Victory Through Air Power
When President Bush reversed his immediate reaction to Iraq’s August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait (he had originally ruled out any use of force), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, was only the most senior of the military officers and defense officials who opposed sending U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia. In part their objection was “political” (or at least it was dismissed as such by Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney): they argued that the Saudi ruling family would not fatally compromise its Islamic legitimacy by openly helping infidels against fellow Muslims—and that even if the Saudis were reckless enough to do so, the United States should not become the instrument of their demise. But there was also a purely military objection: bitter memories of Lebanon and Vietnam induced a powerful reluctance to expose badly outnumbered U.S. troops to uncertain hazards for unspecified purposes. For there was no intention as yet to mount a full-scale expedition, and still less to dislodge the Iraqis from Kuwait.
The alternative offered by Powell and those who sided with him was to rely on air power alone, whether to protect Saudi Arabia by threatening punitive bombardment, or eventually to force Iraq’s withdrawal by the same means, very likely in the context of negotiations.
About the Author
Edward N. Luttwak is senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.