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The Gulf Crisis


Of all the Arab countries other than Kuwait that Saddam Hussein’s aggression has affected, Jordan has been the most badly injured and unfairly treated. Americans have regarded King Hussein both as a friend and a moderating influence in the Middle East, and they have encouraged his efforts to transform an absolute regime into a constitutional monarchy. Yet—to our great shame—few Americans have shown sympathy for, or even the slightest understanding of, his suffocating problems.

Not only is Jordan’s principal trading partner Iraq, but it is the victim of its own tragic geographical location. Jordan lies between one enemy, Israel, on the west and Iraq on the east, with Syria constantly threatening it from the north. Like Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, it has for years depended for survival on subsidies from the rich oil-producing states. Between 1978 and 1988 the Arab states pledged billions to Jordan, yet Qatar and Abu Dhabi stopped making payments on their pledge as early as 1983, Algeria made only one payment, and Libya never paid at all. When King Hussein in desperation appealed to the emir of Kuwait to help him meet his country’s $6 billion deficit, the emir is reported to have dismissed him with a rude rebuff, “It’s your fault,” he is quoted as saying. “You’re not a Gulf state. You’re not an oil-producing state. Why do you have these ambitious development plans, the universities and all that? You can’t afford them.”

Jordan is in a particularly unhappy position because it has heavily depended not only on Arab subsidies but on the flow of remittances from its citizens working in the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields. Now the Saudis have turned bitterly against King Hussein for his failure to join in their defense, and they have stopped supplying Jordan with oil. Thus, instead of a flow of subsidies and remittances, large numbers of third world refugees from the Kuwait and Iraqi oil fields have been crowding into Jordan, imposing staggering costs and serious disruptions of Jordanian life.

If there were ever a case where the richer countries should express their sympathy and understanding by tangible help, Jordan is clearly that case.


Several of the Arab nations included in our jerry-built coalition would find an excuse to opt out were America to initiate a military offensive against Iraq, resentfully ascribing our action to Western imperialism.

Reaction of the Soviet Union, European Coalition members, and Japan

to a Shooting War The defecting Arab nations would quite probably be joined by several European nations and Japan on the ground that they too did not wish to be embroiled in a major military conflict, particularly if they felt that America had taken the offensive before fully exhausting the potential of diplomacy.

That probably represents the view of the Soviet Union. For it to join, as it has done, in enforcing the blockade, represented a decision that must have been painful for Gorbachev to make. At the same time, it seems unlikely that the Soviets would commit forces were the struggle to enter a shooting phase. So far, they have emphasized the necessity for a diplomatic solution and have exhausted considerable effort in trying to achieve one.

Active involvement by Soviet forces would raise disturbing echoes of the Soviets’ Afghanistan experience, while pitting the country against a nation with which it has long had an alliance. Although its views on the question have so far been somewhat cloudy, the Soviets have made clear that they could not involve their forces in active fighting without an affirmative vote of their legislature. They could easily use that as a way out.

Prime Minister Thatcher has gone far to support America’s initiative, partly in gratitude for our help in the Falklands conflict. But in contrast to her war against Argentina, she does not have a clear mandate for offensive action from her Labour opposition.

President Mitterrand made a hard decision when he joined America in the blockade, against the background of France’s fiercely independent military policy and its suspicion of America. France has now committed 14,000 troops to the region, its largest deployment since the Algerian War. Yet Mitterrand has made it clear that he believes America should fully exhaust the potential for diplomacy—which, as he sees it, we are not yet doing.

The Italian government seems split on the issue of a possible offensive military action. Prime Minister Andreotti is reputed to favor a diplomatic solution that would permit Saddam to save some face; Foreign Minister De Michelis apparently regards war as a practical necessity. No one can confidently predict how the Italian government would react in the event America should take offensive action.

Germany’s hesitations derive not merely from its restrictive constitution (which the allies imposed at the end of the Second World War) but also from the heavy burdens it is now carrying in assimilating East Germany. Up to now its participation in the embargo has been limited to a contribution of $2.1 billion. Whether that may later be augmented by units of armed forces involves the politically bitter question whether it could send troops overseas without a constitutional amendment.

Japan’s postwar constitution poses even more serious domestic obstacles to its participation in military action than is the case in Germany. For Japan to deploy forces in the Middle East would threaten a vicious split in its domestic politics as well as stimulate vestigial fears among the other South East Asian nations, which remember all too vividly the brutal behavior of the Japanese army a half century ago.

