On January 16, 1991 the war against Iraq began as Allied aircraft conducted a major raid against Iraqi air defenses. The attack on Baghdad was broadcast live to a global audience by CNN correspondents as operation Desert Shield became Desert Storm. The initiative, led by President Herbert Walker Bush, resulted in six distinct outcomes: a decisive coalition victory, Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the restoration of the Kuwaiti monarchy, sanctions against Iraq, heavy casualties and the destruction of Iraqi and Kuwaiti infrastructure, and the establishment of an Iraqi no-fly zone.
The American-led coalition, consisting of 34 countries, included 956,600 troops, 700,000 of which came from the U.S. Amazingly, the Americans lost only 148 soldiers, four tanks, and 44 aircraft. The Iraqi forces, on the other hand, had devastating losses: 35,000 dead, 300,000 deserted or captured, 4,000 tanks destroyed, and 240 aircraft downed. The assault lasted just six weeks, ending on February 28.
The monetary cost of the war was $61 billion, with $52 billion funded by other countries.
Looking back, 25 years later, what are the lessons of Desert Storm?
1. Our military is the very best and they deserve our praise.
Michael Grimm served as a Marine during the Gulf War. Now a New York congressman, he reflects, “As my unit engaged in combat, I saw many scenes of death and destruction that no one should endure. But I also saw scenes of unparalleled bravery and kindness – both among my fellow coalition solders and among our adversaries. Some may think ‘Band of Brothers’ is only a Hollywood miniseries, but for those of us who served in the desert, it was a reality.” While many of the soldiers were welcomed by enormous gratitude, the echoes of praise have long since faded.
2. Freedom is a precious gift.
Grimm speaks of the reception of the Kuwaitis who were freed from the tyrannical grip of Saddam Hussein. “I remember most strikingly the gratitude of the people we liberated – Kuwaitis who were targets of an unprovoked invasion and a reign of terror.” Though American casualties were far less than in any other war of the past century, 148 men paid the ultimate price and another 467 Americans were wounded. Freedom comes at a price. Reflecting on the Gulf War, President Bush wrote, “Here’s my view on freedom. It’s not America’s gift to the world. It is given by God.”
3. Strong leadership and resolve are the key components to success.
When General Washington led the colonial troops into the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, he did so with strong leadership and resolve. When President Lincoln led the Union into battle, he did so with leadership and resolve. When President McKinley led America into the war he said he “wished I could have avoided,” which came to be known as the Spanish American War of 1898, he did so with strong leadership and resolve. When President Wilson led us into World War I, he did so with leadership and resolve. When President Roosevelt led the country into World War II, he did so with leadership and resolve. And when President Bush led the coalition into the Gulf War, he did so with amazing leadership and resolve. I once sat in the audience when Margaret Thatcher said, “My favorite president was Ronald Wilson Reagan, not because we agreed on policy, but because I always knew where he stood.” That kind of leadership and resolve is the key component to any successful wartime Commander-in-Chief.
4. Right decisions do not diminish with time.
At the close of the Gulf War, President Bush enjoyed the highest approval rating of any president in American history, at 93 percent. In the presidential election of the next year, he garnered only 38 percent of the vote, the lowest number for an incumbent president of the past century. Leadership is making the right decision, regardless of public opinion. President Eisenhower defined leadership as “getting someone to do something because he wants to do it.” George H. W. Bush exercised that kind of leadership. He led a fickle nation to believe in a lasting cause.
5. Desert Storm has a spiritual lesson as well.
On May 9, 1864, Abraham Lincoln said, in the midst of war, “While we are grateful for all the brave men and officers for the events of the past few days, we should, above all, be very grateful to Almighty God, who gives us victory.” George Washington told his men, “Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do – then do it with all your strength.” Both Washington and Lincoln understood that success comes from God. The American experiment was based on “In God We Trust.” One has to wonder, in the face of ISIS and growing Islamic terrorism, how much longer a nation who kills its unborn babies, bans prayer and Scripture reading from its schools, and seeks to muzzle the voice of its churches, can rely on the protection and blessing of the God whose commands they remove from the public square.