Saddam’s Scorecard from Desert Storm

#1
From On War And Words Saddam’s Scorecard from Desert Storm
The latest issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies is out with an article that Kevin Woods and I wrote, entitled “Saddam’s Perceptions and Misperceptions: The Case of Desert Storm.” “Victory” is not an objective concept. Both sides to a conflict can claim it and it is a pretty well-known fact that Saddam thought that he won Desert Storm. However, captured documents were able to give us a great deal of insight into the details of that perception. We go on to argue that the lessons Saddam learned in 1991 served him very badly in 2002-2003.

Saddam did not deny that his forces had suffered some defeats during Desert Storm. However, he took a holistic view of victory and his conclusion here was much more positive. He argued that America’s failure to remove him from power was a clear victory for Iraq: “After [America’s] experiences with us, which did not achieve its ends regardless of [our] withdrawal from Kuwait, they might wonder how much force they need to deploy this time to achieve what they failed to do the last time,” he told his commanders in 1992. Given the complete identity in Saddam’s mind between himself and the state, if he were still in power then he had clearly not lost. From this, it was a short step to ‘victory’, particularly for a man who saw one aspect of this war as personal: Saddam versus President George H. W. Bush. It appears that he made this step, noting before a group of Ba’ath party members in January 1993, “all the world is now saying, ‘man, why are we afraid of so much?’ Bush fell and Iraq lasted!”

There is also reason to believe that Saddam may have viewed the missile strikes against Israel as a major success, just as his missile force commander claimed in his 1998 book Forty-Three Missiles on the Zionist Enemy. In the mid-1990s, Saddam maintained privately that Israel had intended to expand into Arab lands, but that the missile strikes made them realize “that they cannot play their games with us.” In other words, he believed the strikes had deterred “Israeli aggression,” whatever the precise damage they might have inflicted. Indeed, while most of us thought the damage that Iraq inflicted on Israel was negligible, the Iraqi General Military Intelligence Directorate reported otherwise. In 2001, they claimed that Iraqi missiles hit:

* The Israeli Ministry of Defense
* The main communications station in Tel Aviv
* A power station
* A gasoline refinery and a technology institute, both in Haifa
* The Haifa naval base
* Haifa and Tel Aviv ports
* Ben Gurion Airport
* The Dimona nuclear reactor

Saddam also found a way to turn the dismal Iraqi performance in the air war into a victory. Or, perhaps it would be more correct to say that the Iraqi Air Force found a way to massage the data to tell him that. The Iraqi Air Force concluded:

* Of all combat and specialized planes, 75 per cent were “rescued,” though this did not include aircraft destroyed by Coalition ground forces or in the post-war civil uprisings. The study noted that by contrast, the Egyptians had lost 70 per cent of their air forces in the 1967 Arab–Israeli War to Israeli air forces that were much weaker than those available to the Coalition in 1991.
* The Air Force also “rescued” 92 per cent of all air weapons, including 98 per cent of the “expensive guided weapons.”
* The Air Force saved 76 per cent of the ‘very expensive electronic war equipment’.
* “The losses in [air force] personnel amounted to .096 percent and it is a small percentage.”

There is much more along these general lines, but suffice to say that Saddam simultaneously believed that he had met his objectives and the United States had not and that, furthermore, the US military had shown itself to be, if not a paper tiger, certainly less fearsome than it appeared.

Kevin and I then argued that these perceptions of the 1991 allowed Saddam to be much more sanguine about the threat he faced in 2002 and 2003. The documentary record, at least with regard to Saddam’s personal views, is rather more sparse toward the end of his rule. However, interestingly, he was quite clear and honest in his public pronouncements; they line up nicely with what appear to have been his private beliefs.

In 2002-2003 Saddam also labored under a security calculus that ordered his threats as follows: (1) internal threats (a coup d’etat, the Shia); (2) regional threats (particularly Iran and Israel); and (3) a US/UK conventional military force. He had been well served to date by organizing his security apparatus to contend with that hierarchy of threats, but he failed to realize in 2002-2003 that things had changed. He was the victim of his own lessons-learned.

