Gulf War Notebook, 1991 (selections)

Conflict in the Middle East has been a constant for as long as I can remember, and the U.S. in on the verge of taking military action again.—PM

Gulf War Notebook (1991)

Feb. 15. Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council says Iraq is prepared to withdraw from Kuwait in compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 660. The offer is linked to an overall Middle East conflict settlement, including the Palestinian issue. U.S. officials are skeptical about this announcement. Military operations continue. The Coalition leaders (U.S., France, Great Britain, and Saudi Arabia) reject the proposal.

On his way to his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush stops in Andover, Massachusetts, to visit the Raytheon Company plant that manufactures the Patriot missile, “the Scud-buster.” Each missile costs $1.1 million. I’m listening live on NPR as the crowd chants, “USA! USA! USA!” With the President are Mrs. Bush and Massachusetts Governor William Weld. George Bush attended Phillips Academy in Andover; he was born in this state. The announcer begins the event, saying, “Welcome to Raytheon in Andover, Massachusetts. This is the home of the Patriot Missile.” And then the national anthem plays. The President at this moment is about 15 minutes away from me by car—about ten miles up Route 133. A minister from Harvard University offers an invocation. “Let us pray. Keep us mindful of those who are facing danger for our sake.” Another speaker says it fills him with pride to see the missile perform magnificently in the service of our country. He calls it the best equipment that American technology can produce.

Tom Phillips, Chairman of Raytheon, says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States,” and the President begins speaking: “I view it as an honor to be here, the home of the men and women who built the Scud-busters. Earlier today our hopes were lifted and I expressed regret that the Iraqi statement was a cruel hoax. Iraq must withdraw without conditions, and there will be no linkage to other problems in the area. (applause) The legitimate government must be returned to Kuwait. The Coalition will continue its efforts to force compliance with the U.N. resolutions, every one of them. (applause) The Iraqi people can take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein to stop, and then comply with the resolutions. We have no argument with the people of Iraq. Our differences are with that brutal dictator in Baghdad. I’m going to stay with it. We are going to prevail, and our soldiers are going to come home with their heads high.”

The President refers to the split-second accuracy of the Patriot missile-defense system. Since mid-August, Raytheon has been running three shifts a day, seven days a week, building Patriots in Andover. “The Patriot works because of patriots like you,” says the President, “and I came to say thanks to each and every one of you.” This is a triumph of American technology, he continues, that is pushing forward the bounds of progress critical to our competitiveness. He praises the men and women who operate the system in the field. Describing the Patriot, experts say it is like shooting a bullet with a bullet, a revolution in air defense. Critics said the system was plagued with problems, but they have been shown to be wrong. The Patriot is 41 for 42—of the 42 Scuds engaged, 41 have been intercepted. George Bush says the word “Scud” like he’s spitting out bad food. He says, “Missile defense threatens no one. We know this is a dangerous world. All it takes is one renegade regime to target innocent civilians.” He says he is less impressed by theories than he is by nations with the strength and will to defend themselves.

“Thank God for the Patriot missile. Operation Desert Storm is on course and on schedule. We will control the timing of this engagement, not Saddam Hussein. Make no mistake about it, Kuwait will be liberated. A tyrant’s attempt to rain terror from the sky has been blunted. President Woodrow Wilson said, ‘In war there are a thousand forms of duty.’ May God bless our troops and their families and the United States of America!” (cheers, applause, cheers, shouting).

Feb. 16. Day 31 of the Gulf War. “We continue to strike and re-strike strategic targets,” says the day’s briefer. There were 700 sorties in KTO (Kuwaiti Theater of Operations) today. “We continue to interdict lines of communication and supply.” As of today, 29 Coalition aircraft have been lost in combat (20 U.S. and nine allied). On the Iraqi side, 42 aircraft have been lost in combat, 36 fixed wing and six helicopters. So far, 65 Scuds have been launched.

Feb. 18. Iraq is considering a new plan offered by the U.S.S.R. The Coalition continues to prosecute the war. The first mine damage to Coalition ships has been reported: two U.S. ships damaged. In England, two bombs exploded, killing one person and injuring 40 others. The IRA is suspected as being responsible. In Amherst, Massachusetts, a man burned himself to death in a war protest. He doused himself with paint thinner and set himself on fire. He left a peace sign next to his body. This reminds me of the self-immolations during the Vietnam War. The man who burned himself was the son of two Boston Globe reporters.

Feb. 20. Peace negotiations intensify. The U.S.S.R. is pressing its plan. An Iraqi official flew to China. Iran says Iraq is ready to withdraw from Kuwait unconditionally. The Allies keep attacking. President Bush says he is grateful for the U.S.S.R.’s attempts, but feels the plan is still not acceptable. There have been ground engagements along the Saudi-Kuwait border. Iraqi forces were heavily damaged. The U.S. casualties: 1 KIA (Killed in Action), seven wounded. In one attack on a bunker complex by U.S. helicopter and security forces, 400 EPWs (Enemy Prisoners of War) were taken.

Feb. 22. President Bush gives Iraq until tomorrow noon EST to withdraw from Kuwait or a ground offensive will begin. Bush says Iraq has started a scorched earth policy in Kuwait with some 160 of 900 oil wells set on fire. Bush says the U.S.S.R. proposal is not acceptable to the Allied Coalition.

Feb. 23. 11.45 a.m. Peter Arnett of CNN reports live from Baghdad. A night-lens green sky over Baghdad is lit with anti-aircraft fire. One minute to 12 o’clock noon—CNN broadcasts commercials on teacher recruitment, car sales, a tool supply company, and an investment firm.

Noon. Live from the United Nations in New York City, there is a report that the Iraqi foreign minister has responded positively to the Coalition “statement.” Live from Tel Aviv, Israel, CNN broadcasts a scene with air raid signals sounding an alarm for a Scud missile attack. The U.N. Security Council is in session. The United States Ambassador to the U.N., Thomas Pickering, wants Iraq to clarify its response to the ultimatum. Live TV from Baghdad shows bombs exploding. Live from the White House, the word is that there is nothing to report as the deadline passed. “We are monitoring the situation.” The President and Secretary of State are at Camp David. At noon, there is a huge explosion near the Baghdad hotel where the CNN crew is based—probably a cruise missile. Kuwaiti resistance fighters report that Iraqi soldiers are killing Kuwaiti civilians. They report “atrocities.”

Peter Jennings of ABC-TV says “We don’t know if the ‘mother of all battles’ is about to begin, but Saddam Hussein now finds himself in the mother of all corners.” The U.S.S.R.’s Foreign Minister says the Iraqi minister agreed to some of the conditions in President Bush’s ultimatum. Everyone is waiting for an authoritative statement about this from the U.N. The Pentagon reports that Coalition forces are jamming Iraqi military radio frequencies—usually a prelude to an invasion.

10 p.m. EST. President Bush announces that he has authorized General Norman Schwartzkopf to use all force necessary to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. CBS News reports that Coalition forces are six to eight miles inside Kuwait. In Israel, violinist Isaac Stern played to an audience wearing gas masks after an air raid siren sounded. The orchestra left the stage, but Stern played on alone. All history is biography, someone wrote. “This will not stand,” said President Bush last August.

—Paul Marion, 1991