U.S. forces launch first offensive

U.S. forces launch first offensive

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In the first major offensive ordered for U.S. forces, 3,000 troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade–in conjunction with 800 Australian soldiers and a Vietnamese airborne unit–assault a jungle area known as Viet Cong Zone D, 20 miles northeast of Saigon. The operation was called off after three days when it failed to make any major contract with the enemy. One American was killed and nine Americans and four Australians were wounded. The State Department assured the American public that the operation was in accord with Johnson administration policy on the role of U.S. troops.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Timeline

How America will collapse (by 2025)

By Alfred McCoy
Published December 6, 2010 8:01PM (EST)


A soft landing for America 40 years from now? Don’t bet on it. The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines. If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

Future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration’s rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America's downfall. However, instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires, with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this twenty-first century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic collapse or cyberwarfare.

But have no doubt: when Washington's global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.

Available economic, educational, and military data indicate that, when it comes to U.S. global power, negative trends will aggregate rapidly by 2020 and are likely to reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, will be tattered and fading by 2025, its eighth decade, and could be history by 2030.

Significantly, in 2008, the U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted for the first time that America's global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited "the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East" and "without precedent in modern history," as the primary factor in the decline of the "United States' relative strength -- even in the military realm." Like many in Washington, however, the Council’s analysts anticipated a very long, very soft landing for American global preeminence, and harbored the hope that somehow the U.S. would long "retain unique military capabilities… to project military power globally" for decades to come.

No such luck. Under current projections, the United States will find itself in second place behind China (already the world's second largest economy) in economic output around 2026, and behind India by 2050. Similarly, Chinese innovation is on a trajectory toward world leadership in applied science and military technology sometime between 2020 and 2030, just as America's current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.

By 2020, according to current plans, the Pentagon will throw a military Hail Mary pass for a dying empire. It will launch a lethal triple canopy of advanced aerospace robotics that represents Washington's last best hope of retaining global power despite its waning economic influence. By that year, however, China's global network of communications satellites, backed by the world's most powerful supercomputers, will also be fully operational, providing Beijing with an independent platform for the weaponization of space and a powerful communications system for missile- or cyber-strikes into every quadrant of the globe.

Wrapped in imperial hubris, like Whitehall or Quai d'Orsay before it, the White House still seems to imagine that American decline will be gradual, gentle, and partial. In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama offered the reassurance that "I do not accept second place for the United States of America." A few days later, Vice President Biden ridiculed the very idea that "we are destined to fulfill [historian Paul] Kennedy's prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended." Similarly, writing in the November issue of the establishment journal Foreign Affairs, neo-liberal foreign policy guru Joseph Nye waved away talk of China's economic and military rise, dismissing "misleading metaphors of organic decline" and denying that any deterioration in U.S. global power was underway.

Ordinary Americans, watching their jobs head overseas, have a more realistic view than their cosseted leaders. An opinion poll in August 2010 found that 65 percent of Americans believed the country was now "in a state of decline."  Already, Australia and Turkey, traditional U.S. military allies, are using their American-manufactured weapons for joint air and naval maneuvers with China. Already, America's closest economic partners are backing away from Washington's opposition to China's rigged currency rates. As the president flew back from his Asian tour last month, a gloomy New York Times headline  summed the moment up this way: "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage, China, Britain and Germany Challenge U.S., Trade Talks With Seoul Fail, Too."

Viewed historically, the question is not whether the United States will lose its unchallenged global power, but just how precipitous and wrenching the decline will be. In place of Washington's wishful thinking, let’s use the National Intelligence Council's own futuristic methodology to suggest four realistic scenarios for how, whether with a bang or a whimper, U.S. global power could reach its end in the 2020s (along with four accompanying assessments of just where we are today). The future scenarios include: economic decline, oil shock, military misadventure, and World War III. While these are hardly the only possibilities when it comes to American decline or even collapse, they offer a window into an onrushing future.

Economic Decline: Present Situation

Today, three main threats exist to America’s dominant position in the global economy: loss of economic clout thanks to a shrinking share of world trade, the decline of American technological innovation, and the end of the dollar's privileged status as the global reserve currency.

By 2008, the United States had already fallen to number three in global merchandise exports, with just 11 percent of them compared to 12 percent for China and 16 percent for the European Union. There is no reason to believe that this trend will reverse itself.

Similarly, American leadership in technological innovation is on the wane. In 2008, the U.S. was still number two behind Japan in worldwide patent applications with 232,000, but China was closing fast at 195,000, thanks to a blistering 400 percent increase since 2000. A harbinger of further decline: in 2009 the U.S. hit rock bottom in ranking among the 40 nations surveyed by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation when it came to "change" in "global innovation-based competitiveness" during the previous decade. Adding substance to these statistics, in October China's Defense Ministry unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, so powerful, said one U.S. expert, that it "blows away the existing No. 1 machine" in America.

Add to this clear evidence that the U.S. education system, that source of future scientists and innovators, has been falling behind its competitors. After leading the world for decades in 25- to 34-year-olds with university degrees, the country sank to 12th place in 2010. The World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly half of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are now foreigners, most of whom will be heading home, not staying here as once would have happened. By 2025, in other words, the United States is likely to face a critical shortage of talented scientists.

Such negative trends are encouraging increasingly sharp criticism of the dollar's role as the world’s reserve currency. "Other countries are no longer willing to buy into the idea that the U.S. knows best on economic policy," observed Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. In mid-2009, with the world's central banks holding an astronomical $4 trillion in U.S. Treasury notes, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev insisted that it was time to end "the artificially maintained unipolar system" based on "one formerly strong reserve currency."

Simultaneously, China's central bank governor suggested that the future might lie with a global reserve currency "disconnected from individual nations" (that is, the U.S. dollar). Take these as signposts of a world to come, and of a possible attempt, as economist Michael Hudson has argued, "to hasten the bankruptcy of the U.S. financial-military world order."

Economic Decline: Scenario 2020

After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2020, as long expected, the U.S. dollar finally loses its special status as the world's reserve currency. Suddenly, the cost of imports soars. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget. Under pressure at home and abroad, Washington slowly pulls U.S. forces back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter. By now, however, it is far too late.

Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge U.S. dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace. Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.

Oil Shock: Present Situation

One casualty of America's waning economic power has been its lock on global oil supplies. Speeding by America's gas-guzzling economy in the passing lane, China became the world's number one energy consumer this summer, a position the U.S. had held for over a century. Energy specialist Michael Klare has argued that this change means China will "set the pace in shaping our global future."

By 2025, Iran and Russia will control almost half of the world's natural gas supply, which will potentially give them enormous leverage over energy-starved Europe. Add petroleum reserves to the mix and, as the National Intelligence Council has warned, in just 15 years two countries, Russia and Iran, could "emerge as energy kingpins."

