On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein, notorious Iraqi strongman, triggered the first great international crisis of the post-Cold War era by invading Kuwait and declaring it Iraq’s nineteenth province. With Kuwait in his back pocket and the fourth largest army in the world at his disposal, Saddam effectively controlled two-thirds of the earth’s oil reserves, and had every hope of establishing Iraq as the dominant power in the region.
As the Iraqi military build-up continued apace in Kuwait, fears of an invasion of Saudi Arabia mounted. On August 6, George Bush declared, “This will not stand, this aggression of Kuwait,” and he meant it. Quickly the American president obtained UN Security Council resolutions condemning the attack, imposing an embargo on Iraq, and seizing its foreign assets.
An extraordinarily diverse military coalition consisting of more than half a million American and 200,000 international troops, including those of key Arab states, was formed under the command of Gen. “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, and deployed along the Kuwait-Saudi Arabian border over the course of the next several months. The coalition’s initial mission, Operation Desert Shield, was to prevent an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia while diplomats, Western and Arab alike, sought to persuade Saddam to withdraw his forces. Its second mission—Operation Desert Storm—was to force Iraq’s withdrawal by force of arms if diplomacy failed.