Analysis: Gulf War coalition lessons still apply in fight against ISIS
Nearly a quarter of decade on, the U.S. are still fighting in coalitions against forces in Iraq
Although the U.S. led Gulf War coalition completed their duties 25 years ago, analysts say there are lessons to be learned from the success of driving out Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and applying them to the current coalition today’s efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The coalition of 1991 came about after Saddam Hussein ignored a U.N. resolution calling for him withdraw from Kuwait before a set deadline. Yet he was unfazed by mounting international pressure to heed the calls to end aggression against the Arab Gulf state.
More than 30 countries then came together, with the top two contributors coming from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which would eventually bring the defeat and drive out Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
Years later, the U.S. would go on to take other military excursions in the region against Iraq, first against Saddam in 2003 and then against ISIS fighters starting last year.
With Tuesday marking the one year anniversary since the U.S. led coalition began an air campaign on ISIS, terrorism and political analysts say there are lessons to be learned from the successes of 1991 as well as the shortfalls of 2003.
Lessons of war
“With ISIS, the U.S. did not appreciate the capability of the group until it had already captured large swathes in Iraq and Syria. In both cases, the U.S. also expected much more international support,” Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst and a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Arabiya News.
“Leading up to the invasion of Iraq, American politicians said that the international community would ultimately come onboard once the U.S. committed to regime change. In the end, there was much less support than anticipated, like against ISIS,” Abrahms added.
In 1990 and 1991, David Mack was the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. He recalls how the commitment of U.S. military forces to comply not only military, but also politically, with GCC governments formed the basis for subsequent operations in the Middle East.
Different times. Different wars, Different clearer objectives. George W. Bush’s administration destroyed the Middle East world of 1990 and contributed greatly to the current chaos by unleashing forces that they did not understand.Roby Barret, analyst specializing in defense and security technology applications
“It is true that the coalition's efforts against Daesh (ISIS) have not been very successful, but this is likely to require much more time than Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. The combined political efforts of coalition members are necessary to support the military efforts in this complicated operation,” Mack told Al Arabiya News.
Other analysts, however, who argue that it would be unfair to make comparison between the 1991 and the current coalitions, given the different contributing factors each one faced.
Asked whether any lessons can be learned from the Gulf War, Roby Barret, analyst specializing in defense and security technology applications, says “not much.”
“Different times. Different wars, Different clearer objectives. George W. Bush’s administration destroyed the Middle East world of 1990 and contributed greatly to the current chaos by unleashing forces that they did not understand,” Barret said.
"The Obama administration is trying to escape Bush's quagmire at a horrendous humanitarian cost in Syria. There is no going back but there is no solution either except to use limited forces to try and contain the chaos. The problem is the policy paralysis -- the U.S. needs to think about the region differently," Barret added.
‘If Kuwait falls, Saudi Arabia falls’
Lessons were also learned from Kuwait and its GCC neighbors, who realized after the events of the Gulf War to prioritize security even against neighboring Arab countries.
“Saudi’s King Fahd bin Abdulaziz started cautiously by saying that his country rejected Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and then a few days would later say that negotiations with Iraq would be futile. A final ruling on August 13 from the Saudi monarch amped up using stronger language when he said Saudi Arabia would not allow Iraqi aggression to trespass onto Saudi soil for even an inch,” Mohammed Al-Rumaihi, professor of political sociology at Kuwait University, told Al Arabiya News.
“It was his gradual rise in tone that finally got other Arab countries on board to agree to fight against Iraq,” he added.
“Both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia either remain or are finished together. One cannot remain while the other cannot,” said King Fahd’s in an iconic televised speech, which some historians attribute as the rallying moment for many Arab countries.
Political analyst and an expert on Saudi affairs, Joseph Kechichian told Al Arabiya News that there were two primary reasons that prompted King Fahd to react with force against Iraq.
“First, Saudi Arabia's obligations under the GCC Charter to assist fellow member-states when its legitimate leaders requested such assistance. Secondly, Riyadh's persuasion that international law must be upheld under all circumstances,” Kechichian said.
Both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia either remain or are finished together. One cannot remain while the other cannot.King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Professor of History at Kuwait University Abdulahdi al-Ajmi told Al Arabiya News that Saudi Arabia saw Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait going unchecked would set a dangerous precedent in the region and affect future inter-Arab relations.
“Saudi Arabia viewed that Saddam’s crimes against Kuwait would possibly unbalance the stability of the region and had to react strongly and firmly. It is because of King Fahd’s role as a solid anchor in keeping the unity of the GCC intact that allowed for the success of the coalition forces alongside the GCC,” Ajmi said.
For Saudi Arabia, and by extension the rest of the GCC countries, the key lesson from their experiences of the Gulf War was that they could no longer depend on Western forces and depend on themselves even from neighboring Arab countries.
“The lessons that Saudi leaders drew from the War for Kuwait included the need to beef up their security capabilities, and increasingly rely on themselves, both of which were further reinforced after the 2003 War for Iraq and, more recently, by the creation of a smaller coalition to oppose the Houthi takeover of Yemen,” Kechichian said.
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