Despite remarkable ingenuity, the major oil powers are now draining the big basins of petroleum reserves that are amenable to easy, cheap extraction. The real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was not BP's sloppy safety standards, but the simple fact everyone saw on "spillcam": one of the corporate energy giants had little choice but to search for what Klare calls "tough oil" miles beneath the surface of the ocean to keep its profits up.

Compounding the problem, the Chinese and Indians have suddenly become far heavier energy consumers. Even if fossil fuel supplies were to remain constant (which they won’t), demand, and so costs, are almost certain to rise -- and sharply at that. Other developed nations are meeting this threat aggressively by plunging into experimental programs to develop alternative energy sources. The United States has taken a different path, doing far too little to develop alternative sources while, in the last three decades, doubling its dependence on foreign oil imports. Between 1973 and 2007, oil imports have risen from 36 percent of energy consumed in the U.S. to 66 percent.

Oil Shock: Scenario 2025

The United States remains so dependent upon foreign oil that a few adverse developments in the global energy market in 2025 spark an oil shock. By comparison, it makes the 1973 oil shock (when prices quadrupled in just months) look like the proverbial molehill. Angered at the dollar's plummeting value, OPEC oil ministers, meeting in Riyadh, demand future energy payments in a "basket" of Yen, Yuan, and Euros. That only hikes the cost of U.S. oil imports further. At the same moment, while signing a new series of long-term delivery contracts with China, the Saudis stabilize their own foreign exchange reserves by switching to the Yuan. Meanwhile, China pours countless billions into building a massive trans-Asia pipeline and funding Iran's exploitation of the world largest percent natural gas field at South Pars in the Persian Gulf.

Concerned that the U.S. Navy might no longer be able to protect the oil tankers traveling from the Persian Gulf to fuel East Asia, a coalition of Tehran, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi form an unexpected new Gulf alliance and affirm that China's new fleet of swift aircraft carriers will henceforth patrol the Persian Gulf from a base on the Gulf of Oman. Under heavy economic pressure, London agrees to cancel the U.S. lease on its Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia, while Canberra, pressured by the Chinese, informs Washington that the Seventh Fleet is no longer welcome to use Fremantle as a homeport, effectively evicting the U.S. Navy from the Indian Ocean.

With just a few strokes of the pen and some terse announcements, the "Carter Doctrine," by which U.S. military power was to eternally protect the Persian Gulf, is laid to rest in 2025. All the elements that long assured the United States limitless supplies of low-cost oil from that region -- logistics, exchange rates, and naval power -- evaporate. At this point, the U.S. can still cover only an insignificant 12 percent of its energy needs from its nascent alternative energy industry, and remains dependent on imported oil for half of its energy consumption.

The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, U.S. military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases.

Within a few years, the U.S. is functionally bankrupt and the clock is ticking toward midnight on the American Century.

Military Misadventure: Present Situation

Counterintuitively, as their power wanes, empires often plunge into ill-advised military misadventures. This phenomenon is known among historians of empire as "micro-militarism" and seems to involve psychologically compensatory efforts to salve the sting of retreat or defeat by occupying new territories, however briefly and catastrophically. These operations, irrational even from an imperial point of view, often yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the loss of power.

Embattled empires through the ages suffer an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle. In 413 BCE, a weakened Athens sent 200 ships to be slaughtered in Sicily. In 1921, a dying imperial Spain dispatched 20,000 soldiers to be massacred by Berber guerrillas in Morocco. In 1956, a fading British Empire destroyed its prestige by attacking Suez. And in 2001 and 2003, the U.S. occupied Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. With the hubris that marks empires over the millennia, Washington has increased its troops in Afghanistan to 100,000, expanded the war into Pakistan, and extended its commitment to 2014 and beyond, courting disasters large and small in this guerilla-infested, nuclear-armed graveyard of empires.

Military Misadventure: Scenario 2014

So irrational, so unpredictable is "micro-militarism" that seemingly fanciful scenarios are soon outdone by actual events. With the U.S. military stretched thin from Somalia to the Philippines and tensions rising in Israel, Iran, and Korea, possible combinations for a disastrous military crisis abroad are multifold.

It’s mid-summer 2014 and a drawn-down U.S. garrison in embattled Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is suddenly, unexpectedly overrun by Taliban guerrillas, while U.S. aircraft are grounded by a blinding sandstorm. Heavy loses are taken and in retaliation, an embarrassed American war commander looses B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of the city that are believed to be under Taliban control, while AC-130U "Spooky" gunships rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire.

Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques throughout the region, and Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse. Taliban fighters then launch a series of remarkably sophisticated strikes aimed at U.S. garrisons across the country, sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, U.S. helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops in Kabul and Kandahar.

Meanwhile, angry at the endless, decades-long stalemate over Palestine, OPEC’s leaders impose a new oil embargo on the U.S. to protest its backing of Israel as well as the killing of untold numbers of Muslim civilians in its ongoing wars across the Greater Middle East. With gas prices soaring and refineries running dry, Washington makes its move, sending in Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf. This, in turn, sparks a rash of suicide attacks and the sabotage of pipelines and oil wells. As black clouds billow skyward and diplomats rise at the U.N. to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back into history to brand this "America's Suez," a telling reference to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of the British Empire.

World War III: Present Situation

In the summer of 2010, military tensions between the U.S. and China began to rise in the western Pacific, once considered an American "lake." Even a year earlier no one would have predicted such a development. As Washington played upon its alliance with London to appropriate much of Britain's global power after World War II, so China is now using the profits from its export trade with the U.S. to fund what is likely to become a military challenge to American dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.

With its growing resources, Beijing is claiming a vast maritime arc from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the U.S. Navy. In August, after Washington expressed a "national interest" in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce that claim, Beijing's official Global Times responded angrily, saying, "The U.S.-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be."

Amid growing tensions, the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds "the capability to attack… [U.S.] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean" and target "nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States." By developing "offensive nuclear, space, and cyber warfare capabilities," China seems determined to vie for dominance of what the Pentagon calls "the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace." With ongoing development of the powerful Long March V booster rocket, as well as the launch of two satellites in January 2010 and another in July, for a total of five, Beijing signaled that the country was making rapid strides toward an "independent" network of 35 satellites for global positioning, communications, and reconnaissance capabilities by 2020.

To check China and extend its military position globally, Washington is intent on building a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance. Military planners expect this integrated system to envelop the Earth in a cyber-grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield or taking out a single terrorist in field or favela. By 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will launch a three-tiered shield of space drones -- reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, and operated through total telescopic surveillance.

Last April, the Pentagon made history. It extended drone operations into the exosphere by quietly launching the X-37B unmanned space shuttle into a low orbit 255 miles above the planet.  The X-37B is the first in a new generation of unmanned vehicles that will mark the full weaponization of space, creating an arena for future warfare unlike anything that has gone before.

World War III: Scenario 2025

The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain "a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare," and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.

