While I have plenty of pictures of the A-10’s, affectionately known as the Warthog, this picture of a unit patch from a flight suit deserves special notice. The Gulf War was not that long ago, a little more than twenty years, but for many of my generation it our first real experience of our country being at war. Growing up in the shadow of Vietnam, the Gulf War almost seemed like shot at redemption. Since this week has had a sort of “remembrance” theme, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the Gulf War and that patch is a great reminder of a different time and a different war.
The Western World’s dependence on oil has kept the Persian Gulf a strategic theater for the US for a very long time. Like South America the US has always had this vested interest and has taken steps to insure that “friendly” leaders we in place to keep the oil flowing. This particular strategy did not pan out so well in Iran. In fact we did such a poor job of trying to keep Iran friendly that in the end we had to prop up their neighbor and help them fight a long drawn out and bloody war against them. That neighbor was Iraq, lead by Saddam Hussein, who with our help was able to keep Iran in check. Unfortunately, as often happens with us, the lesser of two evils grew beyond our control and decided to invade a neighbor, in this case Kuwait. This lead to the first Gulf War.
In the Gulf War the United States was able to gather a large multi-national coalition to face off against Saddam and remove his army from Kuwait. Most impressively the coalition contained several Muslim nations, something important to keeping the conflict from become a West vs Middle East conflict. This alone was a great start to what would be a historic campaign. For the US this was an attempt to wash the lingering taste of the Vietnam era out of its collective mouth. For the first time since WWII the US faced a black and white conflict without the shades of grey that were cast over South East Asia. This war was going to be different.
Different it was. The Gulf War was carefully planned and had clearly defined goals, the idea being to bring as much military force to bear against the enemy as possible. The air campaign that opened the war was surgical in the way it destroyed the enemy’s ability to fight. By the time the ground war started and the famous “left hook” was employed the Iraqi army was not only driven out of Kuwait, but stood substantially weaker. The coalition was a success, but even in the glow of victory came the seeds of another war. Saddam would be left in power and allowed to rebuild.
The US after the war stayed active in the region with mixed results. Promising help and support to the native Kurds and those opposed to Saddam, we stood by and watched as at least one attempted coup was put down. We did enforce no fly zones and supported the UN in trying to keep the Iraqi stockpile of chemical and biological from growing. This led to almost a decade of air strikes and economic sanctions designed to keep Saddam under control, which failed. All the time this was happening, Iran came back to world stage in attempting to obtain and build nuclear weapons, an effort that was helped tremendously by the first Gulf War and the flood of Iraqi material and minds that fled the country.
Militarily the strategy was almost perfect and highly effective. The enemy military was defeated, casualties were low and the objectives were met. The peace was not planned for and we ended up in another war where many, many more people on both sides died and the results of which we are still waiting to see if it was worth it. Politically the strategy is still up in the air and its effectiveness is up for debate. Even though we maintain talking relationships with many of the Persian Gulf countries, the effects of 9/11 undid much of what the Gulf War accomplished.