James Baker and the Desert Storm Legacy

Austin Bay has an interesting essay at StrategyPage on “James Baker and the Desert Storm Legacy.” In it, he argues that a major obstacle that the U.S. has faced in Gulf War II is the fact that we left Saddam in power and, more importantly, abandoned Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites to his depredations. He notes the irony that the Secretary of State who helped make that decision has been tasked with finding a solution out of the current mess.

In fairness, while we failed to support the Kurds in their coup attempt and did not immediately intervene to stop Saddam from massacring Shiites, we did quickly intervene in both instances. Operation Provide Comfort and its successors not only protected the Kurds but essentially established them as a quasi-autonomous province. Likewise, Operation Southern Watch and its successors established no-fly zones in the Shiite south and protected them from further action. Those operations were ongoing at the time of the 2003 invasion and, indeed, were part of the rationale for regime change.

In essence, then, U.S. forces have been in Iraq continuously since August 1990*, a period of over sixteen years. It would not surprise me if they are still there sixteen years from now. The only question is how many and in what role.

*Update: Actually, we were in Saudi Arabia providing a bulwark against a possible Iraqi invasion and as a show of force to urge Saddam to remove his troops from Kuwait. We didn’t “cross the berm” into Iraq until February 1991, having commenced air operations on 17 January. Some Special Forces teams had gone in earlier, however.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ugh says:

    U.S. forces have been in Iraq continuously since August 1990

    A nit but I thought we invaded in January 1991?

  2. James Joyner says:


    You’re right, at least technically.

    Desert Storm kicked off on 17 January 1991 and that’s when we “crossed the berm” into Iraq. Desert Shield, the build-up and defense of Saudi Arabia, commenced with the deployment of the 82nd Airborne on 7 August 1990. Indeed, I was part of the second wave of that buildup, arriving in December 1990.