Gulf War the War Without Victory Research Paper

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War Without Victory

Nominally, the United States achieved victory in the first Gulf War. However, the decades of fighting in the Middle East, punctuated by the second Gulf War demonstrate that the United States was not victorious in that war. However, equally clear is the fact that Iraq was not victorious. This paper examines the politics behind the Gulf War including deterrence, diplomacy, power struggles, and military and political implications to come to the conclusion that there was no victor in the Gulf War.

In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, ordered an invasion of Kuwait (A&E, 2013). This action alarmed other countries in the area, and these countries asked for intervention from other countries and from the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council responded by ordering Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The United States, working with and through the United Nations, attempted to use deterrence and diplomacy to force Iraq to abandon Kuwait. However, those efforts were not successful, resulting in a power struggle that had both sides more entrenched in their positions. The result was that Iraq ignored the demands to leave Kuwait. This response had political and military consequences, and in January 1991, a United Nations force, led by United States troops, began an attack on Iraq (A&E, 2013). The attack came to be known as Operation Desert Storm. The war itself was of relatively short duration. On February 28, 1991, after only 42 days of attacks, President Bush, the nominal leader of U.N. forces, declared a cease-fire (A&E, 2013). The U.N. And the United States then engaged in negotiated talks with Hussein that were intended to ensure Kuwait's safety, and, theoretically the safety of other, neighboring oil-rich countries, while still permitting Hussein to remain in power. Opposition would say that the United States was triumphant in the Gulf War, but a look behind the painted picture reveals that the United States' victory in the Persian Gulf War was neither a triumph or a failure, but, instead, a symbol of political mismanagement.


Deterrence theory suggests that international conflicts can sometimes be avoided with a sufficient show of strength by one of the parties. "Deterrence is an old practice. For instance, classic balance of power systems were based on deterrence, applied by actors not just to prevent wars but via wars" (Morgan, 2012). It is important to realize that the use of power does not always signify a failure of deterrence efforts, because deterrence can also refer to the use of power to avoid a greater amount of violence. Deterrence generally refers to "power accumulated by actors singly or collectively (usually in alliances) to threaten serious harmful consequences so as to ward off attacks or other noxious behaviour or, when used, to demonstrate those harmful consequences for the edification of potential opponents" (Morgan, 2012). When Iraq entered into Kuwait, the United Nations demonstrated that it had the capability of calling upon coalition forces, led and powered by the powerful U.S. military, to bring against Iraq if necessary. The threat was clear; if Iraq did not pull out of Kuwait, the U.N. would use force to eject Iraq from Kuwait. However, after years of relatively ineffective U.N. punishments, the threats must have seemed hollow, because Iraq did not seem concerned about the prospect of facing a military force it would not have the power to defeat.


The diplomatic efforts in the Persian Gulf had been unsuccessful leading up to the Persian Gulf War. It is critical to understand that, prior to the Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Iran had been involved in a long-running war. The United Nations had managed to get the parties to agree to a cease-fire in August of 1988, but the parties had not reached a permanent peace agreement. In July 1990, Hussein seemed willing to return occupied territories to Iran. However, Hussein quickly focused his attention on Kuwait, alleging that Kuwait was "siphoning crude oil from the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields located along their common border" (A&E, 2013). Iraq's allegations had a diplomatic goal: Hussein wanted Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to erase Iraq's foreign debt. Attempts at diplomacy between the United States and Iraq were unsuccessful, but the U.S. was not the only significant power involved in the dispute. Even as the U.S. And its coalition partners were preparing for a ground assault, the Soviet Union attempted to negotiate a peace. Mikhail Gorbachev engaged in talks with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. He believed that Iraq would agree to withdrawing its forces from Kuwait without trying that action to other Middle Eastern issues, but President Bush rejected that compromise because it would not involve reparations to Kuwait for damages the Kuwaitis had incurred during the Iraqi occupation, and also failed to deal with Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs (Wise et al., 2011). However, Iraq was working its diplomatic channels more effectively than the United States. For example, though Iraq and Iran had been unable to broker a peace treaty for years after their cease-fire, Iraq entered into a peace treaty with Iran in the days before the Persian Gulf War so that it could move troops from Iran to Kuwait (A&E, 2013).

Power Struggles

As the coalition forces began to prepare for war, the show of power was, in effect, another attempt at deterrence. Both sides were engaging in a ramp-up of forces in an effort to deter the other side from using force. "On August 8, the day on which the Iraqi government formally annexed Kuwait…the first U.S. Air Force fighter planes began arriving in Saudi Arabia as part of a military buildup dubbed Operation Desert Shield. The planes were accompanied by troops sent by NATO allies as well as Egypt and several other Arab nations, designed to guard against a possible Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia" (A&E, 2013). Iraq responded with its own buildup of forces. "In Kuwait, Iraq increased its occupation forces to some 300,000 troops. In an effort to garner support from the Muslim world, Hussein declared a jihad, or holy war, against the coalition; he also attempted to ally himself with the Palestinian cause by offering to evacuate Kuwait in return for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories" (A&E, 2013).

The Persian Gulf War's beginning was November 29, 1990, when the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of "all necessary means" of force against Iraq if Iraq failed to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991 (A&E, 2013). December of 1990 showed a massive increase in the number of coalition troops capable of entering into Iraq and Kuwait: there were 750,000 troops available. While the vast majority of those troops came from the United States, there were also troops from "Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia" (A&E, 2013). Likewise, Iraq was gathering support from its allies, which included Jordan, Algeria, the Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (A&E, 2013).

On January 17, 1991, the U.S. led an air offensive against Iraq's air defenses. The goal of this strike was to weaken Iraq's ability to defend itself against future air and land strikes. The initial strike was amazing successful. "The Iraqi air force was either destroyed early on or opted out of combat under the relentless attack, the objective of which was to win the war in the air and minimize combat on the ground as much as possible" (A&E, 2013). By late February, even as the Soviet Union was attempting to engage in a diplomatic solution, U.S. led ground troops were beginning to test the ground strength of Iraq's troops. Although the Iraqi military initially interpreted these early skirmishes as victories for Iraq, it became clear to Hussein that his troops were significantly outnumbered; he began to consider 1 American casualty for every 4 Iraqi casualties an acceptable goal (Wise et al., 2011). The war, when it began, was a relatively short event. In fact, "exactly 100 hundred hours after the ground battle had begun, the allies suspended all offensive operations" (PBS, 2010).

Military and Political Implications

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Persian Gulf War was that decision to allow Hussein to remain in power. This decision eventually led to a second Gulf War, which did not have the international support of the first war and lasted a far longer time, resulting in far greater civilian and military casualties. However, it is important to keep in mind that the goal was to eject the Iraqi's from Kuwait, not topple Iraq's political structure. "While Bush's decision to conclude the war without removing Saddam Hussein from power would become controversial, his advisors would recall that the president was insistent that the war should not exceed the authorization of the Security Council" (PBS, 2010). In fact, these Security Council authorizations had much to do with the idea that the Coalition Forces were engaged in a limited war against the Iraqis, rather than a total war. Both sides withheld some of the power at their disposal.…

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