The questions were plentiful but without answers at that early time.
I arrived at the WHJJ studios and had an opportunity to review some of the news about the attack and some of the questions were in the process of answering themselves in time for my Noon broadcast.
By evening what became evident was the strength of the Iraq invasion. It was about to completely overwhelm the meager defenses of Kuwait.
It was then the propaganda mill began to turn out stories of atrocities and the slaughter of women and children and people in hospitals being thrown off respirators, babies removed from life saving equipment, and other evil deeds. We later even heard testimony in congress that Kuwaiti children were routinely thrown into the air and impaled on bayonets attached to rifles. We were told the Iraqi soldier was blood thirsty and we needed to do something, right away.
The drum beat began in addresses to the UN General Assembly by our representatives and those of other nations.
I was uncomfortable with what were being told from day one.
War is hell. All wars are hell. We always hear about inhuman acts committed by the victorious side. The aggressor creates as compelling an argument as possible to justify an attack and both sides always attempt to demonize the other.
The first we publicly learned of hostile intentions toward Kuwait by Iraq was in May, 1990. Saddam Hussein claimed Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were overproducing, thus suppressing the price of crude in international markets. He called it "economic warfare" against Iraq.
Most of the stories concerning Iraq’s claims prior to the invasion were secondary in nature. There was very little prominence given to them in the media.
Sometime in early to mid July 1990 we first learned of Hussein’s claim Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil by slant drilling. Again, most of us (at least me) didn’t think much of the stories. We barely considered the news worthy of talk show conversation. The bank situation in Rhode Island was still red hot and the Iraqi complaints fell on deaf ears with our listeners.
By the time Hussein met with Ambassador Glaspie troops had already been positioned on the Kuwait border.
Finally on Thursday, August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and seized the Kuwaiti oil fields. Kuwait's emir fled as soon as the invasion began. Iraq then amassed troops along the Saudi border. To this day I don’t know whether Ambassador Glaspie knew of the Iraq military buildup near the Kuwait border when she met with Hissein.
The UN immediately condemned Iraq's invasion and demanded withdrawal of the Iraqi troops. Within days the UN placed an embargo on Iraq. We now know the embargo was not effective at all.
[We’ll touch on the UN Oil for Food scandal later in a later chapter.]
Within a week Saddam Hussein claimed all of Kuwait for himself. He annexed the kingdom as a part of Iraq. When he directed his forces to amass along the Iraq border with Saudi Arabia, we countered by sending American troops to Saudi Arabia.
Most of our callers were concerned we may be heading into a war situation which would require large numbers of American troops facing off with Iraq forces in the deserts of Arabia.
We had discussions asking what would happen to world oil prices and supplies if Hussein did indeed succeed in invading Saudi Arabia? Would the rest of the middle east rise up in defense of the Saudi Arabian kingdom or would they simply do nothing as they had in Kuwait? Lots of questions with few answers.
It was a dizzying period. We then learned Hussein had declared a Jihad against the US and Israel. The move was calculated to get other predominantly Islamic nations to rally behind Iraq and against the Israelis and us.
Other questions were whether the Saud family would stand and fight. We learned that though our troops were there to defend Saudi Arabia we were cautioned we were not universally accepted by Saudis, especially the clerics. We now know it was the deploying of American troops on the sacred lands of Saudi Arabia which ignited the rage in Usama Bin Laden and others of his ilk. In Bin Laden’s mind we were more evil than even the Iraqis.
Gasoline prices skyrocketed within a few days of the invasion. They dropped nearly as quickly within days.
In the remaining days of August we placed a naval blockade against Iraq oil and at the same time, Iraq renamed Kuwait City al-Kadhima.
The drum beat for us to remove Iraq from Kuwait was getting louder.
I found myself in the unusual position of being on the same side as the old peace activist crowd of the Vietnam era, the one and only time in my life.
President Bush and his secretary of state, Jim Baker, and his secretary of defense (now vice-president) Dick Cheney, spent a great amount of time recruiting other nations to join in on the removal of Saddam from Iraq. In September, England and France announced the deployment of 10,000 troops to Gulf.
By December the plans for an invasion of the area became closer to reality. The UN set a January 15, 1991 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. In what became a decade long practice by Saddam Hussein, he rejected all UN resolutions.
By December our callers were ready to go to war with Iraq. The steamroller was already in motion.
Unless Saddam did a one-hundred-eighty degree about face and withdraw his forces from Kuwait we were going to war.
