The Gulf War Of 1991, by Alastair Finlan
This book is part of the series on Essential Histories of War and Conflict In Modern Times, a series that has been of interest to me before as a reader in books about the Middle East and its tendency for conflict. And there is, to be sure, a great deal of pleasure in reading a book like this. One of the things that is necessary to capture in war is the feeling of things as it was at the time, not necessarily as we would feel looking back on it later. Our feelings about the Gulf War of 1991 are often conditioned by what happened after the war, where a glorious and easy victory against Saddam Hussein’s forces was followed by years in which he maintained his iron grip over the Kurds in the North and the Shi’ites in the South, and made a mockery out of efforts to restrain him on the part of the international community, until he was thrown out of office, hunted out of his rathole, and given a just execution during the Gulf War that followed 2003’s invasion of Iraq by a smaller coalition than the one that handed him such a one-sided beatdown earlier. This book, though, while not dealing with the larger context, does a good job at discussing what happened at the time, to recapture the feeling that Iraq’s army was something worth fearing and respecting rather than holding in contempt.
This book is a short one at less than 100 pages, but it contains a solid amount of material. The book begins with an introduction and then a chronology. After that the author talks about the origins and the background to the Gulf War in the Iran-Iraq War and the financial consequences this had for Iraq. After this there is a look at the warring sides between the Coalition forces and an Iraqi army whose capabilities appeared to be overrated. Then comes a discussion of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and then Desert Storm, the fighting that followed months of troop buildups as well as a lengthy air assault on Iraq. The author turns his attention to give a portrait of a soldier, one Lt. Alex Vernon of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, and his experiences during and after the war. This is followed by a discussion of the global impact of the Gulf War, as well as another portrait, this time of an American civilian named Dina caught up in the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, seeking to pretend to be Kuwaiti and not draw attention to herself as an American before fleeing to the USA, followed by her Kuwaiti husband. The book then closes with a discussion of the negotiated end of hostilities, a discussion of casualties, a glossary, suggestions for further reading and more information, abbreviations, and an index.
One of the interesting aspects of this book is the way that the book discusses the diplomatic aspects of the Gulf War of 1991. One of the successful ways that Bush handled his coalition is something that in recent years has not gotten as much attention. While it was Bush’s reliance upon the sanguine thinking of the Kuwaitis as well as the Egyptians concerning Saddam’s willingness to negotiate that led to America being surprised by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, that same suddenness allowed Bush to mobilize a surprisingly large coalition and keep Israel neutral, thus avoiding the inevitable alienation that would have occurred had Israel attacked Iraq in self-defense against Scud missile attacks. Bush’s ability to get Russia, a large number of Arab nations as well as Turkey and a surprising number of European nations and others (including African nations like Senegal) to join in various ways in an international coalition that was still able to conduct classic maneuver warfare and deliver an immensely brutal one-sided victory in one of the shortest ground wars on record.