It’s 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, U.S. Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the U.S. CyberCommand's operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China's People's Liberation Army.

The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese "malware" seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered U.S. "Vulture" drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.

Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike. Confident that its F-6 "Fractionated, Free-Flying" satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their "Triple Terminator" missiles at China's 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits. The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate U.S. supercomputers fail to crack the malware's devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of U.S. ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the U.S. Air Force has long called "the ultimate high ground": space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.

A New World Order?

Even if future events prove duller than these four scenarios suggest, every significant trend points toward a far more striking decline in American global power by 2025 than anything Washington now seems to be envisioning.

As allies worldwide begin to realign their policies to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintaining 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington. With both the U.S. and China in a race to weaponize space and cyberspace, tensions between the two powers are bound to rise, making military conflict by 2025 at least feasible, if hardly guaranteed.

Complicating matters even more, the economic, military, and technological trends outlined above will not operate in tidy isolation. As happened to European empires after World War II, such negative forces will undoubtedly prove synergistic. They will combine in thoroughly unexpected ways, create crises for which Americans are remarkably unprepared, and threaten to spin the economy into a sudden downward spiral, consigning this country to a generation or more of economic misery.

As U.S. power recedes, the past offers a spectrum of possibilities for a future world order. At one end of this spectrum, the rise of a new global superpower, however unlikely, cannot be ruled out. Yet both China and Russia evince self-referential cultures, recondite non-roman scripts, regional defense strategies, and underdeveloped legal systems, denying them key instruments for global dominion. At the moment then, no single superpower seems to be on the horizon likely to succeed the U.S.

In a dark, dystopian version of our global future, a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral forces like NATO, and an international financial elite could conceivably forge a single, possibly unstable, supra-national nexus that would make it no longer meaningful to speak of national empires at all. While denationalized corporations and multinational elites would assumedly rule such a world from secure urban enclaves, the multitudes would be relegated to urban and rural wastelands.

In "Planet of Slums," Mike Davis offers at least a partial vision of such a world from the bottom up. He argues that the billion people already packed into fetid favela-style slums worldwide (rising to two billion by 2030) will make "the 'feral, failed cities' of the Third World… the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century." As darkness settles over some future super-favela, "the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression" as "hornet-like helicopter gun-ships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts… Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions."

At a midpoint on the spectrum of possible futures, a new global oligopoly might emerge between 2020 and 2040, with rising powers China, Russia, India, and Brazil collaborating with receding powers like Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States to enforce an ad hoc global dominion, akin to the loose alliance of European empires that ruled half of humanity circa 1900.

Another possibility: the rise of regional hegemons in a return to something reminiscent of the international system that operated before modern empires took shape. In this neo-Westphalian world order, with its endless vistas of micro-violence and unchecked exploitation, each hegemon would dominate its immediate region -- Brasilia in South America, Washington in North America, Pretoria in southern Africa, and so on. Space, cyberspace, and the maritime deeps, removed from the control of the former planetary "policeman," the United States, might even become a new global commons, controlled through an expanded U.N. Security Council or some ad hoc body.

All of these scenarios extrapolate existing trends into the future on the assumption that Americans, blinded by the arrogance of decades of historically unparalleled power, cannot or will not take steps to manage the unchecked erosion of their global position.

If America's decline is in fact on a 22-year trajectory from 2003 to 2025, then we have already frittered away most of the first decade of that decline with wars that distracted us from long-term problems and, like water tossed onto desert sands, wasted trillions of desperately needed dollars.

If only 15 years remain, the odds of frittering them all away still remain high. Congress and the president are now in gridlock the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country's role and prosperity in a changing world.

Europe's empires are gone and America's imperium is going. It seems increasingly doubtful that the United States will have anything like Britain's success in shaping a succeeding world order that protects its interests, preserves its prosperity, and bears the imprint of its best values.

The Real Missile Gap

In 1960, claims of a "missile gap" favoring the Soviets had given the Democrats a critical election theme, and many millions of Americans entered the Sixties feeling intensely vulnerable to the new Soviet ICBM threat. But as Richard Reeves has recently written, intelligence based on satellites launched in August of 1960 soon challenged the campaign assessment and public view. The United States had beaten the USSR to an operational ICBM and enjoyed a clear, and growing, numerical advantage. We were far ahead, and our military planners knew it.

Kennedy was quickly convinced of this truth, which was further confirmed as new satellites brought back new information. Later in 1961, a National Intelligence Estimate came through showing only four Soviet ICBMs in place, all of them on low alert at a test site called Plesetsk. By fall, Defense Undersecretary Roswell Gilpatric would acknowledge in a public speech that U.S. forces (with 185 ICBMs and over 3,400 deliverable nuclear bombs at that time) were vastly superior to those of the Russians.

It was in this context, of an increasing nuclear edge based on a runaway lead in land-based missiles, that Kennedy faced his first nuclear-tinged crisis, which erupted over Berlin in July of 1961.

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U.S. Space Force's First Offensive Weapon Is a Satellite Jammer

The U.S. Space Force has received its first offensive weapon system, but it may not be what you think. The &ldquoweapon&rdquo is actually a jammer capable of preventing adversaries from accessing their own military communications satellites. While that may not sound like much on the surface, it has huge implications for modern armed forces that rely on satellites to receive orders from home.

The Space Force&rsquos 4th Space Control Squadron, based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, received a Counter Communications System Block 10.2 system. The Pentagon described it in 2019 as a:

In other words CCS can be flown into a wartime theater on a military transport airplane and then turned on to cut off nearby enemy units from their own military communications satellites. It would cut adversaries off from their own satellite communications, including videoconferencing, and prevent them from receiving warnings of impending U.S. and allied missile strikes.

CCS, according to Space News, was originally introduced in 2004 and has been gradually updated to the latest Block 10.2 standard. The latest version can jam across a wider spectrum of radio frequencies than ever before. The system is used by the 4th Space Control Squadron as well as Air National Guard units in California, Colorado, Florida and Hawaii.

Most modern military forces rely on satellites to one extent or another, including communications. The obvious solution would be to shoot such satellites down, but the problem with military communications satellites is that they orbit much higher than other satellites, in order to cover a wider swathe of the surface of the Earth. Satellites in geostationary orbit circle the planet at an altitude of 22,236 miles or higher, making them difficult to reach. Instead of expending a lot of time and effort to develop a weapon to shoot down these satellites, it&rsquos easier to simply jam their signal.

The CCS&rsquos technical parameters are a closely held secret. The Secure World Foundation&rsquos 2019 report Global Counterspace Capabilities, has this to say about the CCS system:

The report goes on to say that there were at least 13 CCS systems in operation as of 2017.

