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Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War.

In his autobiography, A Child of the Century, the American journalist and author Ben Hecht pointed out that trying to read history in the pages of a newspaper is like trying to tell time with a watch that has only a second hand. Dilip Hiro's attempt to produce a "contemporary history" of the Persian Gulf War in his book, Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War, falls prey to the same miscalculation.

The book is divided into three parts. The first section gives the historical background to the "Second Gulf War," the Iran-Iraq War being the First Gulf War. In this section, Hiro, who is the author of five other books on the Middle East, is on firm analytical ground, citing various texts on the Middle East and using his own extensive knowledge of the politics and history of the region. The second section addresses the period from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to the start of the war in January 1991, and the last section covers the war and its aftermath up to the end of summer 1991.

In the preface Hiro describes the creation of contemporary history using mass media sources. Most of his sources are newspaper reports or summaries of television or radio broadcasts. Hiro asserts, however, that "journalists were the unwitting carriers of the disinformation peddled by the Pentagon, [that] the media became contaminated," without explaining how he and his sources avoided such contamination. Furthermore, Hiro criticizes another contemporary history of the war, Bob Woodward's The Commanders, on the basis that Woodward failed to interview President Bush; yet Hiro himself lists no interviews as sources. The book reads as though Hiro took notes as the crisis was unfolding and strung these together, unexamined, with some old background material from his previous books. In essence, the reader is left doubting the value of a contemporary history whose sources are contaminated.

In the first section, Hiro ably describes and analyzes the four previous Kuwaiti crises that have occurred over the last century. In each case, either the United Kingdom or the United States intervened militarily to guarantee Kuwait's territorial integrity and the free flow of oil. Hiro does not explain, however, why Saddam Hussein thought that this era of external protection was over. Hiro cites the assassination of scientist Gerald Bull, the Iraqi capture and execution of an Iranian-born British journalist and the Israeli political situation in early 1990 as factors leading Hussein to believe that an Israeli strike similar to the 1981 raid on Osirak was imminent. Furthermore, the internal Iraqi political environment was very volatile, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were waging economic warfare against Iraq. Taken together, Hiro demonstrates clearly that Saddam Hussein was in trouble by the summer of 1990. Desperation and a misreading of the strength of his ally, the Soviet Union, led the Iraqi leader to miscalculate so badly in invading Kuwait on I August 1990.

Hiro's measured tone and thoughtful discussion of issues in the first section of the book break down in the last two sections. Here, Hiro produces a rather choppy narrative of political events that suffers from weak and polemic analysis. Despite the title of the book, Hiro pays scant attention to the military operation in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, focusing instead on political strategy. Military events are mentioned only as they change or complicate the political maneuvering, and there is no analysis of Iraqi or U.S. military operations.

Hiro's tone also becomes distinctly anti-American, and his treatment of Saddam Hussein quite reverential. The Iraqi leader is portrayed as a reasonable man ready to negotiate at any time (after the invasion, of course) while George Bush is "bent on war. " King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is alternately indecisive and weak or also determined to go to war. Hiro puts forth some unattributed and unsubstantiated claims as well. He contends that the United States faked the satellite photos used to convince King Fahd that Iraqi troops were concentrating on the Saudi border and making offensive preparations. He also states that Israeli warplanes were allowed to join U.S. sorties from Turkey during the air war. Furthermore, according to Hiro, the whole matter of the invasion, "would have been cleared up at the mini-summit of Arab leaders, including Saddam Hussein and King Fahd, in Jiddah on 5 August, had that meeting not been canceled by King Fahd."

This reviewer was in Saudi Arabia with the 82nd Airborne Division during that August, when U.S. intelligence - gathered through satellite photos, radio direction-finding, reconnaissance flights and interviews with the Saudi soldiers - showed concentrations of Iraqi tank units on the Saudi border in an offensive orientation. Only in September 1990, after U.S. tank units began arriving, did the Iraqis move their tank units away from the border to replace them with less mobile infantry units assuming a defensive orientation. Furthermore, Syrian radar would have picked up the flight of any Israeli aircraft to Turkey, and the Arab coalition members would surely have responded. The coalition had made it quite clear throughout the war that any Israeli involvement was unacceptable and would lead to their withdrawal from the coalition, or even to their active support of Iraq. Finally, there was nothing the Israelis could do to Iraq that the allied forces were not doing already.

The argument that the whole situation would have been resolved at the 5 August conference is impossible to prove, and Hiro makes no attempt to do so. The fact that previous such conferences had resolved nothing and that Hussein, having conquered Kuwait, had no reason to negotiate, makes this assertion appear quite dubious. Indeed any discussion of the major protagonists' intentions in August 1990 is purely speculative, since Hiro had no access to any documents.

