Limitation without Restraint
The Gulf crisis and war in 1990-91 may seem an inappropriate venue for demonstrating the military relevancy of coercive strategy. Iraq's President Saddam Hussein was held to be the very prototype of the undeterrable leader, capable of being dissuaded only by being bludgeoned into submission; otherwise, it is believed, he would have held onto Kuwait, and possibly have advanced further, at any apparent risk.1 In addition, the "Powell doctrine"2 of an all-or-nothing force commitment was thought to dominate the U.S. approach to the use of force once committed to war; in contrast to the frustration experienced by the U.S. military in Vietnam, planners and military analysts expected that no political constraints imposed from Washington would tie the hands of military commanders in the Persian Gulf.3
This chapter argues, nevertheless, that the United States successfully employed coercive military strategy in the Gulf War, as dictated by both political and military constraints on the United States and its allies in the anti-Iraq coalition. Politically, U.S. President George Bush and his military advisors recognized that the total destruction of Iraq's armed forces was neither attainable at an acceptable political cost, nor desirable from the standpoint of U.S. postwar policy for the region.4 In military terms, the U.S. air war employed a targeting strategy designed to rapidly eliminate much of Iraq's command and control and air power -- setting the stage for the collapse of Iraqi armed forces in and near Kuwait-- without initiating a protracted ground war.