I know that further work is going on with the captured Saddam records. There are two additional books beyond this and a couple of articles in the works. (I was involved with one of the books but none of the other projects.) Hopefully they will see the light of day, as I think they have the potential to make important contributions to the fields of military and diplomatic history and, furthermore, provide useful fodder to political scientists who deal with international relations. There is much to be learned about and from Saddam’s Iraq.
Recasting obvious strategic set backs as victory is a pretty common event. Bankrupt and broken Britain survived WWII only to be shorn of its empire and humiliated over Suez but we call it victory, the historic reality was a more ambiguous result but real defeat after all looks like what happened in Poland.

The necessity of putting a brave face on disaster
Like Highway 80

is rather familiar to a nation that still celebrates "The Dunkirk Spirit".


Saddam's view is understandable, after Kuwait he broke the power of the Iraqi generals, the main threat to his rule. Survival may well have felt like a victory and led to a delusional sense of security, we all know where that led.
 
#3
Interesting article and plenty of food for thought in your comments. One of the major differences, of course, is that the Iraqi forces could not claim a single military success against the coalition during GW1, in contrast to British forces in WW2, who suffered a number of defeats and setbacks - especially early in the war - but achieved decisive victories that allow an objective judgement to be made that the war itself was a victory. The Battle of the Atlantic in particular was instrumental in turning the tide by 1944 and there is no need for spin or rose-tinted glasses to consider it a vital success. As you point out, however, the aftermath of the war is quite a different matter...
 
#4
I honestly don't think that the British leadership or its people drew conclusions in 1940 that were as deluded as those made by Saddam in 1991. The Dunkirk Spirt is more akin to 'Keep Buggering On' than snatching true victory from defeat - disaster of some sort is prerequisite in the use of the phrase. As for the empire? It's true enough that the cost of the war was horrific in terms of British power, but I think if you want to go down that road you have to ask how sustainable the empire was. We would likely have had to withdraw anyway, albeit more slowly, or we would have found ourselves in the situation Portugal found itself in the 60s and 70s. Suez was a mistake that could and should have been avoided regardless of WW2.
 
#5
Could Saddam have won in either 1991 or 2003? What if he had been able to stop the build up and resupply of Western forces then things would have been very different....
 
A

ALVIN

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#6
The only victory's Saddam got out of Desert Storm were moral ones, the reality being that he was heavily humiliated during this campaign.
Being that i am a veteran of this conflict, i almost miss the poor bugger now he's gone!
He was a hell of a bloke in his time for sure, for all the wrong reasons.
"THE MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES" he promised.
"THE MOTHER OF ALL DEFEATS" is what he received!

I wonder what he is doing now?...... Maybe he has been reincarnated in to a Desert Rat! L.O.L :D
 
#7
I remember listening to the radio stations evening reports of aircraft and vehicle losses and the broadcasts from Bahgdad, then driving along and seeing the wrecked vehicles and tanks and thinking, "What the Hell is Saddam on about?" Full marks for defiance in the face of adversity but the Iraq military was hopelessly outclassed from the start.
 
#8
Yokel said:
Could Saddam have won in either 1991 or 2003? What if he had been able to stop the build up and resupply of Western forces then things would have been very different....
I recall in 91 there was a great deal of press suggesting the Iraqi army would be a tough nut to crack. They had after all beaten the Iranians in a long bloody trench war. The big defensive earthworks the press predicted turned out to be shallow shit littered troughs in the desert sands.

The later invasion was a forgone conclusion. Even the pessimistic regional experts thought Baghdad would fall in a few months. It was the aftermath that worried them.

Now if he'd had a decent bio/nuclear weapons capability that might have been a game changer but the smart money thought that exceedingly unlikely. Though in 93 the same assumption was made and he turned out to be disturbingly close to attaining that.
 
#9
alib said:
Yokel said:
Could Saddam have won in either 1991 or 2003? What if he had been able to stop the build up and resupply of Western forces then things would have been very different....
I recall in 91 there was a great deal of press suggesting the Iraqi army would be a tough nut to crack. They had after all beaten the Iranians in a long bloody trench war. The big defensive earthworks the press predicted turned out to be shallow s*** littered troughs in the desert sands.

The later invasion was a forgone conclusion. Even the pessimistic regional experts thought Baghdad would fall in a few months. It was the aftermath that worried them.

