Little known outside the U.S. military before Hussein’s Republican Guard invaded Kuwait in early August 1990, Gen. Schwarzkopf planned and led one of the most lopsided victories in modern military history.
Even before the rapid victory, the general was known as “Stormin’ Norman” for his sometimes volcanic temper.
The campaign, designed to expel Hussein’s forces and liberate Kuwait, commenced in January 1990 with a 43-day high-tech air assault on Iraq before a massive armored assault force launched a 100-hour ground offensive that inflicted swift and heavy losses on the Iraqis. Gen. Schwarzkopf commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and an allied force of more than 200,000 from 28 countries, plus hundreds of ships and thousands of aircraft, armored vehicles and tanks during the war.
Broadcast to the nation nonstop on CNN, the war gave the nation and the world its first look at a new American military strategy that used precision-guided bombs dropped from hundreds of aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships. Both Gen. Schwarzkopf and his boss at the Pentagon, Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were Vietnam War veterans who had helped rebuild this force.
Gen. Schwarzkopf was accessible to the media throughout the war and became a familiar figure addressing reporters in his desert fatigues. He spoke in plain English, instead of using military jargon.
But the adulation he received from the American public quickly gave way to second-guessing by many historians, who questioned the decision by President George H.W. Bush and senior members of his administration to end the ground war after just four days, allowing Hussein to remain in power and much of his Republican Guard to retreat from Kuwait unscathed.
In a television interview after his triumphant return to the United States, Gen. Schwarzkopf claimed that he wanted to continue the war. But his assertion was sharply contested by Richard B. Cheney, then secretary of defense, and Powell, who said that Gen. Schwarzkopf had concurred in the decision by the president and his administration to end combat in four days.
Gen. Schwarzkopf, who retired in the summer of 1991, backed off his claim in his 1992 memoir, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” for which he received an advance of almost $6 million. He criticized unnamed civilians in the Bush administration for trying to hastily speed commencement of the ground war.
Rick Atkinson, in his 1993 book “Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War,” described Gen. Schwarzkopf as a volcanic figure who threatened to fire numerous subordinates and often behaved like an imperial dictator. But he concluded that Schwarzkopf made “no significant error of strategy or tactic.”