A textbook example

War, 20 years later: Baghdad decision discussed at star-studded Desert Storm reunion

War, 20 years later: Baghdad decision discussed at star-studded Desert Storm reunion

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Former President George H.W. Bush addresses 6,000 at Texas A&M. Photo by Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
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Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, left, and Dick Cheney, defense secretary under 41 and vice president under 43, were on the panel. Photo by Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
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Former Vice President Dan Quayle and former President George H.W. Bush greeted the audience at Reed Arena. Photo by Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
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Members of the audience at the event included active military and Desert Storm veterans. Photo by Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
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Barbara and former President George H.W. Bush Photo by Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
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A scene from the war room during one of the Desert Storm briefings.
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The decision makers behind Desert Storm are certain that history has proven them to be right.
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It was a monumental day for Texas A&M University Thursday when the political and military leaders of Operation Desert Storm gathered to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the short-lived war to liberate Kuwait from the hands of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces. For those who might have been foggy on the details, the two-hour program served not only as a refresher course but also as an opportunity to hear first-hand from those instrumental in orchestrating the multi-national effort.

"History will say that we got this one right," said President George H.W. Bush as he addressed the crowd of 6,000 at A&M's Reed Arena. The former president spoke briefly to the gathering that included several hundred Desert Storm veterans invited as special guests, military brass from Ft. Hood, major donors to the Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the A&M Corps and the general public. 

"No president was ever better served by his foreign policy team," Bush said. "My gratitude for them knows no bounds."

It was that team that would spend more than an hour discussing various aspects of the conflict that involved 500,000 U.S. servicemen and resulted in 148 killed and 467 wounded.

Also addressing the gathering but not participating in the broader discussion was Sheikh Ahmad Humood Jaber Al-Sabah, representing the emir of Kuwait, who cited Bush’s “decisive action” in 1991. "The world is a safer place thanks to Desert Storm and to the world's response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression,” he said.

With Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service Ryan Crocker serving as moderator, the protagonists in this chapter of U.S. history settled into tufted leather chairs spread across the arena stage for the broad-based discussion. Bush's Secretary of State James A. Baker III, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and retired Marine Gen. Walter Boomer provided their insights. 

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces, had been scheduled to attend, but had to cancel due to health issues. He sent a letter that was read by Powell. 

The men talked about the days and actions leading up to the 43-day war including Baker's fruitless seven-hour meeting in Geneva with Iraq foreign minister Tariq Azziz. They acknowledged internal conflicts between members of the team. "There were lots of disagreements," Powell said. "You have to have arguments to get the best ideas out."
 
They discussed the decision not to move on to Baghdad. "At the end of the 100 hours, we had done what we said we were going to do," Cheney said. 
 
Mohammad Abdullah Abulhasan, Kuwait's United Nations representative at the time, who joined in the discussion, candidly countered, "The Kuwaiti people would have liked it if we had extended the 100 hours to 10 more hours and eliminated Baghdad."
 
In the end, the men concluded, as expressed by Baker, that Desert Storm "was a textbook example of the way to go to war diplomatically, politically, in the U.S. militarily and, of course, economically" with other countries contributing to the effort.
 
This public part of the evening concluded with Lee Greenwood singing "Proud To Be An American." 
 
Among the VIPs on hand was former ambassador to Qatar Chase Untermeyer who noted, "The panel was a reminder that in times of need, America has great reserves of talent to mobilize in its service."
 
Following the commemoration, the George Bush School of Government and Public Service hosted 250 VIPs to a seated dinner, catered by Jackson & Co., in the rotunda of the Bush library. The panelists and Barbara and George Bush were joined by A&M president Bowen Loftin and a number of Houstonians including Untermeyer with his wife Diana, Drayton McLane and wife Elizabeth, Rob Mosbacher and Betty and John Hrncir.
 
Former Vice President Dan Quayle opened the dinner with a moving toast to the Bushes. Though introduced at the beginning of the Reed Arena program by Bush as his "good wing man," Quayle did not participate in the earlier event.
 
Lee Greenwood performed at the dinner, this time closing the evening with the Texas A&M Singing Cadets. Once again, it was "Proud To Be An American," a song played almost every morning for troops during the Desert Storm conflict.