At this point, Hiro inserts several distracting and generally unrevealing psycho-biographical descriptions of the key leaders at the start of the crisis. He details several personal histories but does not elaborate on the way in which these life experiences might have affected the leaders' behaviors during the crisis and the war, if at all.

These shortcomings are further compounded by contradictions in content. First, the figures for American troops deployed in the Gulf conflict, are, from this reviewer's experience, completely unreliable. There were not 59,000 American soldiers in Saudi Arabia by 20 August, as Hiro claims. Furthermore, he harshly criticizes the United States for its inability to prevent civilian casualties during the air war; yet he fails to mention that Iraq's SCUD missiles were only accurate enough to hit large population centers.

At one point, Hiro describes the Iraqi force as a "huge and battle-hardened army," later representing it as undertrained, Third World rabble. The U.S. forces are portrayed as either a high-technology juggernaut or as composed of neophytes with poor morale. Hiro ignores the outrage in the West over Hussein's use of the civilian hostages, describing it as "first league stuff" in the propaganda war. Hiro does not even present an explanation for Hussein's December 1990 decision to release all the hostages without conditions.

Hiro acknowledges Hussein's total control over both foreign and domestic media in Iraq and declares that the Iraqi international propaganda machine was first rate. There were clear instances, however, of the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi propaganda effort. Hussein's propaganda machine included the Iraqi Voice of Peace, an English-language broadcast aimed at American troops in Saudi Arabia. Hiro describes several themes of Voice of Peace broadcasts including, "Your wife is waiting for you," and "Don't forget what the gasoline emirs are doing with the American girls." He fails to mention the Voice of Peace program in which an announcer told U.S. soldiers that their wives and girlfriends were carrying on affairs back home with handsome Hollywood stars such as Bart Simpson. Clearly, these efforts were neither first-rate nor effective.

The book's inconsistencies continue into the discussion of the end of the war; Hiro treats Hussein's last minute peace proposals before the ground attack as legitimate offers, even though they included conditions linking a withdrawal to an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference - conditions that were clearly unacceptable to the allies.

In these final chapters, Hiro offers vivid evidence to support the decision by the Bush administration to halt the war with the liberation of Kuwait and not to continue the attack deep into Iraq. As the author contends, the United States would have exceeded the mandate granted by the U.N. Security Council resolutions, triggering Iranian intervention and leading to the collapse of the alliance. Had the United States conquered Iraq, it would have been compelled to take responsibility for the government succeeding Hussein's Baathist regime. There were no democracy-loving opposition leaders in Iraq to whom the United States could turn over power when it sought to end its commitment of troops to the region. Hiro also argues that Hussein's linkage of the Gulf War with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the West Bank and Gaza was successful, particularly among Americans, who viewed the Palestinian problem as a probable cause of a subsequent Middle East war in which the United States might have to again intervene. This connection pressured the United States to push the Shamir government into the peace negotiations in 1991. Hiro contends that the American intervention combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union convinced the Syrian government that it was time to negotiate with Israel.

In his conclusion, Hiro offers several powerful economic, political and geopolitical reasons why any U.S. administration would have felt compelled to intervene in Kuwait. Possession of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil reserves would have given Hussein control of more than 20 percent of the world's proven reserves, a position comparable to that of Saudi Arabia. Iraq, unlike Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, has no large financial investments in the West, and thus, no incentive to help maintain a lower price. Hiro argues that Iraq would have adjusted production to keep the price of oil higher if given the chance. Such a price shock would have had a tremendous negative effect on a world economy already in recession, and would have allowed Hussein to rebuild Iraq, to maintain a large standing army to use against Israel and to aggressively pursue the acquisition of additional nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Finally, Hiro's strongest point is that an extremely skewed distribution of wealth, autocratic modes of political control and the region's historic instability and ample supply of arms can only lead to more upheavals.

Unfortunately this is not his last point; in his epilogue, Hiro belittles the Iraqi nuclear research program and suggests that the prospect of Iraq's possession of a nuclear device was a red herring of the allied political leaders. U.N. inspections since the end of the war have revealed the disturbing extent of the Iraqi program, the complicity of Western politicians and businessmen in assisting it and the terrifying determination with which Hussein still pursues his goal.

Neither this book nor any contemporary history can analyze the lingering effects of the war on sociopolitical conditions in the Persian Gulf region or in the pan-Arab community. A detailed chronology of political strategies and maneuvers during the war and a thoughtful conclusion are unfortunately marred by incomplete, partisan and unsubstantiated analysis. A genuine history of the Second Gulf War will have to await the scrutiny of documentary evidence from both sides.
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Author:De Luca, Duke
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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