US Ignored Politics in War Plans Bush's Unpreparedness for Desert Storm's Aftermath Presages More Policy Failures in Mideast

By Helena Cobban. Helena Cobban is scholar-in-residence . | The Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 1991 | Go to article overview

US Ignored Politics in War Plans Bush's Unpreparedness for Desert Storm's Aftermath Presages More Policy Failures in Mideast


Helena Cobban. Helena Cobban is scholar-in-residence ., The Christian Science Monitor


FROM one end of Iraq to the other, that country's people scream to us in agony and reproach. President Bush had given them ample reason to believe that the United States would welcome a challenge to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. His frequent use of the "Hitler" analogy implied that. And by last February, Mr. Bush was openly calling on the Iraqis to topple their regime.

But when a majority of Iraq's 16 million citizens tried to do just that, our president turned a blind eye as Saddam sent his helicopter gunships to drown their rebellions in blood.

The administration's betrayal of the Iraqi people is much more serious than mere "business as usual" in the annals of diplomacy. Remember, we are standing at the dawn of the uncharted post-cold-war era in global politics. So what principles will be guiding the world's nations in what Bush likes to call the "new world order"? Will we have a reliance on collective security, international law, and respect for everyone's human rights - or just a return to the old law of the jungle: Might makes right?

Since last fall, Bush has made the whole structure of world politics dangerously dependent on his own personal preference. Within the United Nations coalition that he had put together, he arrogated to the US a disproportionate power to make the crucial military decisions. And within the US, he exercised presidential power to its unilateral utmost as he led us into and through the war. His circle of advisers was small. And by tipping his hand early in favor of war, Bush virtually ensured that advisers would not bother him with opposing points of view. (The contrast with President Kennedy's leadership during the Cuban missile crisis has been noted.)

Now we are stuck with what some military people describe as "the annoying untidiness in Iraq and Kuwait." There, and elsewhere in the Middle East, I hear a discomforting swish of wings as some the US's Mideastern chickens come home to roost.

The cardinal sin in the Gulf crisis has been the shocking disproportion between the planning that went into the military aspects of the war and the planning for its politics. Folks in the Pentagon often quote Clausewitz. But none took to heart that military theoretician's most famous dictum: "War is an extension of politics by other means."

From August until the battlefield victory in late February, our military planners worked round the clock fine-tuning their preparations for war.

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