Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the start of what we used to call the Persian Gulf War (that nomenclature has gotten fuzzy since we launched the second Gulf War).
A U.S.-led alliance kicked Saddam Hussein’s military out of Kuwait following Iraq’s invasion of that country five months earlier. Operation Desert Storm took 40 days of bombing and 100 hours of ground combat to complete the mission. An estimated 20,000 Iraqi troops, and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians, died in the campaign. So did 148 American troops, including 35 killed by “friendly fire.”
The war’s lopsidedness amazed the world, and awed potential foes (especially China). But it was a war with limited lessons, because it involved ousting an invader from a relatively small piece of ground, not taking and holding substantial terrain long-held by the enemy. The U.S. military has long been better at “shock and awe” — breaking the greenhouse glass — than in nation-building — nurturing the plants inside. Perhaps that’s why we’ve spent about 80,000 hours, and counting, at war inside Afghanistan.