The talk on talk radio had become more and more shrill. The interviews with people with access to what was going on inside Kuwait was dire. We were told mass starvation was taking place. Surely an occupation by Saddam Hussein was not a comfortable thing and some of the stories of atrocious behavior by Iraqi soldiers were probably true.
The debate on whether we should go to war raged until just about the time we started our first bombing runs. The audience and nation were quite divided about what level of involvement we should play. Many of us were rightfully annoyed by images of Kuwaiti royal family males living the high life in Swiss resorts. Those images continued even after we began to rescue their nation from Iraq.
Unlike our recent conflict with Iraq, the US military began to censor stories concerning troop movements and what was being done to prepare for war.
Finally Talks between Secretary of State Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz ended in a stalemate. Within a couple of days Congress granted President Bush the authority to wage war.
Up to then I voiced the opinion that were should not be the ones to do what were about to do. The responsibility to lead was firmly in the hands of the Arab nations plus Europe and Japan. We could perform support and intelligence services be we should not be in the lead combat role.
What began as Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm when at 3 a.m. Baghdad time on Thursday, January 17, 1991 we began bombing positions of Iraq soldiers “hunkered down” in the desert.
As far as I was concerned any discussion of dissent on whether the war was just or anything else was over. As was the attitude during World War II, once hostilities begin we should all on the same page.
We had learned after the Vietnam War how exercising our rights to voice objections to the war could only harm the effectiveness and morale of our troops. I was outraged at the protests and demonstrations during Vietnam. I did not want to repeat the mistakes of the demonstrators against that war. It was a shameful time.
Shortly after our attack started Hussein began blowing up Kuwaiti oil wells and firing Scud missiles at Israel.
During January 2006, we learned from the published comments of a former Iraqi Air Force general, Georges Sada, Saddam Hussein planned to launch chemical attacks during the first Gulf War.
General Sada recalled a meeting of senior defense ministers where Saddam ordered: “I want you to do two things that are very important - to attack Israel and to attack Saudi Arabia with chemical weapons.”
The former Iraqi Air Force general further said the planned chemical strike was to be carried out by 98 aircraft, including Soviet-built Sukhoi 24s, MiGs and French-built Mirage jets.
“One wave would fly through Syria and the other wave through Jordan and then penetrate to Israel,” he said.
Gen. Sada recalled that he was the only one to raise objections, warning Saddam that such an attack would surely provoke a nuclear response from Tel Aviv.
“I told all this directly [to Saddam] and everybody was listening. If a needle was dropped on the carpet you would hear it,” he told New York’s WABC Radio’s Monica Crowley.
After presenting a nearly two-hour-long argument against the chemical attack, General Sada said Saddam was finally persuaded to pull the plug on the operation.
The worst fears of the Israelis were well founded. I recall the entire nation having equipment to protect everyone from a chemical attack.
I now wonder just how good Israel’s secret service network really is. Tel Aviv was genuinely concerned a chemical attack would indeed come. They must have had intelligence from Saddam’s inner circle. Maybe General Sada?
General Sada was probably right. I think Israel would have dropped a nuclear bomb on Baghdad. A bomb even more powerful than what we dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki to end World War II.
The daily talk on WHJJ and on Saturdays on WRKO was supportive of the operation and troops. I suspect our collective attitude was similar to what we had in our war with the Axis forces fifty years earlier.
Though the end was near, Hussein ordered his troops to pump millions of gallons crude oil into the Persian Gulf in what he was calling an environmental war.
The first important ground battle occurred in Khafi, Saudi Arabia. It took little time to repel the enemy offensive. They were on the run. I recall cheering while seeing the images of the heretofore powerful Iraqi army in full retreat.
We were aware of Hussein’s desire to use chemical weapons against coalition troops as he had against Iran. We warned him of the dire consequences if he attempted to do that.
We had amassed more than a half-million troops in the Gulf.
We bombed Iraqi troops relentlessly. We also targeted the military infrastructure in Baghdad, such as military buildings and communication centers. Bridges were also regular targets.
The only real offensive mounted by Iraq was its Scud attacks and only one of those had any serious affect. Just a couple of days before Saddam would announce his army’s withdrawal from Kuwait a scud missile struck our barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 of our soldiers.
An interesting sidelight to the hostilities was a maneuver conducted by General Norman Schwarskopf. It was the implementation of the “left hook” maneuver. It was the brainchild General Grant’s 1863 Civil War campaign at Vicksburg.
