RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Eighteen months ago, before a dinner honoring him in Kuwait, the general's hosts had suggested that appropriate dress would be the traditional dishdasha robe and he had thought to himself, "Holy smokes, Schwarzkopf is going to dress up like the Kuwaitis and all the Arabs are going to say, 'Who the hell does this guy think he is?' "
The general, though, was easily persuaded, and before dinner he took possession of a splendid embroidered dishdasha delivered to his hotel room. He slipped it over his bear-like frame and studied his image in the mirror, first from one perspective, then the other.
"It's wonderful," he said. And suddenly Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf was waltzing with his reflection, doing the same little three-step that T. E. Lawrence, widely known as Lawrence of Arabia, had done in the desert when he shed his British uniform for Arab robes and went on to form an alliance of Arabian tribes.
If Schwarzkopf is not Norman of Arabia, he is at least a soldier with the heart of a romantic, a man intrigued by Arab history and culture and a man who has followed his famous father's footsteps through the sands of the Middle East to lead a war that may shape the world into the 21st Century.
"The stakes," he says, "are higher than any conflict since World War II."
Gruff, engaging, sometimes hot-tempered, Schwarzkopf has a hearty laugh that can be heard down the corridor and a presence that fills the room. He is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, with linebacker shoulders, upper arms as big as tree trunks--and a row of four stars on his collar. Sometimes he refers to himself in the third person. He seems to like privates as much as colonels and colonels more than politicians, and he makes his points with a furrowed brow and eyes that hold steady like a laser-guided bomb. No one ever left a meeting with him wondering who was in charge.
"What would I change about myself?" he asks. "I would probably"--he reaches for the words carefully--"want . . . a little more . . . patience. I wish I wasn't so quick to anger. Any time I anger, I feel terrible about it afterwards, and if I ever think I have devastated a human being because of my temper, I always make it a point to go back to them and apologize.
"An awful lot has been written about my temper. But I would defy anyone to go back over the years and tell me anyone whose career I've ruined, anyone whom I've driven out of the service, anyone I've fired from a job. I don't do that. I get angry at a principle, not a person. For instance, we keep having accidents here that kill people. Accidents that are caused by gross negligence. Why . . . should . . . one single life . . . be wasted?" His voice starts to rise.
Though his staff is sometimes intimidated, Schwarzkopf's men follow him with a loyalty that borders on idolatry.
"You scared?" he asks, and the downcast soldier sitting on a duffel bag, headed for the front, turns around, startled to see whose hand is on his shoulder. Schwarzkopf hunkers to talk, elicits a smile and exchanges salutes.
"We'll get you home as soon as we can, I promise you that," says the general, who believes that there is no higher calling in life than that answered by the ground-pounding, muddied, dog-faced, rifle-bearing foot soldier.
Schwarzkopf felt that way, too, during the Vietnam War--his two Purple Hearts awarded there, he says, are tribute to the poor marksmanship of his enemy--but he came home from that war embittered.
Now, 20 years later and 3,000 miles away, he has shaped his leadership of Operation Desert Storm from the lessons of Vietnam: no body counts; no gradual build-ups; no border sanctuaries for enemy troops, and no unescorted journalists running helter-skelter around the battlefield.
In rallying a flag-waving American public to the support of half a million U.S. troops here, he has orchestrated the final reconciliation between the American people and the military.
"I guaran-damn-tee you," he said before launching the first attacks Jan. 17 against the world's fourth largest army, "that if we fight, we will win."
H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.--the H. stands for nothing and he doesn't use the junior--was born in Trenton, N.J., 56 years ago, the son of German immigrants. His mother, Ruth, was a nurse, his father, Norman Sr., a West Point graduate, Class of 1917. Young Schwarzkopf was raised color-blind and respectful of individual dignity.
Once, when he was 9 or 10 years old, he rose by instinct to give his seat to an elderly black woman on a public bus from Lawrenceville, N.J., to Princeton. The white people around him chuckled and kidded him. Schwarzkopf went home to his mother, confused and wondering if he was inherently privileged, if being white meant that you did not respond to those of another color.