Desert Storm

Operation Desert Storm, popularly known as the first Gulf War, was the successful U.S.-Allied response to Iraq's attempt to overwhelm neighboring Kuwait. Kuwait's liberation in 1991 brought to the battlefield a new era of military technology. Nearly all battles were aerial and ground combat within Iraq, Kuwait, and outlying areas of Saudi Arabia. Iraq inflicted little damage on the American coalition however, they fired missiles on Israeli citizens. History At the request of the Kuwaitis, Kuwait had become a British Protectorate in 1889. British forces protected the area until 1961. Kuwait was a part of Iraq until 1923, when borders were drawn. On June 19, 1961, British protection ended and Kuwait joined the Arab League. Iraq objected strongly and claimed that Kuwait was part of their territory. Kuwait formed its own constitution on January 1963. Accordingly, the emir held the executive power, organized with a group of ministers. By January 23, a national assembly was elected. By October, 1963, Iraq gave up its claim on Kuwait. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein wanted to regain that lost land for Iraq, and so he invaded. Leading up to war On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been making threats against Kuwait for some time, but his actual invasion caught most of the world by surprise. The magnitude of the invasion also was a surprise. Those who had expected an attack, such as the commander of U.S. Central Command, Norman Schwarzkopf, expected a limited attack to seize Kuwaiti oil fields. Instead, within a number of hours, Iraqi forces had seized downtown Kuwait City and were headed south toward the Saudi Arabia border. Word of the Iraqi attack reached Washington, D.C., as Iraqi forces assembled at the Saudi border. The Pentagon had plans in place to aid the Saudis, and U.S. forces went on standby for the Saudis' request. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and General Schwarzkopf met with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to brief him on the plans, which he approved. Within minutes of the meeting, orders were issued, and thus began the largest buildup of American forces since the Vietnam War. Within a short period, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as 300 combat aircraft, were headed for Saudi Arabia. A deadline set for Saddam Hussein By the end of September 1990, there were nearly 200,000 American personnel in Saudi Arabia — enough to repel any Iraqi attack. The initial plan to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait called for a direct offensive aimed at Kuwait City but Schwarzkopf and other American commanders thought that the risk was too great against heavily armed, well-entrenched defenders. Instead, they called for additional troops to prepare for the largest military cleanup ever seen. President Bush (with Saudi approval) ordered an additional 140,000 soldiers, including the Third Armored Division with its Abrams M1A tanks. During that period, reinforcements from numerous other nations arrived, including British, French, Egyptian and even Syrian forces. On November 29, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15.

Superior U.S. air power On the morning of January 16, 1991, Allied forces began the first phase of Desert Storm, also known as Desert Shield. American forces first destroyed Iraqi border radar stations, then other key elements of the Iraqi anti-aircraft network lastly, they began to bomb key targets in downtown Iraq, including the presidential palace, communication centers, and power stations. The Allied forces lost only two aircraft during the attacks. The assault continued day and night. Those initial air attacks constituted the first time the American military witnessed how their new arsenal performed in combat conditions. With such ground systems as the M1A1 Abrams missile and the MIM-104 Patriot missile, the Iraq military had little opportunity to defend themselves. Also, such other groundbreaking technology as the Global Positioning System (GPS), helped to pinpoint hits by the Tomahawk missile and other weapons. The damage done by U.S. air attacks was devastating to Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard. The following U.S. aircraft left "a big hurt" on the enemy during the war: AH-64 Apache helicopters, B-52 Stratofortress bombers, E-3 AWACS surveillance aircraft, F-117A Stealth fighters, E-8C JSTARS radar command posts, and the RPVs (drones). Overall, the coalition air campaign (consisting mostly of U.S. pilots) accumulated a total of 109,876 sorties over the 43-day air war — averaging 2,555 sorties per day. Of those, more than 27,000 sorties struck enemy Scuds, airfields, air defenses, electrical power, biological and chemical weapons caches, headquarters, intelligence assets, communications, the Iraqi army, and oil refineries. Scuds fired at Israel and the attack on Al Khafji At 3 a.m on January 17, the Iraqis fired seven Scud missiles at Israel. Israelis were awaiting the Scuds with gas masks on, thanks to Saddam's previous threats to burn half of Israel with chemical weapons. As it turned out, the Scuds bore only conventional warheads, but their terror value was high. To avoid a wider war, U.S. officials pleaded with Israeli officials to not respond to the Scud attacks. The Israelis agreed because the Americans promised to target all Scud missile sites and knock them out. On January 29, following two weeks of punishing coalition air assaults, the Iraqis mounted their one and only attack subsequent to the invasion at the Battle of Khafji. The Iraqi Fifth Mechanized Division attacked south, capturing the Saudi town of Al Khafji eight miles south of the Kuwaiti border. The Iraqis overran the first Saudi force that attempted a counterattack and, despite massive American air attacks, they held on to the town through the day and night. The next day was a different story, however, when Saudis recaptured the town, forcing the remaining Iraqis to flee to the Kuwaiti border. Operation Desert Sabre After a 38-day air campaign, Operation Desert Sabre, a massive ground attack, was launched by Americans and the coalition into both Iraq and Kuwait. Day One ground attack. On February 24th at 4 a.m., Allied troops led by U.S. Marines crossed the border into Iraq. During the days before the attack, Iraqi troops had been subjected to merciless air attacks every imaginable target was destroyed with accuracy. The Allied offensive targeted three major offensive venues: the first aimed at Kuwait City, the second to the west aimed at the Iraqi flank, and the final one far to the west, beyond the major Iraqi lines that would totally outflank Iraqi lines. In the first day of the war the marines advanced halfway to Kuwait City and the western advances proceeded without difficulty — while capturing thousands of Iraqi deserters. The first day of ground fighting resulted in minimal American casualties. Day Two ground attack. As Day Two approached, an Iraqi Scud missile destroyed the U.S. barracks in Dhahran, killing 28 U.S. soldiers. With morale nevertheless high, American troops advanced on all fronts. The marines approached Kuwait City, while the western flank began to cut off the Iraqi Army's retreat route. Coalition casualties for Day Two were, once again, light. Day Three ground attack Day Three dawned on the largest tank battle in history. The American armored forces engaged the tank forces of the Iraqi Republican guard. Like shooting fish in a barrel, the American tanks destroyed the Iraqi heavy armor without losing a single tank. On February 26th, Iraqi troops began to retreat from Kuwait while setting fire to an estimated 700 Kuwaiti oil wells. A long convoy of Iraqi troops, as well as Iraqi and Palestinian civilians, formed along the main Iraq-Kuwait highway. That convoy was bombed so relentlessly by the Allies that it came to be known as the "Highway of Death." One hundred hours after the ground campaign began, President Bush declared a cease-fire — declaring the liberation of Kuwait on February 27, 1991. Postwar epilogue On April 5th, 1991, President Bush announced that U.S. relief supply airdrops would be made to Kurdish refugees in Turkey and northern Iraq. After Iraq issued its acceptance of a cease-fire, Task Force Provide Comfort was formed and deployed to assist the Kurds. The U.S. transport delivered some 72,000 pounds of supplies in the first six Operation Provide Comfort missions. By April 20, the construction of the first Provide Comfort tent city began near Zakhu, Iraq. By war's end, U.S. forces released 71,204 Iraqi prisoners to Saudi control. U.S. casualties

Strategic Arms Limitations Talks/Treaty (SALT) I and II

During the late 1960s, the United States learned that the Soviet Union had embarked upon a massive Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) buildup designed to reach parity with the United States. In January 1967, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the Soviet Union had begun to construct a limited Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense system around Moscow. The development of an ABM system could allow one side to launch a first strike and then prevent the other from retaliating by shooting down incoming missiles.

