United States might in fact do, if Saddam crossed the border. One of the great problems, one of the great challenges would have been, what if he had just taken the Rumaila Oilfield. My guess is that if Saddam had just taken the Rumaila Oilfield, he would still be there. There would have been no war.

Q: You couldn't bang the table and say, 'Hey we would invade Kuwait..

Gates: The notion in July of 1990 that the United States would put 50,000 men in the field much less half a million. To take on Saddam Hussein's army in the Persian Gulf is nonsense, and so if you are not prepared to carry out the threat, after all he was... And besides the Arabs were totally unprepared to support any kind of a threat like that, even if we had, had forces in mind, and specific contingencies for dealing with it. I mean it had been a big deal when one of the Gulf states not Saudi Arabia had allowed an American tanker to land there. So the Arabs were totally unprepared to support or agree to an American military conflict. And it is interesting, the degree of internal struggle that took place in Saudi Arabia about even after the invasion whether to allow the United States to come in, when they saw a direct threat to their oil fields sitting on their border in the North after the complete occupation of Kuwait. So the revisionism that you could make threat in July of 1990 that would have been persuasive at all and that it might have in fact not come back to, embarrass you deeply.

Q: The Kuwaitis-- I hadn't realised that you guys were trying to make them take at least a symbolic force, and they refused. Do you remember much of the Kuwaiti attitude?

Gates: The honest analysis is that there was not a lot of sympathy for the Kuwaitis, either in Washington or the Arab world. In fact our first contacts with some of the Arabs after the invasion, -- some of them felt that the Kuwaitis had got their come-uppance and that they deserved everything they got and so, the general view of the Kuwaitis at that time was,this was the people that had...I mean they were teasing around a little bit with the Soviets and they were kind of playing all the angles and generally trying to use their money to safe-guard their security, rather than establishing a strong relationship with a country like the United States, that actually could do something for their security so.

Q: How much were they to blame for it themselves. Someone said to me-- they weren't doing really anything to deter Saddam or they weren't willing to placate him.

Gates: Again, I think the idea of blaming the Kuwaitis for either failing to placate Saddam or take action to deterring is a lot of hindsight revisionism, I think that is nonsense, I don't think that unless they were prepared to giving literally billions of dollars, or something like that that there was any way they were going to placate and I don't think they could have put a force in there, even without our troops, that would have deterred him once that he had made up his mind he was going to act. I think that whatever one might have thought about the Kuwaitis at the time, they were clearly the victims and not responsible for the invasion.

Q: You mentioned a concern that everyone had --that story about our Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles Freeman...

Gates: One of the concerns that we all had, and that certainly the Saudis had, was the impact of tens of thousands, potentially, hundreds of thousands, of young American soldiers coming to Saudi Arabia and the potential for terrible cultural clash in very conservative, very religious Saudi Arabia, where relationships between men and women are very different and where there was generally a real worry on the part of the Saudis about sort of the presumed cultural backwardness of this occupying army. And I remember on the way to the airport Chas Freeman and I rode together in the motorcab, going out to Cheney's plane. I remember Chas turning to meand he says my greatest fear on all this is when the Saudis capture some young GI pissing on a Mosque. But the other side is exactly that it never did happen and in fact one of the things that I think somewhat stunned the Saudis was how religious the American Army was, and the provision for religious services and so on, and it is not the image of this country that is conveyed by television or anything around the world. So they were really unprepared for that.

Q: Were you present when Mrs Thatcher made her 'No time to go wobbly' remark? Were you up at Walkers Point when that conversation took place?

Gates: I think that may have taken place immediately after I left. Scowcroft and I would split Bush's vacation in Kennybunkport and the day of the meeting about the Iraqi tanker when everybody flew up from Washington for that meeting was my last day there. And so when the plane went back to Washington that afternoon, I went back on it and Brent stayed. But the real issue was what to do about this Iraqi tanker, that had left the Gulf and whether to stop it. A shot had been fired across its bow and it had not stopped and so the question was whether to disable it. And the notion of disabling a ship without sinking it, is a little more complicated than the movies would have one think and the chances of trying to shoot the rudder off and not putting a shell right through the engine room is a problematical. I have to say that the debate was very strong. And Scowcroft and I, and I think Cheney were all of a mind that we should disable the ship. And if we had to sink it, to sink it.

It was the first military engagement after we had made decisions to send large numbers of forces, we were beginning to send fighters already and some were already in Saudi Arabia. We were talking very tough and it seemed to us very dangerous in the first occasion when the use of force might take place, for us to back off, that it would make it look to the Iraqis and even worse to our allies that maybe we were just talk and when push came to shove we weren't ready to use force.

