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Conflict in the Middle East has existed for almost as long as the country of Iraq has been in existence. There has been conflict between various ethnic groups and conflict over the abundance of oil within the area. However, in the late 1970s changes were taking place in the Middle East. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was violently killing political leaders. Meanwhile, in Iran, the shah was using violence as his primary way of governing, making him an unpopular leader. Hussein observed the political turmoil going on in Iran and saw an opportunity to invade the country. The tension between the two countries went on for years, with neither side ever being able to truly claim a victory. This ongoing struggle set the framework for the First Iraq War. The First Iraq War impacted the United States by re-establishing it as a superior military force and by re-establishing the credibility of the government.
To understand how the Gulf War re-established the United States.as a superior military force and re-established the credibility of the government, it is necessary to understand the events leading up to the war and how the United States became involved. Iraq was under the rule of Saddam Hussein who ultimately posed a threat to the United States. Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in a village near Tikrit next to the Tigris River. Throughout his early life, he showed enthusiasm for weapons and violence. He joined the Radical Iraqi Baath Political Party at the age of 20. At the age of 22, Hussein and other Baathists attempted to kill the dictator of Iraq. At the age of 31, he became the deputy secretary-general and later got the chief job running the Iraq security police. He named himself President in 1979, and took over leadership of Iraq. Hitler and Stalin were his heroes. He used violence such as firing squads and poison gas to accomplish his goals and to show his power. Finally, in September 1980, Hussein saw an opportunity and invaded Iran. This invasion led to a war which lasted eight years and left the country 80 billion dollars in debt.
With Iraq struggling from the huge war debt, Hussein had financial worries. His strategy to get out of the massive war debt was to use his military to force other countries to help. He went so far as to demand monetary help from other Persian countries saying, “…if they don’t give it to me, I’m going to take it from them.” By July 1990, the price of oil had dropped significantly. For every dollar a barrel of oil dropped in price, Iraq went further into debt. Hussein believed neighboring countries owed him, and believed they were conspiring against Iraq. He believed Kuwait was stealing oil from Iraq. In fact, “he said that the oil field they were using ran under both countries.” On August 2, Iraq invaded Kuwait and within a few hours Hussein had taken over the country.
The First Iraq War impacted the United States by re-establishing it as a superior military force. Prior to the First Iraq War the last major land battle the United States had been involved in was Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, United States citizens questioned the government because they did not understand the purpose of the war or understand why the United States was involved. Furthermore, according to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the government had failed to mobilize its troops during Vietnam. The United States military had no support from American citizens and upon their return, they were blamed for the war. Therefore, the United States was deeply and negatively impacted by the Vietnam War, and its people were in no hurry to engage in any further land battles.
In spite of the negative feelings regarding war, after Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the United States made an intentional decision to take a military stand against Iraq. On August 6, 1990 President Bush publicly stated the United States would not stand for the invasion. In a smart move, based on the previous failure of the government to seek the support of its people, President Bush asked for the support of American citizens in this endeavor, on August 8, 1990. Eight days later, Hussein moved Americans to three hotels to serve as human shields, and told Bush he would receive bodies in bags. President Bush had been threatened enough and finally told Congress, “Iraq will not be permitted to annex Kuwait. And that’s not a threat, not a boast. It’s just the way it’s going to be.” Former Vietnam veterans General Colin L. Powell and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf were the top military advisors and leaders in the efforts against Iraq. President Bush knew he needed to build a coalition and be intentional in the Iraqui efforts. Therefore, in August, he sent troops over immediately to protect Saudi Arabia. The 82nd Airborne Division was the first United States unit to reach Saudi Arabia. The United States deployed 430,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, and they were joined by 30 other nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Czechoslovakia, Bangladesh, France, Great Britain, Syria, Kuwait, Italy, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. Some protesters believed the United States was only involved to protect its access to oil, while others believed Hussein had to be stopped; however, most Americans supported the endeavor and proudly displayed yellow ribbons showing their support for the troops. On November 29, 1990 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 678 which established a six week deadline for Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. Furthermore, it gave the United States and its allies the ability to use force to remove Iraqui troops and free the country of Kuwait.
The six week deadline passed and the Iraqui troops were still present. The United States had to make a decision about going to war. On January 12, 1991 Congress voted in favor of allowing President Bush to go to war. President Bush addressed the nation on television saying, “The US goal is not the conquest of Iraq; it is the liberation of Kuwait.” He went on to let Americans know that the United States would use force and whatever means necessary to stop Hussein. In the first few hours, the presence of the United States was known as over 400 combat planes and 160 tankers and command aircraft covered the skies of the Persian Gulf. The first attacks were airstrikes to destroy specific targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These airstrikes weakened Hussein’s troops and took out major buildings, including government buildings and electrical plants. On January 18, Hussein ordered eight Iraqui Scud missiles to land in Israel; no one was killed, but many were injured and Hussein once again exhibited his evil ways. He hoped Israel would fight back so he could justify the war by “pitting the Islamic Arab nations against their hated Jewish neighbor Israel and its American ally.” Hussein’s efforts did not work. President Bush once again set a deadline of 12:00 pm on February 23 for Iraq to remove troops from Kuwait. The consequences of not meeting the deadline would be a ground war. The initial airstrikes weakened the troops, and the United States and its allies began a ground assault on February 24, 1991.
At 4:00 am on February 24, 1991 marked the beginning of the one hundred hour land war. The coalition forces were stronger and outsmarted the Iraquis troops, forcing the Iraquis to retreat leaving dead soldiers and burning vehicles scattered along the “infamous ‘Highway of Death’”. After one hundred hours the allied forces had thrown the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. At 5:00 a.m. on February 27, 1991, President Bush declared the battle to be over, as the Allied troops had successfully liberated Kuwait. There were less than 300 United States casualties, while the Iraquis suffered 100,000 casualties. According to Kent, “The fight to free Kuwait moved faster and with greater success than anyone could have imagined.” With the one hundred hour battle finally over, President Bush called for a cease fire; he addressed the nation saying, “Kuwait is liberated. Iraq’s army is defeated. Our military objectives are met…” General Norman Schwartzkopf phrased it a different way saying, “We’d kicked this guy’s butt, leaving no doubt in anybody’s mind that we’d won decisively.”
The success of the First Iraq War re-established the credibility of the government by re-establishing the credibility of the United States with other countries and with its own people. After the failure of the Korean War, or as some call it “‘the first war the United States lost’”, and the Vietnam War, the United States lost credibility with other countries and with Americans.
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