Johnson therefore called for strategic arms limitations talks (SALT), and in 1967, he and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin met at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Johnson said they must gain “control of the ABM race,” and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued that the more each reacted to the other’s escalation, the more they had chosen “an insane road to follow.” While abolition of nuclear weapons would be impossible, limiting the development of both offensive and defensive strategic systems would stabilize U.S.-Soviet relations.

Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon , also believed in SALT, and on November 17, 1969, the formal SALT talks began in Helsinki, Finland. Over the next two and a half years, the two sides haggled over whether or not each nation should complete their plans for ABMs verification of a treaty and U.S. concern that the Soviets continued to build more Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty and interim SALT agreement on May 26, 1972, in Moscow.

For the first time during the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union had agreed to limit the number of nuclear missiles in their arsenals. SALT I is considered the crowning achievement of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy of détente. The ABM Treaty limited strategic missile defenses to 200 interceptors each and allowed each side to construct two missile defense sites, one to protect the national capital, the other to protect one ICBM field. (For financial and strategic reasons, the United States stopped construction of each by the end of the decade.)

Negotiations for a second round of SALT began in late 1972. Since SALT I did not prevent each side from enlarging their forces through the deployment of Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs, SALT II initially focused on limiting, and then ultimately reducing, the number of MIRVs. Negotiations also sought to prevent both sides from making qualitative breakthroughs that would again destabilize the strategic relationship. The negotiations spanned the Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter administrations.

At the November 1974 Vladivostok Summit, Ford and Brezhnev agreed on the basic framework of a SALT II agreement. This included a 2,400 limit on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers) for each side a 1,320 limit on MIRV systems a ban on new land-based ICBM launchers and limits on deployment of new types of strategic offensive arms.

Even after the Vladivostok agreements, the two nations could not resolve the two other outstanding issues from SALT I: the number of strategic bombers and the total number of warheads in each nation’s arsenal. The first was complicated by the Soviet Backfire bomber, which U.S. negotiators believed could reach the United States but which the Soviets refused to include in the SALT negotiations. Meanwhile, the Soviets attempted unsuccessfully to limit American deployment of Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs). Verification also divided the two nations, but eventually they agreed on using National Technical Means (NTM), including the collection of electronic signals known as telemetry and the use of photo-reconnaissance satellites. On June 17, 1979, Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty in Vienna. SALT II limited the total of both nations’ nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces, including MIRVs.

However, a broad coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats grew increasingly skeptical of the Soviet Union’s crackdown on internal dissent, its increasingly interventionist foreign policies, and the verification process delineated in the Treaty. On December 17, 1979, 19 Senators wrote Carter that “Ratification of a SALT II Treaty will not reverse trends in the military balance adverse to the United States.” On December 25, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and on January 3, 1980, Carter asked the Senate not to consider SALT II for its advice and consent, and it was never ratified. Both Washington and Moscow subsequently pledged to adhere to the agreement’s terms despite its failure to enter into force. Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan, a vehement critic of SALT II during the 1980 presidential campaign, agreed to abide by SALT II until its expiration on December 31, 1985, while he pursued the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and argued that research into the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) adhered to the 1972 ABM Treaty.


To be a Marine is to always move forward with tenacity towards the next battle standing in the way of our Nation’s progress, but Marines also have a long lineage of defining moments to look back on, serving as a source of immeasurable inspiration. View some of the stories that make all Marines walk a little taller and prouder.


Nov 10, 1775: The Corps is Born – Philadelphia, PA

Captain Samuel Nicholas sets up the first Marine Corps recruiting headquarters at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, PA, looking for "a few good men." The "Few and the Proud" who make up today's ranks are comprised of men and women who have the resolve to fight and win for our Nation's common cause.

Captain Samuel Nicholas sets up the first Marine Corps recruiting headquarters at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, PA, looking for "a few good men." The "Few and the Proud" who make up today's ranks are comprised of men and women who have the resolve to fight and win for our Nation's common cause.

1776: First Amphibious Raid – Fort Nassau

Five companies of Marines carry out the Corps’ first amphibious landing on foreign soil, successfully seizing stockpiles of British gunpowder and munitions.

Five companies of Marines carry out the Corps’ first amphibious landing on foreign soil, successfully seizing stockpiles of British gunpowder and munitions.

1805: The “Leathernecks” Arrive – Battle of Derna

The Marines rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia on the shores of Tripoli. They receive the nickname “Leatherneck” due to the high collar they wore as protection against the sabers of pirates.

The Marines rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia on the shores of Tripoli. They receive the nickname “Leatherneck” due to the high collar they wore as protection against the sabers of pirates.

1918: The Ferocity of the “Devil Dogs” – Battle of Belleau Wood

Marine forces launch a last-ditch close combat assault against German soldiers and completely shred the defensive counterattack. Surviving German soldiers nicknamed their adversaries “Devil Dogs,” due to their relentless fighting spirit.

Marine forces launch a last-ditch close combat assault against German soldiers and completely shred the defensive counterattack. Surviving German soldiers nicknamed their adversaries “Devil Dogs,” due to their relentless fighting spirit.


1942: Innovative air-ground team at the Battle of Guadalcanal

Several innovative tactical strategies were used by the Marines to capture the Japanese airfield, including intense Close Air Support for Marine ground forces. From the Father of Marine Aviation, Alfred Cunningham, "The only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting the troops on the ground."

Several innovative tactical strategies were used by the Marines to capture the Japanese airfield, including intense Close Air Support for Marine ground forces. From the Father of Marine Aviation, Alfred Cunningham, "The only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting the troops on the ground."

The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was a direct and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict. The crisis was unique in a number of ways, featuring calculations and miscalculations as well as direct and secret communications and miscommunications between the two sides. The dramatic crisis was also characterized by the fact that it was primarily played out at the White House and the Kremlin level with relatively little input from the respective bureaucracies typically involved in the foreign policy process.