Baker's position--he wanted to use this incident to gain time to get Soviet agreement to a UN Security Council Resolution, that would authorise the use of force in enforcing the sanctions. And it was a very close call for the President. And ultimately he sided with Baker and decided to give Baker the additional time, which Baker then used very effectively, did get Soviet agreement to vote with us on that resolution.

In retrospect I believe that, at least Brent and I became convinced that we had been wrong. That in fact Bush had made the right decision and that it created an environment in which we had Soviet support for virtually all of the ensuing UN Security Councils Resolutions. But our worry about the impact, I think, was what was being reflected by Mrs Thatcher in her comment about this is no time to go wobbly. There was never any danger in my view of George Bush going wobbly. I believe that from the first weekend on, he never deviated from his determination to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Q: Did Jim Baker go wobbly?

Gates: No, I do not think that Baker went wobbly. I think Baker saw the value of the coalition. He basically had two separate threads of action in the administration, two separate paths. Cheney in charge of the military preparations and Baker in charge of the diplomacy. And it seems to me the measure of Bush's skill in which he moved fairly easily between the two paths, sometimes siding with Cheney and sometimes siding with Baker, but basically without a single mis-step creating the coalition and then still fighting the war, and doing so as effectively as our forces did.

And I think it was in this instance he was right to go with Baker that getting the resolution out-weighed the risk of upsetting the allies. For example, later the same kind of decision had to be made in terms of the offer for one last, exchange with the Iraqis, in terms of the domestic and the international audience whether it was worth the risk.

Q: Do you remember the day when you sat and got the first Schwarzkopf briefing?

Gates: Military was asked to provide during this briefing what kind of an offensive strategy they would pursue with the forces that they had available to them, and there about 200,000. And the briefing was given and there really wasn't a lot of give and take in the meeting itself. But after the meeting was over, Scowcroft and I went back up to his office and we just were very disturbed at what we had heard, because the proposal was to just attack the heart of the Iraqi line, rather than some kind of a faint around the flank or something like that, and I approached this somewhat modestly because, I was in the AirForce and not in the Army and we were dealing with Generals who had a lot of combat experience, and, so on but I have had a lot of history. And it seemed to me, and to Brent, sort of the classic American frontal attack counting on supply lines, logistics and over-whelming support, to be able to over-whelm an enemy rather than the cleverness and the clever generalship if you will. Now that all may have been total nonsense but at least it was our reaction to the briefing.

Q: Why did you react to that, what did you think was going on? Why did you think they were giving you that briefing?

Gates: I have to separate out how I viewed what happened at that briefing--what I thought at the time--from what one reads later about the military views of why they gave the briefing that way. Their later view was that they had no choice given the small number of forces that they had. Our view at the time, I think was, that this was an effort, however, conscious or unconscious, to basically say this is going to be a no win thing, and the casualties are going to be very high. And maybe we ought not do this. I think that there was very little enthusiasm in the American military for, in fact, throwing Saddam out of Kuwait militarily.

Q: Why was that?

Gates: One of my experiences over the years, in Washington, as I have watched different Presidents deal with the military and I worked in the White House for four Presidents and attended decision meetings under five, is that contrary to mythology, the biggest doves in Washington wear uniforms. And I think that particularly after Vietnam they are very leery of feather-merchants of civilians, greying notions of using military force to accomplish a range of objectives however sensible or justified they may be. And I think that they try, perhaps even un-consciously, not only to exaggerate the level of forces that will be required to accomplish a specific objective but the casualties as well, in the hope of forcing a sanity check on the politicians or on the civilian experts who have no concept of what it is like to sit there and watch a young soldier bleed and die. And I think that these guys also think that war in the situation room is too clinical. And that we don't have an appreciation for what it is really like, and that they would prefer to avoid the use of military force at all cost.

Some of the biggest debates that I have ever witnessed in the situation room on this problem and on dozens of others was the debate between the Military representatives and the State Department representatives. With the State Department representatives arguing for the use of military force and the military officers arguing for the use of diplomacy. So I think it is a cultural thing and I don't second guess the military on that, I think that their concerns are justified, because I have seen a lot of civilians make a lot of proposals for a lot of silly military actions that eventually did not take place. So I understand their caution, but I think it's that kind of a cultural environment that manifested itself, in the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the military for actually going to war.

Q: You have expressed very adequately exactly what Colin Powell thought. How aware were you that these were his views?

Gates: I never heard Colin Powell try and deflect the President from, his course of action or to argue in front of the President for containment. I don't recall any such thing. He would at times in the privacy of Scowcroft's office, sometimes with Cheney there, sometimes with Cheney and Baker both there make those points.