Now if he'd had a decent bio/nuclear weapons capability that might have been a game changer but the smart money thought that exceedingly unlikely. Though in 93 the same assumption was made and he turned out to be disturbingly close to attaining that.
I think that Saddam was basically fooling himself when he moved into Kuwait.
He had convinced himself that he was a necessary counterweight in the Western mind to the Iranians.
He was convinced that his conventional forces, if dug in, would be so large that non-one would be able to muster the ground fire power to dig them out without massive, and unacceptable casualties.
In short, he thought he had licence to move, and that there were not going to be any serious, non diplomatic responses.

Once into Kuwait, he was unable to show weakness at home by withdrawing. He was then relying on the Coalition not being willing to take huge casualties in a frontal attack.

Sadly for him, he had hopelessly overestimated his own air force's capabilities. As soon as it became obvious that he could not hold Kuwait, and the Coalition was not going to oblige by fighting stupidly, I believe he wrote off the whole expedition, and concentrated purely on staying in power after the ceasefire.

Now, that was a military disaster, but from his point of view, quite a successful decision. He DID stay in power, and had enough security apparatus left to put down the Shia rebellion in the south, even if he had to let the Kurds go.

I think that on the scorecard, in military terms he lost hugely, but from his point of view, it was a score draw. He may have lost a lot of men and equipment, but he was still in power, with added credentials as an Arab strongman who had faced up to the Great Satan and got away with it.
 
#11
It is quite an interesting article and although Desert Storm achieved its strategic aims (removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait) and Allied Forces effectively defeated Iraqi Forces whenever they came into contact, a decisive victory over Iraq was never achieved.

This was demonstrated only 3 years later when, despite Iraqi airspace being patrolled by allied aircraft and constant surveillance of Iraq, Saddam Hussein still managed to move the Republican Guard south towards the Kuwaiti border which necessitated the reinforcement of Kuwait by US and UK forces (Operation Driver).
 
#13
alib said:
Now if he'd had a decent bio/nuclear weapons capability that might have been a game changer but the smart money thought that exceedingly unlikely. Though in 93 the same assumption was made and he turned out to be disturbingly close to attaining that.
Are you calling tony blair a liar?!
 
#14
biffins-bridge said:
It is quite an interesting article and although Desert Storm achieved its strategic aims (removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait) and Allied Forces effectively defeated Iraqi Forces whenever they came into contact, a decisive victory over Iraq was never achieved.

This was demonstrated only 3 years later when, despite Iraqi airspace being patrolled by allied aircraft and constant surveillance of Iraq, Saddam Hussein still managed to move the Republican Guard south towards the Kuwaiti border which necessitated the reinforcement of Kuwait by US and UK forces (Operation Driver).
I always thought that Gen Schwartzkopf made a major error by not insisting that Saddam Hussain personally surrender to him in the desert. Saddam was always dressed in uniform and always emphasised that he was a great military leader, so Gen Schwartzkopf should have kept going until Saddam surrendered - not his generals.

I don't think that the General comments on the surrender in his book but, if I can find it (ho bloody ho) I will check!

Litotes
 
#15
Litotes said:
I always thought that Gen Schwartzkopf made a major error by not insisting that Saddam Hussain personally surrender to him in the desert. Saddam was always dressed in uniform and always emphasised that he was a great military leader, so Gen Schwartzkopf should have kept going until Saddam surrendered - not his generals.

I don't think that the General comments on the surrender in his book but, if I can find it (ho bloody ho) I will check!

Litotes
I think that the problem was the Americans were still suffering from post Vietnam jitters and wanted to ensure that they withdrew as soon as the goal was achieved. They did not want to get involved whatsoever in regime change or nation building and only in a very limited way did they want to get involved in imposing restrictions on the Iraqi military post war.

With hindsight, the surrender of Saddam and his close associates who, as you point out, were all uniformed military commanders in one way or another, probably wouldn't have been that difficult in March 1991. The Iraqi military could then have been limited to a purely defensive force. Of course it would have required a new UN mandate but that may not have been too difficult to pass.
 