After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt. Construction of several missile sites began in the late summer, but U.S. intelligence discovered evidence of a general Soviet arms build-up on Cuba, including Soviet IL–28 bombers, during routine surveillance flights, and on September 4, 1962, President Kennedy issued a public warning against the introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba. Despite the warning, on October 14 a U.S. U–2 aircraft took several pictures clearly showing sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction in Cuba. These images were processed and presented to the White House the next day, thus precipitating the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy summoned his closest advisers to consider options and direct a course of action for the United States that would resolve the crisis. Some advisers—including all the Joint Chiefs of Staff—argued for an air strike to destroy the missiles, followed by a U.S. invasion of Cuba others favored stern warnings to Cuba and the Soviet Union. The President decided upon a middle course. On October 22, he ordered a naval “quarantine” of Cuba. The use of “quarantine” legally distinguished this action from a blockade, which assumed a state of war existed the use of “quarantine” instead of “blockade” also enabled the United States to receive the support of the Organization of American States.

That same day, Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev declaring that the United States would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba, and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed, and return all offensive weapons to the U.S.S.R. The letter was the first in a series of direct and indirect communications between the White House and the Kremlin throughout the remainder of the crisis.

The President also went on national television that evening to inform the public of the developments in Cuba, his decision to initiate and enforce a “quarantine,” and the potential global consequences if the crisis continued to escalate. The tone of the President’s remarks was stern, and the message unmistakable and evocative of the Monroe Doctrine: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced a military readiness status of DEFCON 3 as U.S. naval forces began implementation of the quarantine and plans accelerated for a military strike on Cuba.

On October 24, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s message with a statement that the U.S. “blockade” was an “act of aggression” and that Soviet ships bound for Cuba would be ordered to proceed. Nevertheless, during October 24 and 25, some ships turned back from the quarantine line others were stopped by U.S. naval forces, but they contained no offensive weapons and so were allowed to proceed. Meanwhile, U.S. reconnaissance flights over Cuba indicated the Soviet missile sites were nearing operational readiness. With no apparent end to the crisis in sight, U.S. forces were placed at DEFCON 2—meaning war involving the Strategic Air Command was imminent. On October 26, Kennedy told his advisors it appeared that only a U.S. attack on Cuba would remove the missiles, but he insisted on giving the diplomatic channel a little more time. The crisis had reached a virtual stalemate.

That afternoon, however, the crisis took a dramatic turn. ABC News correspondent John Scali reported to the White House that he had been approached by a Soviet agent suggesting that an agreement could be reached in which the Soviets would remove their missiles from Cuba if the United States promised not to invade the island. While White House staff scrambled to assess the validity of this “back channel” offer, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message the evening of October 26, which meant it was sent in the middle of the night Moscow time. It was a long, emotional message that raised the specter of nuclear holocaust, and presented a proposed resolution that remarkably resembled what Scali reported earlier that day. “If there is no intention,” he said, “to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.”

Although U.S. experts were convinced the message from Khrushchev was authentic, hope for a resolution was short-lived. The next day, October 27, Khrushchev sent another message indicating that any proposed deal must include the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. That same day a U.S. U–2 reconnaissance jet was shot down over Cuba. Kennedy and his advisors prepared for an attack on Cuba within days as they searched for any remaining diplomatic resolution. It was determined that Kennedy would ignore the second Khrushchev message and respond to the first one. That night, Kennedy set forth in his message to the Soviet leader proposed steps for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba under supervision of the United Nations, and a guarantee that the United States would not attack Cuba.

It was a risky move to ignore the second Khrushchev message. Attorney General Robert Kennedy then met secretly with Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, and indicated that the United States was planning to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey anyway, and that it would do so soon, but this could not be part of any public resolution of the missile crisis. The next morning, October 28, Khrushchev issued a public statement that Soviet missiles would be dismantled and removed from Cuba.

The crisis was over but the naval quarantine continued until the Soviets agreed to remove their IL–28 bombers from Cuba and, on November 20, 1962, the United States ended its quarantine. U.S. Jupiter missiles were removed from Turkey in April 1963.

The Cuban missile crisis stands as a singular event during the Cold War and strengthened Kennedy’s image domestically and internationally. It also may have helped mitigate negative world opinion regarding the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Two other important results of the crisis came in unique forms. First, despite the flurry of direct and indirect communications between the White House and the Kremlin—perhaps because of it—Kennedy and Khrushchev, and their advisers, struggled throughout the crisis to clearly understand each others’ true intentions, while the world hung on the brink of possible nuclear war. In an effort to prevent this from happening again, a direct telephone link between the White House and the Kremlin was established it became known as the “Hotline.” Second, having approached the brink of nuclear conflict, both superpowers began to reconsider the nuclear arms race and took the first steps in agreeing to a nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Twenty Years Later, First Iraq War Still Resonates

The first Persian Gulf War ended on Feb. 28, 1991 — just five days after U.S.-led ground forces first confronted Iraqi troops on Kuwaiti soil, and just over a month after the U.S. had begun bombing Iraq from the air.

It was a short war with a long aftermath.

Then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein coined a catchphrase when he declared it would be the "mother of all battles" if U.S. and coalition forces sought to eject him from Kuwait. It turned out to be anything but.

We had pilots flying overhead, watching helicopters slaughter Iraqis.

Paul Wolfowitz, a Defense Department undersecretary during the war

"It was one of history's most lopsided victories," says Steve Yetiv, a political scientist at Old Dominion University in Virginia. "On the military side, it turned out not to be the 'mother of all battles' at all."

But the first Gulf War did lead to further confrontations — and its reverberations are still felt today.

Most obviously, it helped set the stage for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It also became a cause celebre for Osama bin Laden and one of the factors that led to al-Qaida's attacks against the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. Bin Laden was incensed that "filthy, infidel crusaders," as he called American troops, were based in his homeland of Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest sites.

"Bin Laden has repeatedly referred to the U.S. going into Saudi Arabia as a key reason for Sept. 11," says Yetiv, who has just published a history of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

How The War Began

In 1990, Iraq was broke, laden with debt from an eight-year war with Iran that had ended in 1988. That summer, Hussein massed troops along his country's border with Kuwait. Still, U.S. intelligence agencies — along with regional allies such as Saudi Arabia — did not believe Iraq would invade.

Once it did, Iraq won a swift victory, taking control of Kuwait within 12 hours. The great concern among other nations became the threat that Iraq's tanks would then roll into Saudi Arabia, giving Hussein control of a sizable share of the world's oil reserves.

"The stakes in 1990 and '91 were really rather enormous," says Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina. "Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world."

The U.S. Response

Iraq's absorption of Kuwait was initially accepted as a fait accompli, with President George H.W. Bush saying, "There is little the U.S. can do in a situation like this."

The stakes in 1990 and '91 were really rather enormous. Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world.

Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina

But coming just at the end of the Cold War, Bush was determined that such naked aggression could not be allowed to stand, or no small country would be safe. Bush soon convinced the Saudis that they needed U.S. protection and should provide a staging area for U.S. forces to repel Hussein's forces from Kuwait, unless he pulled out by a Jan. 15 deadline.