On the last day before the war began, when the President signed the directive authorizing the action, Colin made a very eloquent statement, warning everybody, it was going to be a lot uglier and a lot messier than they thought. And that he had an obligation to warn the President about casualties, that the battle would not go as the plan said, that there would be, things would happen, that no-one had anticipated, that there were unpredictable circumstances at war, and that once it has started, the President was no longer in control. It was a very eloquent, very thoughtful, and I think it totally responsible statement by the General of what we should expect.

Q: What effect did that have, how did the President reply?

Gates: All of us took it very seriously, there may have been people at lower levels who are fanciful and have naive view, of how this whole thing might go. I don't think anybody in the decision circle and the gang of eight if you will had any illusions or believe this was anything other than very, very serious business. The estimates of casualties that we got while, significantly lower than were being banded about in the American Press, nonetheless constituted serious numbers, and I mean as far as the President was concerned, one casualty was one too many.

The President had a great sense of responsibility in all of this, I mean as the war got closer, he became very contemptulative about it all, and we all along the way knew that this was a major undertaking that historians would dissect for decades about the decisions that were made and why we were doing things and often when the Deputird Committee for example was writing the war objectives, one or another of us would say, 'Historians are going to ask why we didn't do this or that other thing, let's make sure that we have thought this all through and that we make these decisions and that we record, and we make the right decisions and that we record them properly.' So there was a sense of history about the whole thing, at least for those at the most senior level, I think.

Q: To pull you back--after that first briefing in the White House, I want to get an understanding of the dynamics. What happened as a result? What did you guys do to make things start to move?

Gates: As a result of the briefing, Scowcroft called Cheney, and they had several long conversations, and my sense of it was that, that Dick was sympathetic with Brent's concerns. And I think that was the circumstance under which further contingency planning took place in terms of what kind of a force the military thought they really needed in order to carry out an offensive in which you could limit American casualties, and then the briefing on that force took place on October 30th.

Q: Would you have been surprised at that stage if the Commander had been changed, I mean how badly did this briefing go down?

Gates: I don't think that the briefing went down so badly that there was ever any consideration given to changing any of the senior military officers at all, I don't think that issue ever arose.

Q: As a result of the critical reception that first briefing received, did the military start to get the message?

Gates: I think a couple of things happened that changed the situation, One I thinkthe message got through that there had been a lot of unhappiness at the White House and as much as they might dismiss Scowcroft's view of military tactics--because after all he was an Air Force General, and not an Army General--I think that they also were smart enough to realise the very close nature of the relationship between Scowcroft and the President, and that they had better take these concerns seriously. Also I think that was the point at which people were beginning to realise--including we at the White House--that the force that we had there was inadequate to go on the offensive, the Iraqis had continued to re-inforce, and by that time, by mid October or so, the Iraqis had something over 400,000 troops in the theatre of military operations. The notion of going up against that with the American half the size, really didn't make any sense to anybody. And that's when the contingency planning for other options began.

Q: Describe this the October 30th meeting the military briefing about what it would take--

Gates: We all met in the situation room on October the 30th, the gang of eight plus some of the senior military people. I think that the new contingency planning the new proposals were actually presented by one of Norman Schwarzkopf's deputies, both Colin and Cheney were there. And I don't remember a lot of the details about the meeting but, but it clearly had the potential to overwhelm the President with what was required, and I have to admit rather cynically I thought to deter him from going forward. I remember the briefer in essence saying, 'Well first of all, we will need the 7th Corps out of Europe', now what they were talking about was taking the heart of the NATO defence the two heaviest divisions in the American Army and moving them from Germany to Saudi Arabia. The cost, the implications of doing that for the alliance, all of the different things that were going on, were just awesome, in terms ofwhat was involved. Then he said, 'We will need six carrier battle groups.' Well, a carrier battle group is several dozen ships, so that the magnitude of the naval force being assembled again was just awesome. And I don't think that perhaps since Vietnam or earlier we had ever assembled six carrier battle groups for anything, and it was just an incredible force.

And then the last thing I remembered on the list which is usually the political poison pill that takes care of any of these options the civilians want to explore was of course you will have to activate the National Guard and the Reserves. In other words you are going to have to pull Americans out of the daily lives in every city, town, and farm area in the country. Disrupt their lives and make them a part of the war effort. And I'll never forget Bush pushing his chair back and in essence saying,'you've got it, if you need more come and see me'. And he left, and I sensed that the military folks were just absolutely stunned by the---does he really know what he has just done, and how much it would cost and so on and so forth...and I think he did.

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