The US Involvement in the Gulf War

Categories: History

The U.S. involvement in the Gulf War achieved success through the military strategy that was used. The three elements of the military strategy equation were: Shape, Respond and Prepare Now. (BD 30, U.S. Military Strategy). Shaping the international environment of the “Gulf War Crisis” with diplomatic and political reasons was uniform. Among allies, especially among threatened allies, the ultimate military test was: will you show up when you say you will? In the post-cold war world, there is only one superpower.

Like it or not, Superpower action or inaction when aggression occurs does set the tone for behavior. On August 2,1990 the Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein gambled that the Saudis and the rest of the world would tremble, and ignore the tiny emirate of Kuwait that had just been invaded. Saddam reasoned that the fragile Arab relations with the west (United States), weak Gulf Arab armies, the existence of Israel, and his own armies’ power would reduce resistance to political howls.

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There was the question of the United States itself. It had military might, but with the legacy of Vietnam, and the frustrating experience in Lebanon, and its dependence on oil…was the time right? Saddam seemed to think so (Bay 26). However; The United States immediate response to the Gulf crisis was sending Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to meet with Saudi King Fahd on August 6, 1990, four days after Iraqi soldiers invaded Kuwait.

The Secretary of Defense assessed the situation and briefed the King on what support the United States could provide.

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On August 7, 1990 at the direction of the president on the United States, U.S. forces began to deploy to the region. Prepare now. On August 8, 1990 as the president of the United States addressed the nation two carrier battle groups led by the USS Independence and the USS Eisenhower were already on station in the Gulf area (Overseas Presence). Enroute were the “Ready Brigade” of the 82nd Airborne Division, a Navy propositioned F-18 squadron, and F-15’s from the Airforce’s 1st Tactical Fighter Wing (Power Projection). With other forces quickly following. The U.S. National Security Objectives were clearly laid out on August 9, 1990. The four simple principles guided our policy; first, the immediate, unconditional and complete withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from ursite emitimatate, verament masama rentored to reorama Kuwait. Second, Kuwait’s legitimate government must be restored to replace the puppet regime. Third, we are committed to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf. Fourth, we are determined to protect the lives of American citizen’s abroad (Qtd. in summers 175). The Military’s initial deployment of troops was wholly defensive. They would not initiate hostilities, but they would defend themselves, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other friends in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. National Security Strategy was to impose economic sanctions on Iraq.

On August 6, 1990, the U.N. Security Council voted in favor of resolution 661, which imposed a trade and financial Embargo of Iraq. While the Army was on the defensive the Navy and the Coast Guard immediately went on the operational and tactical offensive to create and enforce a Naval blockade against Iraq. One of the major points of contention was whether economic sanctions alone could have achieved U.S. objectives in the Gulf. U.S. senator Sam Nunn believed that international sanctions were, indeed, having a devastating effect on Iraq’s economy, for two basic reasons. The Iraqi economy is based on oil, which accounts for about 50 percent of the country’s GNP and almost 100 percent of the country’s hard currency earnings. International sanctions had cut off more than 90 percent of Iraq’s imports, and almost 100 percent of Iraq’s exports, including virtually all of Iraqi oil exports (Dudley 79). The Bush administration countered that if we wait for sanctions to work, Kuwait will further be victimized.

According to Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, the Bush administration had begun planning for a shift to the strategic offensive soon after the crisis began. (41). General Powell presented President Bush with two courses of action. One was to build up for the offense. The second was to give the sanctions time to work. The president was noncommittal.

“I don’t think there’s time politically for the second strategy to work” (Qtd. In Woodward 42). By November 1990, President Bush announced that the U.S. Military Strategy in the Gulf would undergo a fundamental change. Almost forty years Since it had been abandoned, President Bush put the American military back on the strategic offensive:

In three months, the U.S. troop contribution to the multinational force in Saudi Arabia has gone from 10,000 to 230,000 as part of Operation Desert Shield. General Schwarzkoff reports that our forces, in conjunction with other coalition forces now have the ability to defend successfully against any further Iraqi aggression.

After consultation with King Fahd and our other allies, I have today directed the Secretary of Defense to increase the size of U.S. forces Committed to Desert Shield to ensure that the coalition has an adequate offensive military option should that be necessary to achieve our common goals (President George Bush, November 8, 1990).

The decision to go to war was made on the 15th of January 1991.President Bush signed a directive authorizing the use of force.

Just after midnight on 16 January, Task Force Normandy, made up with three Pav Low special operations helicopters and nine Apache attack helicopters, engaged their targets inside Iraq. When finished, two early warning radar stations were destroyed. As the task force turned away, one hundred plus Air Force jets passed through a gap in the radar coverage heading for Bagdad. The air campaign was first. Planners expected to achieve five objectives.

(1) Isolate the Iraqi regime: (2) gain and maintain air superiority: (3) destroy Nuclear, Biological and Chemical capabilities; (4) eliminate Iraq’s offensive capabilities; (5) render the Iraq army in Kuwait ineffective (Bay 229). After more than 180 days of Naval and air operations, the ground offensive began. The ground war objectives were to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, destroy the Republican Guard in the Kuwait Theater of operations ( KTO), and restore the legitimate government to Kuwait. By the morning of February 28, 1991, the Iraqi army in the KTO was routed and incapable of coordinated resistance. In the 100 hours of ground combat, the fourth largest army in the world was shattered. The United States approach to military strategy against Iraq was composed of (1) political pressure through the United Nations; (2) economic pressure through an embargo; (3) military pressure by deploying forces to the Gulf region (Mahnken). Skilled diplomacy and the backing of a series of United Nations resolutions allowed the United States to build a broad-based coalition to oppose Iraq with the objective of ejecting Iraq from Kuwait. Iraq’s military strategy against the coalition was to get into a prolonged attritional ground war. This would produce heavy U.S. casualties. Saddam thought this would split U.S. opinion and force the Untied States to withdrawal.

Saddam also believed he could goad Israel into attacking Iraq, which would cause Saddam’s Arab neighbors to break from the coalition.

The United States and Iraq used the “show of force” military strategic concept. Iraq used this concept indirectly against Kuwait to extract concessions. Later it was used against the United States in an effort to deter the coalition from using force to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The United States used “show of force” in a field attempt to deter Iraqi aggression and later to assist diplomatic efforts; Iraq used the “first strike” concept to by force in Kuwait in what it could not otherwise extract. As stated, the United States effectively countered Iraq using “forward defense” and “flexible response” military Strategic concepts. In the end, Iraq’s self-interests were defeated and the United States’ vital interests were secured by the successful application of U.S. Military Strategy.


  1. Bay, Austin, and Dunnigan, James F. From Shield to Storm. New York: William Morrow and Company, INC., 1992.
  2. Dudley, William, and Tipp, Stacey L. IRAQ: Current Controversies California: Greenhaven Press, 1991.
  3. Field Manual 100-5, Department of the Army, Operations. June 1993.
  4. Mahnken, Thomas G. “The Gulf War and Future Warfare” Diss. Naval War College, 1997
  5. Summers, Harry G. On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War. New York: Dell Publishing, 1992.
  6. Woodward, Bob The CommandersSimon & Schuster, 1991.

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The US Involvement in the Gulf War. (2021, Sep 16). Retrieved from

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