Coalition forces entered Kuwait City. The US Army 1st Armored Division fought the battle of Medina Ridge against the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard in Iraq. It was no contest. The war was over.
President Bush declared Kuwait liberated on Wednesday, February 27, 1991, just 209 days after the invasion.
A lot had transpired after the conclusion of Operation Desert Shield.
President George H.W. Bush’s popularity soared enormously to over ninety percent. Those levels are unheard of in the history of polling a presidents popularity. The sky high numbers would be a passing thing as his approval ratings soon plummeted to the thirties.
A few months after President Bush was out of office, in late-April 1993, we learned terrorists attempted to assassinate Bush during his visit to Kuwait.
Kuwait authorities arrested 17 persons suspected in the plot to kill Bush using explosives hidden in a Toyota Landcruiser. The Kuwaitis found the Landcruiser, which contained between nearly two-hundred pounds of plastic explosives connected to a detonator.
They also found ten cube-shaped plastic explosive devices with detonators in the vehicle. Some of the suspects reportedly confessed that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (ISS) was behind the assassination attempt.
On April 29, 1993, CIA bomb technicians compared the Bush explosive device to two known Iraqi explosive devices found in different Middle-Eastern countries in 1990 and 1991.
In early-May 1993, the FBI sent personnel to Kuwait to interview the suspects and examine the physical evidence. FBI Special Agents, along with representatives of the Secret Service and State Department, interviewed sixteen suspects, some more than once. Two of the suspects admitted during the FBI interrogations they had participated in the plot at the direction of the IIS.
That was not Saddam’s only attempt to lash out at the US.
Part of the agreement to end hostilities without the allies actually counter attacking Iraq was we would establish no fly zones in the north and south of Iraq.
No sooner that the French, British and we started flying the no fly area did the Iraqis attempt to shoot the planes down with their surface to air missiles.
Saddam Hussein simply could not contain himself.
Lots of questions lingered after the completion of Operation Desert Storm.
Why didn't we push through to Baghdad and remove Saddam when we had a chance?
Why did we allow Saddam keep his armed helicopters?
Why did we not support the Shiite uprising in the south of Iraq?
Ditto for the Kurdish fighting against Saddam?
Why didn't we work with Iraqi generals who longed to overthrow the Hussein regime?
We got some answers to these questions later in a book written by President Bush and his very close adviser, Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed. Written in the late 1990s, they argued the alliance would not have stayed together since their original mandate was the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. There was no will to move on to Baghdad by most of the coalitions members.
In a speech about a year later, then secretary of defense Dick Cheney said:
“All of a sudden you've got a battle you're fighting in a major built-up city [Baghdad], a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques.
“Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.
“Now what kind of government are you going to establish? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shi’ia government, or a Sunni government, or maybe a government based on the old Baathist Party, or some mixture thereof? You will have, I think by that time, lost the support of the Arab coalition that was so crucial to our operations over there.
“I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today, we’d be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.”
These words have a resonance today.
During the current  Iraq conflict we had a maximum of about 160,000 troops in the region. In 1992 we withdrew 540,000 from there.
Was the decision the correct one to make? Someday an historian may be in a better position to judge. Hindsight is usually closer to 20/20 than foresight. It is interesting many of the same people in decision making or influencing positions made the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Vice-President Dick Cheney was defense secretary, former Secretary of State Colin Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a close adviser to President Bush [the 1st] on foreign affairs.
The lion of the group who wanted to go all the way to Baghdad and try Saddam Hussein for war crimes, General (Stormin) Norman Schwarzkopf retired.
Did we do the right thing coming home and leaving Hussein and his Nazi like Baath Party in control?
I expressed then on the air we erred in not going in when the Iraqi defenses were in disarray and their military infrastructure demolished.
The Shiites and Kurds were ready to support our effort.
Another significant post-war event was the expulsion of over 400,000 Palestinians by Kuwait because they collaborated with Iraq during the invasion. Where did those 400,000 go?
Is there any question of why Saddam Hussein later supported the radical Palestinians like Hamas and their homicidal suicide bombings of Israeli civilian targets?
Operation Desert Storm set into motion many of today’s events and crisis.
In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“
Are repeating the past in Iraq now?
Later in this book we will examine some of the efforts of Saddam Hussein to build a program of Weapons of Mass Destruction which included chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Also, his support for international terrorist organizations and suicide killers throughout the middle east.