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The General Who Cried : IT DOESN'T TAKE A HERO: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, With Peter Petre (Bantam Books: $25; 530 pp.)

November 01, 1992|Augustus Richard Norton | Norton is professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy

Within hours of the invasion, President Bush determined to check Iraq's occupation of all of Kuwait, but a couple of months would pass before a decision was made to send the ruffian back home. In the meantime, Schwarzkopf and his troops puzzled over their mission. Schwarzkopf described his situation as that of a command sent to compete in a grand sporting event without being told the sport: "We'd run onto the field dressed in helmets and shoulder pads, all set for football, only to have Washington hand out baseball gloves. So we'd dutifully take off the helmets and pads and gotten ready to play baseball--only to have Washington roll us a soccer ball. Except that this was no game."

The general and his staff were frequently preoccupied with balancing the budget to pay for Operation Desert Shield. Though Japan was often derided in the U.S. press for taking a free ride on the backs of American soldiers, Schwarzkopf notes that "Had it not been for the Japanese, Desert Shield would have gone broke in August." The financial crisis passed when a Saudi check for $760 million arrived in October, 1990.

The U.S. military is an integrated force of fighting units and support units. In contrast, Saudi Arabia subcontracts supporting tasks to civilian firms employing expatriate workers. So the movement of critical supplies to far-flung U.S. forces fell to a fleet of brightly festooned, very unmilitary-looking trucks operated by Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afghan drivers who would simply disappear after dumping a load of ammo. One of Schwarzkopf's logistic wizards discovered that the drivers were great fans of American wrestling, and especially superheros like Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. So the key to maintaining a stable force of drivers was simply to announce in the morning that tonight's video would feature Jake the Snake versus Andre the Giant and the drivers would stick around for the show.

With the decision in October, 1990, to begin offensive preparations to expel Iraq from Kuwait, there was never any confusion over the inevitability of the defeat of the Iraqi military. Instead, the puzzles were how long it would take and what the costs would be in American and allied casualties. The onslaught from the air began in January, and when the ground war finally came in February, the victory was one-sided and decisive (though significant units of Saddam's Republican Guard managed to escape the battlefield).

Schwarzkopf wants us to believe, it seems, that the destruction of Iraq's praetorian guard would have been even more thorough had one of his two major field commanders moved more aggressively, but at the time the scope of the victory seemed so extensive that Saddam's regime wouldn't last long in any case. In the event, the neatness of a 100-hour ground war was too good to resist in Washington, and though Schwarzkopf initially preferred the ring of a "five-day war," he agreed to halt the offensive at the 100-hour mark.

When convenient, Schwarzkopf is the loyal officer, subordinate to civilian authority and unimplicated in diplomatic decision-making. When he met with Iraqi generals to lay down the terms for ending the fighting, Schwarzkopf consented to the Iraqi use of helicopters, which were then used with deadly effect to put down the Shi'ite Muslim rebellion in southern Iraq.

Schwarzkopf has nothing to say about this except that he was misled by an Iraqi "son-of-a-bitch"; that it was up to the White House to decide how to react; and that Iraqi tanks and armor were taking a more devastating toll among the rebels anyway. This is a major cop-out. If Schwarzkopf believes that the stability of Iraq justified U.S. (in)action and that the United States bore no moral responsibility for the aftermath of the war, he should say so. Instead,he observes, "General officers should never miss an opportunity to remain silent concerning matters for which they are no longer responsible." This is a nice safe, reticent position, and therefore an uncharacteristic one for Stormin' Norman.

Indeed, the aftermath of the war gets no significant attention in "It Doesn't Take a Hero." In this sense, the book mimics the planning that preceded the war. The Gulf War was a technical marvel, a feat of diplomatic engineering and an exemplar of brilliant military planning, for which Schwarzkopf and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, deserve great credit. But the key question throughout was: How about the morning after?

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the war propelled Iran into a position of regional hegemony. Geopolitics abhors vacuums, and when Iraq was defeated it was axiomatic that Iran would be the beneficiary, indeed, the big winner. Iran is now bolstering its military might, rejuvenating its nuclear programs and shopping actively in the arms bazaar. Iran's rising importance is a major concern among the Arabs, especially after Iran claimed full control of two disputed Gulf islands earlier this year.

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