In 1996, suspected Iranian agents bombed the U.S. Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding 547 people. Bin Laden’s Sunni followers launched a series of terrorist attacks including the 1998 blasts at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole, culminating in the 9/11 assaults in the U.S., which changed the world.
As a result, many commentators now see the Gulf War not so much as a model for maintaining global security in the post-Cold War era but as evidence that U.S. military intervention did not stabilize the Middle East.
“It’s worth recalling that U.S. intervention in the region simply hasn’t worked,” said historian Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and West Point graduate whose son was killed in action in Iraq in 2007.
“Those who remember the war as a great victory — that’s not quite accurate,” he said. “It leaves out everything that happened afterward. That was the moment when a large-scale introduction of (Western) troops into Saudi Arabia occurred, and when the war ended left all kinds of loose ends, and as a result, kept troops there,” he added. “The war actually continued throughout the decade.”
The Gulf War may not have given birth to terrorism and instability in the Middle East — the region had known turmoil and terror long before Saddam’s tanks rolled into Kuwait.
Nonetheless, the fallout from the war undermined the lofty goals of 1990 when President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker put together a huge international coalition to battle Saddam and restore a sovereign Kuwait.
“It could neither usher in a ‘new world order,’ as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself,” Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations said during a discussion in September marking the war’s 25th anniversary. “The war just didn’t turn out to be the turning point that many of us hoped or thought it would be at the time.”
Thomas Pickering, a veteran American ambassador and former undersecretary of state, said the relatively easy victory led to “hubris about unipolarity and too much confidence about unalloyed, totally positive, always accepting U.S. world leadership.”
“And so we did things ... without thinking about where we were going to go and put forces in the field that were inadequate, but marched merrily along the path without the kind of time and attention that was required to look at the end game.”
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