Jangled Nerves and Oregano: In the days before the war, time passed uneasily.
By Washington's newest measure of tension, known as the oregano scale, pizza orders after 10 p.m. more than doubled at the Pentagon.
In Jerusalem, the tension caused uncharacteristic calm. Israelis, among the world's louder drivers, shushed one another on the streets. It was as if noise might invite doom. At one point, two motorists honked, and an elderly man admonished them: "Quiet! Not today." At the same time, nervous humor flourished. "Something for the war?" asked the proprietor at an eatery. "Some sausage to go with the mustard gas?"
Closer to Iraq, the gallows humor took on a hollow quality. A Palestinian waiter at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, brought a room-service cheeseburger. His name was Khalid. He put his tray down on a table, proffered the bill and asked, "Are you American?"
"That's right, from Los Angeles."
"Oh," Khalid said. "We're afraid of you." He smiled, retrieved the signed bill, walked to the door and turned. "Have a good day."
In the Persian Gulf, the deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait came at 8 a.m. last Wednesday.
There was a long blast from a car horn in Bahrain. A vegetable dealer, it turned out, was making a delivery in his white Toyota pickup. The honk came from a car that was stuck behind him. The municipal clock ticked past the hour. A traffic cop in a vanilla uniform and a green cap looked up. He reset his watch.
Half a world away, at the White House, it was midnight Tuesday.
A bell tolled at a nearby church. A light rain began to fall. A single lamp glowed through the curtains at the office of National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The office was empty.
So was the Oval Office. Midnight was the deadline, set by the United Nations, for Iraq to relinquish the country it had seized--the nation of Kuwait.
The moment came and went. George Bush was asleep.
THE FIRST DAY
A Flurry of Phone Calls: The next day, the American President, who had successfully sought U.N. approval to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, made his move. George Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III put out a flurry of telephone calls to foreign leaders.
The calls went to a variety of countries, including Arab states that had joined the United States in opposition to Iraq. At one point, the international telephone tree grew so busy that some of the phone calls, even several from the White House, never got through.
Neither the President nor his secretary of state asked for further advice or approval. That had come in the weeks before. Now some of the telephone conversations were only a minute or two long. Baker's message to several foreign ministers was, simply and in its entirety: "This is your notification call."
Bush spoke longer to his counterparts, the chiefs of state.
At 3:30 p.m., he had President Turgut Ozal of Turkey on the line.
"Good luck," Ozal said. "And pray."
George Bush replied: "Cross your fingers."
And then at 4:50 p.m. EST, 1:50 p.m. in Los Angeles, jets screamed north from the sands of Saudi Arabia: U.S. Air Force F-117 Stealth fighters, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-111 fighter-bombers, F-4G Wild Weasels and U.S. Navy A-6 Intruder bombers.
War was on.
Like furies in the night, the planes loosed a terrible punishment.
The sky lit with Iraqi antiaircraft fire. Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, a reporter said, was "like the center of hell."
For an eternity, it seemed, the bombing went on. The plan, one Pentagon official said, was to keep it up day after day--"around the clock for perhaps weeks."
In Congress, many members backed the President--even those who had opposed immediate use of force to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait. "I'm not happy that we're in a war," said Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), a proponent of economic sanctions to starve the Iraqis out of the oil-rich nation they had seized. "But that debate is behind us now.
"It's necessary for Congress and the American people to stand behind the President and the troops."
Anti-war activists nonetheless launched a wave of militant and peaceful protests.
But the bombing went on--relentlessly.
THE SECOND DAY Hussein Fires Back: It seemed strange--there was so little Iraqi resistance. President Bush had not yet gone to bed on the second day of the war when it came.
President Saddam Hussein fired missiles into Israel.
It was a thunderous retaliation--Israel was America's ally. But this was more than just a pay-back.
America's Arab partners in the effort to free Kuwait were uneasy enough about lining up with the United States. Now, if Israel fired back, it would put the Jewish state and the Arab partners on the same side. And this might be too much for Arabs to endure. If Israel fired back, that might shatter the anti-Iraq alliance.