#16
Litotes said:
biffins-bridge said:
It is quite an interesting article and although Desert Storm achieved its strategic aims (removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait) and Allied Forces effectively defeated Iraqi Forces whenever they came into contact, a decisive victory over Iraq was never achieved.

This was demonstrated only 3 years later when, despite Iraqi airspace being patrolled by allied aircraft and constant surveillance of Iraq, Saddam Hussein still managed to move the Republican Guard south towards the Kuwaiti border which necessitated the reinforcement of Kuwait by US and UK forces (Operation Driver).
I always thought that Gen Schwartzkopf made a major error by not insisting that Saddam Hussain personally surrender to him in the desert. Saddam was always dressed in uniform and always emphasised that he was a great military leader, so Gen Schwartzkopf should have kept going until Saddam surrendered - not his generals.

I don't think that the General comments on the surrender in his book but, if I can find it (ho bloody ho) I will check!

Litotes
I think Schwartzkopf or one of his immediate subordinates actually said as much when interviewed for the series the BBC did to mark the 5th anniversary of the war.
 
#17
Cuddles said:
alib said:
Now if he'd had a decent bio/nuclear weapons capability that might have been a game changer but the smart money thought that exceedingly unlikely. Though in 93 the same assumption was made and he turned out to be disturbingly close to attaining that.
Are you calling tony blair a liar?!
LOL Fair question :)
 
#18
I rember that the question "who won the first gulf war?" was one of the set piece discussions in one of the MA modules. The key points brought out where that Saddam Hussein went from a weak position where he was politically crippled by war debts owed, largely to Kuwait, with signifact unrest among the sections of the Iraqi political elite that posed a threat to him personally and politically. After the war he had cemented his position withi both Iraq and the middle east so that the Kuwait war debts where written off and he had proved that he could stand up to the west to his own people and to the wider pan-Arab nationalist movement. Fast forward a couple of years the Bush and Thatcher/Major governments have fallen (at least in his eyes), he is still in power having solved the pre-91 economic crisis (the result of the war debts), he has used the opportunity to purge the Iraqi political and military ranks of any likely threats and has retained just enough military freedom of action in the north and south of the country to successfully defeat or negotiate a settlement (from a position of power) with his Shia and Kurd opponents.

Bearing in mind the very different reasons that Saddam Hussein and the coalition went to war to start off with, one could argue that both sides won from their own perspectives. The coalition succeeded in inflicting a military defeat on the Iraqi military forces inside Kuwait, forcing a withdrawal from that country. The west also secured access to middle eastern oil, bought favour with the ruling elites in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia enabling a strategic military (and economic) foothold in an area of the world where one did not exist previously. Saddam Hussein won (to his mind) by remaining in power cemented by the defeat of internal enemies and the solving or at least deferal of his economic problems all at the (acceptable) cost of the loss of some of his regular military forces.
 
#19
HectortheInspector said:
...
He had convinced himself that he was a necessary counterweight in the Western mind to the Iranians.
...
Very good point. Saddam proved not to be wrong in 93, that's the major reason for his survival after being slapped down hard. Anybody with any sense worried about the affect of regional balance of power if he was toppled, the Gulf Kingships who feared Saddam were even more scared of revolutionary Iran and a Shi'a Crescent emerging and many folk within the Beltway concurred.

They were not wrong either. The day has come when the rulers of much of the Arab world fear Qom more than Israel.
 
#20
alib said:
Yokel said:
Could Saddam have won in either 1991 or 2003? What if he had been able to stop the build up and resupply of Western forces then things would have been very different....
I recall in 91 there was a great deal of press suggesting the Iraqi army would be a tough nut to crack. They had after all beaten the Iranians in a long bloody trench war. The big defensive earthworks the press predicted turned out to be shallow s*** littered troughs in the desert sands.

The later invasion was a forgone conclusion. Even the pessimistic regional experts thought Baghdad would fall in a few months. It was the aftermath that worried them.

Now if he'd had a decent bio/nuclear weapons capability that might have been a game changer but the smart money thought that exceedingly unlikely. Though in 93 the same assumption was made and he turned out to be disturbingly close to attaining that.
Dont recall Saddam "beating" the Iranians, more like an inconclusive draw to my way of thinking!
 
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