U.S. Strategy in the Persian Gulf War

Michael G. Stroud

U.S. strategy in its opposition to the aggressive actions of a Saddam Hussein-led Iraq in 1990 can be broken down into two categories, political and military.

Both are deemed a success based on the parameters that were set at the time; roll back Iraqi forces, reestablish Kuwait’s sovereignty while safeguarding other neighbor nations and secure important global oil fields. Once Saddam Hussein and his nearly half a million strong army, including his elite Republican Guard along with thousands of Soviet-era tanks and over 3,000 artillery pieces rolled over and occupied their neighbor Kuwait by 8 August 1990, U.S. 'grand' strategy began to come together to tackle the crisis from both the political and military perspectives. The first component, political, was a chimera of two political strategies, that of collective security and balance of power. Collective security provided the international legitimacy that President Bush and the U.S. needed at the time, as it 'does not require that alliances be formed in advance to stop potential aggressors' and with the backing of the UN through such articles as 39-46 that allowed for armed forces to maintain international peace and security, the U.S. led the way in establishing a broad and diverse coalition from Asia to Latin America to oppose Hussein as it was presented as the world’s best option and obligation to come together in said opposition after his unwarranted invasion of a sovereign country (the argument could be made in present times as to the Russian invasion of Ukraine).
U.S. Strategy in the Persian Gulf War
The U.S. and other Coalition nations collectively mobilized nearly 1 million troops, like these U.S. troops, during the Gulf War.

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U.S. Strategy in the Persian Gulf War
This map by the U.S. Army Center of Military History reflects the Coalition campaign against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces in Desert Storm.

The second part of the dual-headed political strategy in the Persian Gulf War, was that of balance-of-power.

Here, the use of military force to restore the pre-invasion norms of Iraq-Kuwait is considered legal and most importantly, required. When combined with regional security concerns, the invasion provided the prerequisite for a large, multi-lateral, international opposition. Collective self-interests ranged from the stolen sovereignty of Kuwait, the threat to the Saudi Royal family’s hold on power, and the U.S. (though only receiving no more than nine percent of its oil from Iraq and Kuwait at the time) and the world’s oil-driven economic interests, made the political strategy the right one at the right time for the right result. The military strategy arrived at was overwhelming led by the U.S. in every category from troops (the top 3 were: U.S.-697,000; Saudi Arabia-up to 100,000; U.K-53,000), to equipment, and naval support, though nearly forty nations provided either direct or indirect support by its end, was a two-phase one. The first phase consisted of a massive air campaign that was tasked to destroy, degrade, and demoralize Iraqi forces. This effectively began the military strategy to wrest Kuwait from Saddam Hussein with the first strikes against Iraqi targets on 17 January 1991. This relentless pounding from 2,600 Allied aircraft, with 1,900 being American, saw the first use of new battlefield weapons and technology such as the tomahawk missile, precision munitions, and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, that would lay waste to thousands of Iraqi tanks and artillery, destroy critical military infrastructure, and most importantly, cripple the morale of the Iraqi soldier.
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The second phase, known as Operation Desert Sabre, began on 24 February 1991 and was the ground operation to finish the job that the air campaign started.

Utilizing conventional methodology developed to fight massed Soviet forces, coalition ground forces executed a feint from the south to tie up Iraqi troops, while large, mechanized units executed a wide 'left hook' maneuver, coming in through the desert in the east, to smash into the Iraqi units and cut off many from their retreat to Baghdad. Lasting only 100 hours, large swaths of Iraqi armor were no match for the technologically superior tanks of the U.S. and other Allies in addition to the deadly support of close air support such as that provided by A-10 Warthog “tank smashers” thus forcing a ceasefire on 28 February. All told, the U.S. was victorious in the Persian Gulf War by using the political strategies of Woodrow Wilson from World War I, the military tactics of the Cold War, and the technology of the 21st century.
U.S. Strategy in the Persian Gulf War
Iraqi tanks like this T-55 were destroyed by the hundreds from superior Coalition tanks, aircraft, and munitions.
U.S. Strategy in the Persian Gulf War

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from American Military University with a bachelor’s degree in Military History and is currently finishing up a master’s degree in Military History with the same university. Michael has been an invited guest on many history themed podcasts from the UK and the US and maintains a strong presence on LinkedIn where he can be reached and followed at www.linkedin.com/in/michaelgstroud as well as on X (formerly Twitter) @StroudMichaelG.
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