Bush won approval of a United Nations resolution allowing such an operation and convinced dozens of countries that they should stand alongside U.S. forces. An air offensive began Jan. 17, seriously softening up Iraqi resolve.

More than half of Iraq's forces had already left Kuwait by the time the coalition's ground offensive began Feb. 24. Despite estimates that Iraq's army — then the fourth largest in the world — would inflict upward of 45,000 casualties, total coalition deaths numbered well under 1,000, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Too Quick A Victory?

With much — but not all — of Iraq's forces in retreat, U.S. generals liked the idea of ending the ground war on its fifth day, going one better than the Israelis had in their 1967 Six-Day War against neighboring Arab states, according to Bush biographer Herbert Parmet. White House Chief of Staff John Sununu liked the sound of the ground war being completed in 100 hours, so a ceasefire was set for 8 a.m., Riyadh time, on Feb. 28.

Some commanders on the ground were incensed that they were not allowed to decimate more of Iraq's top troops and tanks while they had the chance. Regret would spread during the subsequent weeks, historical accounts suggest.

Before the ground war, Bush had encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Hussein, in hopes of staving off a ground invasion. Taking that as encouragement, both Shiites in Iraq's south and Kurds in the north began rebellions after the ceasefire. But they were mowed down within days by the tens of thousands, with Iraq using military helicopters that U.S. commanders allowed them to fly, nominally for the Iraqis' communications purposes.

"We had pilots flying overhead, watching helicopters slaughter Iraqis," Paul Wolfowitz, a Defense Department undersecretary during the war, complained at a Feb. 15 Council on Foreign Relations panel marking the conflict's 20th anniversary.

The U.S. ultimately set up massive operations to help Iraqi refugees and established no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq to protect their populations. But lasting damage was done to the U.S. image, at least among Shiites in the south.

"One of the impacts was that many Shia in Iraq became very bitter against the U.S.," says James DeFronzo, a University of Connecticut sociologist and author of a book about the second Iraq war. "That's one of the reasons why, during the second Iraq war, there was not the kind of reception that U.S. soldiers had been led to expect."

Al-Qaida Reaction

U.S. forces would remain in the region, in part to enforce the no-fly zone. This incensed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

It is true that after the end of the [1991] war there was a lot of talk about 'Why didn't you finish the job?' And that continued until the second Gulf War. But we don't hear it anymore.

Brent Scowcroft, who served as President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser

Fresh from his symbolically important role in helping to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, bin Laden had been eager to play the leading role in protecting his Saudi homeland from Iraqi incursion.

In September 1990, he told Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister, that he could muster 100,000 fighters within three months and there would be no need for American or other "non-Muslim troops."

"There are no caves in Kuwait," Prince Sultan said in response. The Saudis much preferred the promise of hundreds of thousands of Western troops made to them by Dick Cheney, then the U.S. defense secretary, to the prospect of thousands of armed jihadists operating within their borders.

This ultimately led to bin Laden's final break with the Saudi elite and turned his organization's attention toward Western enemies, says Adam Mausner, a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After U.S. forces had remained in Saudi Arabia for some years, bin Laden wrote the Saudi king that "it is unconscionable to let the country become an American colony with American soldiers — their filthy feet everywhere."

"The presence of American troops on Saudi soil galvanized the faction of al-Qaida that wanted to focus on the 'far enemy' first," Mausner says. "Al-Qaida really got on the road to 9/11 because of American troops' presence in Saudi Arabia."

'Unfinished Business'

Historians of the war have established that no one within the Bush administration argued at the time that coalition forces should exceed the U.N. mandate by chasing Iraqi troops all the way to Baghdad. U.S. officials initially believed that Hussein's regime would fall of its own accord following his loss, but should not be toppled for fear of losing a regional counterweight against Iran.

But Hussein remained a continuing thorn. The U.S. kept up a program of sanctions and bombing through the Clinton years. After the towers fell on Sept. 11, President George W. Bush instructed his advisers to look for connections between Iraq and al-Qaida.

Given the threat, the second Bush administration was concerned about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction. Following the 1991 war, weapons inspectors found that Iraq was closer to building nuclear weapons than Western officials had believed, leading to skepticism within the administration when a new round of inspections found no evidence of nuclear weaponry in 2002.

The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, with Bush brushing aside warnings from some of his father's advisers that he would face the same trap they had avoided by not going all the way to Baghdad in 1991.

Even Wolfowitz, who became a leading advocate for the 2003 invasion as deputy defense secretary, had written in 1997 of that earlier decision that "a new regime would have become a United States responsibility. Conceivably, this could have led the U.S. into a more or less permanent occupation of a country that could not govern itself, but where the rule of a foreign occupier would be increasingly resented."

"It is true that after the end of the [1991] war there was a lot of talk about 'Why didn't you finish the job?' " Brent Scowcroft, who served as President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser, said at the Council on Foreign Relations panel.

"And that continued until the second Gulf war," Scowcroft said. "But we don't hear it anymore."

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War marked the failure of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations’ efforts to prevent renewed Arab-Israeli conflict following the 1956 Suez War. Unwilling to return to what National Security Advisor Walter Rostow called the “tenuous chewing gum and string arrangements” established after Suez, the Johnson administration sought Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it had occupied in exchange for peace settlements with its Arab neighbors. This formula has remained the basis of all U.S. Middle East peacemaking efforts into the present.

The Johnson Administration and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1963–1967

Lyndon Johnson’s presidency witnessed the transformation of the American role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Until the early 1960s, the United States had adhered to the terms of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950, wherein the United States, United Kingdom, and France had pledged to prevent aggression by Middle Eastern states and oppose a regional arms race. The United States had pressed Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip after Suez, and rejected Israeli requests for all but limited quantities of defensive weapons. By the time Johnson took office, however, U.S. policymakers concluded that this policy was no longer sustainable. Soviet arms sales to left-leaning Arab states, especially Egypt, threatened to erode Israel’s military superiority. Johnson’s advisors worried that if the United States did not offset this shift in the balance of power, Israel’s leaders might launch a preventive war or develop nuclear weapons.

Initially, the Johnson administration sought to convince Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Soviet leadership to work toward a regional arms control regime, but neither party proved receptive. Thus, in 1965, Johnson agreed to sell Israel M48A3 tanks, followed by A–4 Skyhawk aircraft in 1966. The rationale behind these sales, as National Security Council staffer Robert Komer put it, was that “Arab knowledge that they could not win an arms race against Israel should contribute long-term to the damping down of the Arab-Israeli dispute.”

However, U.S. efforts to preserve the regional balance of power were soon undermined by Fatah and other Palestinian guerilla organizations, which began attacking targets inside Israel. The Johnson administration tried to intercede with Fatah’s Syrian patrons and to prevent Israeli retaliation against Jordan, from which most Palestinian raids were launched. U.S. officials worried that Israeli reprisals could undermine Jordan’s King Hussein, who had secretly agreed to keep Jordan’s strategically crucial West Bank a buffer zone. In November 1966, when the Israelis attacked the West Bank town of Samu‘ , the Johnson administration voted for a United Nations Resolution condemning Israel, admonished Israeli officials, and authorized an emergency airlift of military equipment to Jordan.

