US Panel of Experts Split on Lessons from Gulf War

Published July 31st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

One full decade after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait, the lessons of the 100-hour war and future policies in the region are still being debated among US policymakers. 

The main part of the problem for the United States and its allies is a bit of unfinished business: the Iraqi leader presumably "lost" the war, but continues in power and continues to thumb his nose at Washington and its allies. 

A recent panel of experts that included a retired US Marine Corps general and a senior US senator, for example, were split on the legacy of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and what to do next against Iraq. 

Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam War veteran, advocated for "a military strategy of replacing Saddam Hussein with democracy" at a meeting organized by the Institute for Near East Studies, a Washington think-tank. 

"We've spend a lot of money on containment and it had not worked," Kerrey said. "If the benefits are worth wile, the cost seems to be justified. In this case the benefits clearly seem to be worthwhile." 

Kerrey -- mentioned, as a possible running mate in Vice President Al Gore's presidential bid -- wants more support for internal and external opposition Iraqi figures, as well as "a battle plan that is capable of getting the job done." 

"We are spending at least two billion dollars a year" on the current unsuccessful containment policy, he said. "The question is what kind of military strategy we are going to have." 

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, who described Kerrey's comments as "too bellicose and too sanguine," believes that the many wrong conclusions were learned from the war. 

Trainor, who co-authored an authoritative book on the war, attributes the quick allied victory largely to flawed Iraqi tactics that assumed the United States would buckle and the alliance would split once casualties mounted. 

Yet Iraqi field commanders were smart enough not to put up any real resistance, Trainor said, fully aware that they did not stand a chance of defeating the allies. 

Furthermore, the US military was able to deploy overwhelming force to the region largely because it was still prepared to fight the former Soviet Union, even if that threat no longer existed by 1990. 

As a result of the fast victory with few casualties the US military today suffers from "hubris," believing that "wars can be fought and won on the cheap," Trainor said. 

"The silver bullet of the immaculate war is still with us," he said. 

Trainor's main concern however is the unresolved question of whether the US military is "a war-fighting institution or a constabulary institution." 

Daniel Pipes, a veteran Middle East observer, said he was struck by how little things have changed in Iraq over the past decade.  

Pipes described the war as "a modest victory that resulted in the status quo." 

He said the military had very strict war goals, and removing Saddam Hussein was not one of them. 

Trainor disagreed.  

"The unwritten goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein," he said. 

Peter Rodman, who in August 1990 was a special assistant to the president for national security affairs, said top US officials did not press further because they were keen on preventing the disintegration of the Iraqi state. 

In retrospect "that was a misjudgment," he said. 

US policymakers were convinced that as a result of a humiliating defeat Saddam Hussein would be toppled by internal forces, Trainor said. The assumption proved to be incorrect. 

The retired general, who said the key mistake of the allies was not destroying the Iraqi leader's elite Republican Guard units, describes the war as "a modest victory snatched from the jaws of triumph," -- WASHINGTON (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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