Norman Schwarzkopf Dead at 78

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander during Operation Desert Storm, has died at the age of 78.

Associated Press/Bob Daugherty, File - FILE - In this Jan. 12, 1991 file photo, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf stands at ease with his tank troops during Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia. Schwarzkopf died Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. He was 78. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)  l

General H. Norman Schwarzkoft, commander during Operation Desert Storm, has died at the age of 78.

AP (“Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf dies“):

Retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who topped an illustrious military career by commanding the U.S.-led international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991 but kept a low public profile in controversies over the second Gulf War against Iraq, died Thursday. He was 78.

Schwarzkopf died in Tampa, Fla., where he had lived in retirement, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to release the information publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A much-decorated combat soldier in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf was known popularly as “Stormin’ Norman” for a notoriously explosive temper.

He served in his last military assignment in Tampa as commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command, the headquarters responsible for U.S. military and security concerns in nearly 20 countries from the eastern Mediterranean and Africa to Pakistan.

Schwarzkopf became “CINC-Centcom” in 1988 and when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait three years later to punish it for allegedly stealing Iraqi oil reserves, he commanded Operation Desert Storm, the coalition of some 30 countries organized by then-President George H.W. Bush that succeeded in driving the Iraqis out.

At the peak of his postwar national celebrity, Schwarzkopf – a self-proclaimed political independent – rejected suggestions that he run for office, and remained far more private than other generals, although he did serve briefly as a military commentator for NBC.

While focused primarily in his later years on charitable enterprises, he campaigned for President George W. Bush in 2000 but was ambivalent about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying he doubted victory would be as easy as the White House and Pentagon predicted. In early 2003 he told the Washington Post the outcome was an unknown:

“What is postwar Iraq going to look like, with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites? That’s a huge question, to my mind. It really should be part of the overall campaign plan,” he said.

Initially Schwarzkopf had endorsed the invasion, saying he was convinced that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had given the United Nations powerful evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. After that proved false, he said decisions to go to war should depend on what U.N. weapons inspectors found.

He seldom spoke up during the conflict, but in late 2004, he sharply criticized then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon for mistakes that included inadequate training for Army reservists sent to Iraq and for erroneous judgments about Iraq.

“In the final analysis I think we are behind schedule. … I don’t think we counted on it turning into jihad (holy war),” he said in an NBC interview.

Schwarzkopf became a legend through his daily televised briefings on CNN during the war. The irony was that, as the first truly televised war, those at home—including my parents—had a much better understanding of the war and Schwarzkopt’s personality than those of us fighting the war did. My folks bought me a couple VHS tapes highlighting the war footage, including some of Schwarzkopf’s more famous remarks, such as his assessment of Saddam Hussein:

As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that he’s a great military man-I want you to know that.

The general’s 1993 autobiography, It Doesn’t Take A Hero, earned a snarky footnote in my dissertation for it’s assertion that, had US forces continued to pursue Hussein into Baghdad, rather than simply ejecting his forces from Kuwait, the coalition that President George H.W. Bush (himself now in critical condition in a Houston hospital) had assembled would have collapsed. “Not even France,” Schwarzkoft declared, would have stood by us. My footnote was something to the effect that “It’s not clear from content whether Schwarzkopf was being ironic with regard to French steadfastness.”

Regardless, while the general has been out of the spotlight for some time now, he was a great public servant. May he rest in peace.

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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. Hal 10000 says:

    He could have gone into politics after the Gulf War but didn’t. And I still remember when he refused to kneel before the queen when she knighted him. A true American.

  2. Tim says:

    I had the pleasure of serving on his staff in Riyadh during Desert Shield/Storm as an Air Force Master Sergeant. He was well-liked by the enlisted corps in particular because he was easy-going and treated us as the professionals we were. He lived frugally in a room off his office at the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation HQ building. I think his one luxury there was a recliner, perhaps a Barcalounger, he had shipped over from the states. We would sometimes have to wake him in the middle of the night when we had high-precedence cable traffic for him to read. After his aide would wake him, he’d call us in and read the message while in his plain army skivvies as he sat on the edge of his simple twin bed. He was one of those guys who I would have served under anyplace, anytime, and if he had ever run for office, I would have voted for him.

    A great American! A good and decent man. RIP General.

  3. Doug says:

    @Hal 10000: Non British subjects don’t kneel when knighted so it’s not a ‘refusal’ – and if it is a refusal then go the whole way and decline the honour.

  4. Franklin says:

    Haven’t heard this name much in awhile, but he seemed like a cool guy. I didn’t know about his supposedly explosive temper. Tim – did you ever witness that?

  5. SC_Birdflyte says:

    My wife and I were vacationing in the Tampa Bay area when the news broke. Local press coverage noted that prior to Desert Storm, almost no one knew that CENTCOM headquarters was at MacDill AFB. When Schwartzkopf retired, he used his considerable influence to ensure that MacDill was omitted from future rounds of base closings. That helped to make him a permanent hero to most residents.