While the administration’s response to Samu‘ helped prevent further Israeli reprisals against Jordan, it failed to address the underlying problem of Palestinian cross-border attacks. By the spring of 1967, the Israelis were retaliating forcefully against Syria, whose leaders demanded that Egypt intervene on their behalf.

The Gulf War, 1991

At the end of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980–1988, Iraq emerged with its state intact and a reinforced sense of national pride, but laden with massive debts. Iraq had largely financed the war effort through loans, and owed some $37 billion to Gulf creditors in 1990. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called on the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to cancel the Iraqi debt they held, arguing that the loans should be considered payments to Iraq for protecting the Arabian Peninsula from Iranian expansionism, but his appeals went unanswered. The Gulf states’ refusal to cancel Iraq’s war debts contributed to Saddam Hussein’s decision to make threats against Iraq’s rich, but militarily weak, neighbor Kuwait.

After Kuwait rejected Saddam’s debt-forgiveness demands, he threatened to reignite a conflict over the long-standing question of ownership of the Warbah and Bubiyan Islands, to which Iraq ascribed importance because of the secure access they afforded to its ports on the Khawr 'Abd Allah—the waterway to the Persian Gulf that remained the only viable alternative to the closed Shatt Al-'Arab, cluttered with debris from the Iran-Iraq War.

The dispute over the Bubiyan and Warbah Islands was a key point of contention in the lengthy history of territorial conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. In 1961, when the United Kingdom ended its protectorate over Kuwait, then Iraqi Prime Minister General 'Abd Al-Karim Qasim asserted that Kuwait was an "integral part of Iraq" because it had been part of the former Ottoman province of Al-Basrah. Iraq threatened to exert its sovereignty over Kuwait, but the consequent deployment of British troops to Kuwait forced the Iraqis to back down. Although subsequent regimes relinquished this claim by recognizing Kuwait's independence, Ba’athist Iraq never formally accepted a common boundary between the two countries.

Still, there had been no major incidents regarding the border dispute until 1990, when Iraq was in the throes of the postwar economic crisis. In July, Saddam accused Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of breaking with Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production quotas and over-producing crude oil for export, which depressed prices, depriving Iraq of critical oil revenues. In addition, Saddam Hussein alleged that Kuwait was stealing oil from the Rumayla oil field that straddled the Iraq-Kuwait border. He also demanded that Kuwait cede control of the Bubiyan and Warbah Islands to Iraq.

During this period, there was a deterioration of relations between the United States and Iraq. Iraq accused the United States and Israel of deliberately weakening Iraq by encouraging Kuwait to reduce oil prices. When Iraq began to threaten Kuwait early in July 1990, the United States staged maneuvers in the Gulf to warn Iraq against taking military action against the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Despite this show of U.S. force, President George H.W. Bush adopted a conciliatory policy toward Saddam Hussein in hopes of moderating the Iraqi regime and policies. The Bush administration tried to maintain economic and political relations with Iraq, and on April 12, 1990, sent a delegation of American senators led by Senator Robert Dole to meet with Hussein. Senator Dole brought a message from the White House suggesting that the United States wanted to improve relations with Iraq. A letter from President Bush to Saddam delivered by U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie on July 27 echoed this sentiment.

But on August 2, 1990, a force of one hundred thousand Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait and overran the country in a matter of hours. The invasion of Kuwait led to a United Nations Security Council embargo and sanctions on Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition air and ground war, which began on January 16, 1991, and ended with an Iraqi defeat and retreat from Kuwait on February 28, 1991.

Although the United States was aware of Hussein’s threats to Kuwait, it did not anticipate the Iraqi military incursion. The Iraqi Republican Guard units moved toward Kuwait City while Iraqi Special Forces secured key sites, including the islands of Warba and Bubayan, Kuwaiti air fields, and the palaces of the Emir and the Crown Prince. There was some Kuwaiti resistance to the Iraqi invasion, but the Iraqi forces easily suppressed Kuwait’s defenses. Members of the Kuwaiti royal family escaped to Saudi Arabia where they appealed for international support. On August 28, Iraq declared that Kuwait had become its nineteenth province.

International condemnation of the Iraqi invasion was widespread and virtually unanimous. Within days, the United States led efforts to organize an international coalition, which, working through the United Nations Security Council, passed Resolution 660 demanding Iraq’s immediate and unconditional withdrawal, Resolution 661 imposing economic sanctions, and Resolution 663 declaring the annexation of Kuwait null and void.

The United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to a deployment of U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia to protect the peninsula. At the same time, the United States and the coalition insisted on Iraq’s unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait, but Iraq refused to withdraw and began looting Kuwait and destroying its infrastructure.

By October 30, the Bush administration made a decision to push Iraq out of Kuwait by force if necessary. Bush increased the U.S. force presence and petitioned the United Nations for authorization to use force. The result was UN Resolution 678, which authorized the use of force to compel Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, but gave Iraq a forty-five day grace period to withdraw. Led by the United States, an international coalition of nations amassed forces in the region to help liberate Kuwait.

After the deadline for withdrawal passed, the coalition led by the United States attacked Iraq by air. Within twenty-four hours, coalition forces controlled the skies and bombarded such strategic sites as the Iraqi command and control facilities, Saddam Hussein’s palaces, the Ba’th Party headquarters, power stations, intelligence and security facilities, hydroelectric stations, oil refineries, military-industrial complexes, and Iraq’s missile facilities. Coalition aircraft subsequently targeted Iraqi troops in Kuwait

In retaliation, Saddam Hussein launched missile attacks against Israel and on coalition force bases in Saudi Arabia. But Israel refused to retaliate and coalition forces took the offensive by launching a land campaign that began on February 24 and lasted four days. Comprising forces from thirty-four countries, including a number of Arab countries, the coalition forces liberated Kuwait City and drove Iraqi forces into a retreat. On March 2, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 686, which set forth conditions for a cease-fire. Iraq was obligated to accept its provisions, which included sanctions and payment of reparations for war damages. Iraq was obligated to return property stolen from Kuwait. The United States continued to put pressure on Iraq through the United Nations, which passed Security Council Resolution 687 establishing the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to inspect Iraq’s suspected chemical and biological weapons capabilities. The United States subsequently sought to ensure that the trade embargo imposed on Iraq the previous year through Resolution 661 remained in place and that Iraq was stripped of chemical weapons and missiles and its nuclear research capabilities. In the chaos following the war, spontaneous Shiite rebellions in the South and Kurdish unrest in northern Iraq broke out but were eventually suppressed by Saddam Hussein and his Revolutionary Guards.


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