Aftermath of the Gulf War
Many controversial questions still surround the Gulf War. Still debated are: "Was U.S. Involvement Justified?" - "Was the war won in the air or on the ground?" - Yet the most weighty question remains: "Did the Coalition forces quit too soon?"
In the negotiations following the close of active campaigning the Iraqis were allowed to withdraw many of their units relatively intact. Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power in Iraq. Had the ground campaign been taken to its logical conclusion, the Iraqi war machine would have been quickly dismantled (trapped as it surely would have been by the Allied left hook.)
Yet President Bush and other Allied leaders had more to consider than military matters. Politically the coalition was beginning to differ on whether total defeat of Iraq was a wise move. Iraq had been the only power to stand in the way of the Iranian war machine making a conquest of all of Arabia burring the Iran/Iraq war. Many felt it would not be wise to completely humiliate a buffer between Iran and Arabia. Second, as evil as Saddam was perceived to be in much of the Western World, he was perceived as a hero by many in the Middle East, for example the Palestinians and Jordanians. Thus Saddam's complete destruction, besides upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East, might antagonize other pro-western Middle-Eastern states. Finally, there is a certain brotherhood that Arabs feel for one another, even when arrayed as enemies on a battlefield. Even an aggressor, as Iraq had surely been during this conflict, could not morally be crushed.
As it was, Saddam would prove to be further trouble down the road, repressing his own people, violating peace agreements and continuing work on weapons of mass destruction. Yet twenty/twenty hindsight does not reflect poorly on the wisdom of President Bush in ending the campaign when he did. US war aims were achieved: Kuwait was liberated from Iraq and relative peace has settled into the region.
Militarily, the Gulf War was the most efficient campaign in US history; relatively few lives were lost. Schwarzkopf's campaign can be favorably compared with campaigns by the greatest strategists in Military history...out-shining perhaps even Lee at Chancellorsville. Logistically, the buildup and prosecution of the campaign could easily compare with Winfield Scott's capture of Mexico City via Vera Cruz during the Mexican/American war. Schwartkopf's campaign was swift and decisive. Much of this was due in no small part to the support he received from Collin Powell and President Bush who put every resource available at Schwarzkopf's disposal.
In the end, this was a popular war that secured economic advantages for the Western World - ensuring our way of life was not threatened by a shortage of the free flow of natural resources. It confirmed the value of air power and air superiority on the battlefield. Finally, it proved that armed aggression never prevails in the face of a free alliance of nations determined to see justice done.