Iraq As Unfinished Business

Derek Chollet explains the implications of the controversial decision to not invade Baghdad in 1991.
  • Transcript


Question: What mistakes did we make during the first Gulf War?

Derek Chollet: Well it was hugely controversial at the time for us to stop basically at the border with Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. had a mandate to get Iraq out of Kuwait, kick Iraq out of Kuwait. At the time, some believed that we should have gone on to Baghdad. It’s interesting. The legacy of the decision not to go to Baghdad is one that sort of adds new layers of complexity on sort of the Iraq issue as it unfolded. When we interviewed several former Bush administration officials from the first Bush administration about this decision, Brent Skowcroft, who was George Bush’s national security advisor, said one of the reasons they didn’t go into Baghdad is because they didn’t have U.N. authorization to do so and that they had worked very hard to put together this diverse coalition that included European countries and Arab countries to kick Saddam out of Kuwait. But they didn’t have a mandate to go any further than that so, therefore, if they actually wanted the way the Gulf War was fought to be a demonstration of how the new world could work and how the U.N. system could work, they needed to abide by the rules that they had set and one of those rules was that they were going to stop at the border of Kuwait. Now it’s interesting though because the fact that Saddam was left in power and the fact that he stayed in power, bring yourself back to the spring of 1991, Saddam, I think most people believed, would not survive. He had been soundly defeated quickly in this war, there was a sense his military was in a shambles, there were massive uprisings in the south with the Shia, with the Kurds in the north, and I think many in the Bush administration wrongly, obviously, many in the Bush administration believed that it was just a matter of time until he was gone. But the fact that he didn’t go and the fact that he remained in power in many ways tarnished the Gulf War victory for the Bush administration and for the Republicans. What it meant was that for the early part of the 1990s they didn’t really want to talk much about Iraq because it was seen as sort of a blemished event.



Recorded on: 07/08/2008