Author Topic: Gulf I and Strategic Mistakes  (Read 420 times)

bayonetbrant

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on: April 05, 2021, 09:15:35 PM
Migrating this from it's old home, because it came up in the discussion during tonight's Patreon Happy Hour

(most of you read this before 'elsewhere' so you've likely already commented on it; I'm also not revising / editing based on any changes in interpretation/opinion I might've had over the last 5 years)

Quote from: bayonetbrant

Was Gulf I the biggest strategic mistake of the last 100 years for the US?

1)  We half-assed the job.  We liberated a country that, while friendly, is hardly a paragon of virtue worthy of the level of support we offered it, unlike our post-WWII allies that we rebuilt at considerable expense with the Marshall Plan.  However, in liberating someone who was mainly cutting us a sweet deal on crude, we failed to eliminate the actual threat to the region when there was actually significant public support for doing so, as well as enough international backing to fill the security void that was going to inevitably follow.
Folks deconstructing the 'failure' of Gulf I that left Saddam in charge often come back to "our Arab allies wouldn't have supported his removal."  True.  But the French, Brits, Italians, Turks, Aussies, Canadians, Danes, Dutch, etc etc would have.  12 years later, none of them did.  Better to march on Baghdad with Western Europe on your side, or wondering if you've gone completely blotto in your post 9-11 stupor?  We treated a symptom instead of curing a disease.

2)  Half-assing the job left us with a perpetual presence that engendered significant resentment.  In many public statements following AQ attacks in the '90s - USS Cole, Khobar Towers, Nairobi, etc - the "occupation" of the Arabian peninsula was frequently cited as a justification / pretext for the attacks.  We were the infidels in their holy land.  And why were we even there?  Enforcing a no-fly zone to tamp down the ambitions of the dude we failed to remove in 1991.  "Paging Mr Second-order effects!  Your car is waiting."

3)  We altered the US public's perception of war, including (and especially) the casualty count, and difficulty of it.  We were fighting a JV team.  Seriously.  If we send Kentucky's basketball team out to play Central High, they're going to win by 50.  But the problem with that is that the expectation is now that you win every game by 50, and when you're playing Duke, winning by 50 isn't likely to happen.  You might win by 6, have 2 guys foul out and your coach ejected.  You still won, but it was ugly, and you've now lost public support for future games.  So when we wind up in Somalia, and suffer (ohmygawd!) double-digit casualties over 2 years, the public screams howls of protest over how deadly the mission is.  (Look, there were plenty of other problems with Somalia, but casualty-aversion was certainly one of them).

4)  We showed the world how overwhelmingly dominant we are in a straight-up stand-up conventional fight.  We kicked the ever-living shit out of the 4th- or 5th-largest army in the world, and it wasn't close.  Quite frankly, it could have been far, far worse if we hadn't called off the dogs after 5 days.  Imagine another 2 weeks of the Highway of Death.  Times 5.  That kind of bad.  The message was very, very clear: "don't fuck with the US and then give them a target to shoot back at". 
The US military might screw up a lot of things, but the one thing we have never failed to do, and do exceedingly well all the way back to 1775, is put massive volumes of fire on target with insane accuracy.  The desert is the last place you want to fight the US, and not just b/c NTC is all desert training.  It's because you're giving us wide open targets with wide open engagement areas, and wicked-long sight lines.  That is the absolute worst place to be when facing the US military.
Moreover, in demonstrating how overwhelming our conventional forces are, no one - not the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, the Martians, or Shadow Host of Middle Earth - is going to take a chance and face off with us that way.  It's stupid, and they're not stupid.  We had one good war we could fight with that level of dominance, and we wasted it on a two-bit dictator that had a hard time scaring water downhill.  What we're seeing now is an endless litany of developments designed to avoid our strengths (blowing the shit out of big conventional targets) and focus on our weaknesses (inability to morph between police/military tactics, casualty aversion, media sourcing, lack of local ethnic/cultural knowledge).  It's how the Russians are pushing around their actions on their periphery.  It's how the Chinese are developing their A2AD systems.  It's how the various Islamo-terrorists are confounding our actions all over the place.
We were playing short-sighted poker.  We showed our hand for a pot that was worth $38.46 and now we're at a table with a $1000 ante because we just wanted to win the pot that was in front of us, without thinking about all the pots to come.  To quote Rounders "you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once."  We skinned a lousy sheep because the tool we chose to use was a chansaw.

All of these things combine to inform our geo-strategic opposition in how to accurately develop a doctrine that allows them to effectively counter our capabilities and our national mindset. 
If you stick a massive target out there, we'll kill the fuck out of it.   So don't give us a big target that we can mass fires on.
Historic low casualties have altered public perception of the true toll of war.    So get the body count up and public support will erode quickly.
US political cycles are such that they focus only on short-term or immediate gains.    So frustrate them by preventing their goal attainment (even at the expense of attaining your own) and they will lose interest and leave even with an incomplete mission.


Gulf I starkly illustrated every one of these problems, and gained us virtually nothing of medium- or long-term strategic value in any geo-political context.  We really fucked up.

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bayonetbrant

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Reply #1 on: April 05, 2021, 09:16:16 PM
If you're on FB, you can see where Doctrine Man shared the link to the original post, and the comments some of his followers had made on it

https://www.facebook.com/DoctrineMan/posts/1060335910666226

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mcguire

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Reply #2 on: April 06, 2021, 03:06:27 PM
Hmm...

Quote
Folks deconstructing the 'failure' of Gulf I that left Saddam in charge often come back to "our Arab allies wouldn't have supported his removal."  True.  But the French, Brits, Italians, Turks, Aussies, Canadians, Danes, Dutch, etc etc would have.

Would they? I seem to recall at the time talk that they wouldn't. And I don't recall any of them being particularly critical of Bush I for not removing Hussein. But I'm probably wrong---I wasn't following closely.

On the other hand, I don't know that we could have not intervened in Kuwait. But removing Hussein when we did does not seem to have gone very well. Sure, he was a horrible dictator, but he was a secular dictator. (One suspects that is part of the reason those Arab allies didn't want him removed.)

As to the rest of your concerns, as you say, the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, the Martians, or Shadow Host of Middle Earth aren't stupid. I don't think they needed the demonstration that given a target, we can hit it. Or that the US's weaknesses involve internal politics.


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judgedredd

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Reply #3 on: April 06, 2021, 05:15:30 PM
It seems to have been conveniently omitted, but there was no UN mandate to remove SH... the resolution,
as I recall it,  was to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait and regardless what anyone thinks  you can't just go around removing governments and replacing them with puppet governments...it seldom goes well.

Don't get me wrong...there are some badasses out there that need to go away...but other countries getting involved do so with a different agenda.

Don't forget it was the west who sat SH on his throne.

Alba gu' brath

ojsdad - "No, she just told me to drop them. Been so long since woman told me to do that I just did it."