The first U.S. assault on Iraq, also known as the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm, began with bombing attacks 25 years ago on January 17, 1991. These barrages were followed six weeks later by a ground assault that started on Feb. 28. The assault upon Iraq was justified as a response Saddam Hussein's illegal invasion and occupation of Kuwait. It was also justified by the violence that Iraqi soldiers were supposedly wrecking on the people of Kuwait.
The Persian Gulf War was not much of a contest. A coalition of 34 nations, headed by the United States (which supplied most of the troops), took less than five days of ground fighting to expel Iraq from Kuwait. A total of 148 American soldiers died and around 30,000 Iraqi fighters died in combat (not to mention more than 4,000 Iraqi civilian mortalities). The U.S. lost about 20 tanks in the fighting, while Iraq lost 4,000. Hussein remained in power after the war, but he was overthrown by the second and even more devastating U.S. assault upon Iraq in 2003 (Operation Iraqi Freedom).
January 17, 1991 was a crucial turning point. It initiated a quarter century of virtually continual U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. What is the outcome of these 25 years of uninterrupted U.S. military intervention? The entire Middle East has been irretrievably destabilized. A bitter conflict between the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam occurs throughout the region. A seemingly endless 14-year-old war rages in Afghanistan. The brutal multi-sided civil war in Syria has already slaughtered more than 200,000 people and driven half of Syria's 23 million people away from their homes. Libya, Iraq and Yemen are decimated as viable countries. Since 1991, the mortality in the Middle East — directly or indirectly attributable to military violence — is estimated at more than five million human lives.
Wars have always been worse than the evils they claim to correct. Was the Persian Gulf War really necessary? Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but Iraq could probably have been removed from Kuwait by non-military means (e.g. patient diplomacy, economic sanctions, debt relief). And even if not, the long-term consequences of seizing Kuwait would have been far more benign than the last 25 years of Middle Eastern history. The 9/11 attacks probably would not have happened. Hundreds of cities and villages would not be wrecked. Five million human beings might still be alive. And 20 million refugees could still be living in their own homes.
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.