Desert Storm changed Kuwait, military and journalism - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Desert Storm changed Kuwait, military and journalism

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Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011 6:00 am

Twenty years ago, U.S. warplanes began bombing Iraqi positions in the first shots of what would be a brief and successful campaign to end the occupation of Kuwait.

I remember when the pilots -- sweat-drenched and exhausted -- taxied back to their hangar in Saudi Arabia, popped the canopies of their jets and tried to explain their mixed feelings of exhilaration, relief and somberness about the gravity of what they had done.

Covering the war a few weeks later, I was in the desert with ground-shaking, fire-spewing howitzers firing round after round to clear the way for the massive armored attack that would finally drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait and send them scurrying home.

I remember young American soldiers wanting to chase down the Iraqis, or at least destroy their armor. "I don't want my kid to come back here and finish the job," one soldier told me, standing on a desert plain pocked with burning tanks and armored vehicles.

"Finishing the job" meant getting rid of dictator Saddam Hussein. That wouldn't happen until 12 years later, and -- no one would have believed it in 1991 -- we are still in Iraq in 2011.

Operation Desert Storm, which began in 1991 on the night of Jan. 16 in Washington (3 a.m. on Jan. 17 in the Persian Gulf), is little remembered except by those who were there.

The brief conflict did make some lasting contributions, beyond ridding Kuwait and its oil fields of Iraqi control:

-- The use of overwhelming force by an all-volunteer force ended the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, which was a reluctance to start a conflict that might end in a "quagmire."

-- Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf became the first military hero in years, and a popular figure.

-- CNN established itself as a serious news organization, and live video battlefield reporting was born. Reporters were divided into "pools" to cover the combat, and many of us were embedded with front-line units.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the Gulf War was that Saddam behaved as if he had weapons of mass destruction (we all wore chemical-warfare suits), which led policymakers in 2003 to think perhaps he was more dangerous than he really was.

A second consequence was that President George H.W. Bush's swift victory in 100 hours during 1991 led the administration of his son, President George W. Bush, to believe that it would be just as easy to build a Saddam-free democracy in Iraq.

Twenty years later, there are quiet Gulf War reunions across the country and Facebook is the new gathering place for veterans of a war that ended before the Internet began. Some 700,000 active and reserve troops served in the Gulf, and I remember their bravery, kindness and nobility.

My only regret is that some of our troops -- no doubt including sons and daughters of Gulf War veterans -- will spend this anniversary in Iraq.

Peter Copeland is editor and general manager of Scripps Howard News Service.

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