From this brief review I conclude that any shift from the economic pressures of a blockade to a military offensive would very likely drive away important elements of our tenuous coalition. At the same time, we should dispel any illusions our coalition partners may have regarding the realities of a military conflict, and sternly warn them not to indulge the comforting assumption that we could achieve the political objective we all seek merely by quick air strikes on sensitive targets.

One of the many lessons I learned as a director of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey in Europe during and after World War II is that there is no such thing as a “surgical strike.” Indeed, if the medical profession adopted the standards of the Air Force, any patient seeking an appendectomy might well have his heart and brain removed, while his appendix remained intact.

Before he was discharged in September for his indiscreet talk about US war plans, the Air Force Chief of Staff Michael J. Dugan told the press that the “cutting edge” of a US attack “would be in downtown Baghdad,” a city of some 4 million people, approximately 1.5 million of whom have been estimated to be fourteen years old or younger. America should not take responsibility for wiping out a considerable part of the young generation of Iraqis.

Another restraint on our ability to resolve the situation by air strikes is Saddam’s proclaimed intention to use foreign hostages as “human shields.” Although the administration insists that it will not permit the fate of the hostages to influence its tactical decisions, a single raid in which hostages were seen to be killed could send a shudder of anger and repulsion throughout America and its friends.

Both the US and its coalition members should also be aware that the Iraqis have widely dispersed their installations for building nuclear weapons. Thus there could be no easy repetition of the Israelis’ 1981 success in taking out the Osirak reactor.

Nor should one be deluded by the bland assumptions of many of our own effervescent air force generals that we should substantially discount the boasted effectiveness of Iraq’s Soviet aircraft and anti-aircraft missile defenses. The press now reports that Iraq captured from the Kuwaitis about 150 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles as well as radar equipment and is busy learning to use them effectively. Unfortunately, many of the United States planes in the area are not equipped to defeat the Hawk system.

A second lesson learned by the Bombing Survey in studying the Allies’ strategic offensive against Germany was that wars cannot be won by bombing alone. In spite of overwhelming Allied air superiority from 1943 on, the Germans were able to hold out until the summer of 1945. Quite likely the principal accomplishment of our strategic bombing offensive was to force the German Air Force to fly where our planes could shoot theirs down, thus assuring to the Allies command of the air space over the invasion route.

Finally, no one should take it for granted that air attacks necessarily erode public morale; on the contrary our experience in Germany repeatedly showed that bombing an enemy may increase the people’s determination to continue a war, particularly in highly controlled and disciplined countries.

If we cannot win our objectives solely by bombing what would be the result of using our ground forces to drive Iraq’s army out of Kuwait? There is no doubt that such an enterprise would be a thoroughly bloody affair, while quite possibly leaving our forces indefinitely bogged down and isolated in the Middle East—an experience that would evoke the same domestic anger and frustration as did our adventure in Vietnam.

One might assume, as a consequence of Saddam Hussein’s elimination of other Iraqi generals (practically all of whom he has seen as would-be rivals), that the Iraqi army would lack much initiative or flexibility for offensive operations. If could, however, prove formidable in defending against any coalition drive into Kuwait. The Soviet Union’s military experts (who have throughout history designed their own strategic plans largely with defense in mind) have patiently trained Iraqi engineers in erecting fortifications and barriers. Add to that the established military principle that to be effective the offense must possess a two-to-one advantage over the defense in the number of troops, and it becomes clear that American forces could suffer catastrophic casualties, both in the first phase of combat with the second-rate formations of the Iraqi army, and then with the elite formations that had been held back for counter-attacks and other emergencies.

I can see little chance that the armored and infantry forces of the United States could avoid close combat with the Iraqis, and several military experts have expressed doubt that the forces we have sent to the Gulf are effectively prepared for the kind of warfare which open hostilities in the desert would necessarily require. The Iraqi forces are huge in number (although one million men is clearly an overstatement) and, while they are of uneven quality, a large number of them have had eight years of combat experience in desert warfare, under professional Soviet tutelage.

Our generals are, of course, eager to test their new esoteric military gadgets not only for their own information but to impress Congressional appropriations committees; yet no one really knows whether the gadgets will work as advertised under desert combat conditions.

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