George H. W. Bush eText - Primary Source

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A gun is fired aboard the battleship USS Missouri as the first phase of the Persian Gulf War takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast. ©Corbis. Reproduced by permission. A gun is fired aboard the battleship USS Published by Gale Cengage ©Corbis. Reproduced by permission.
On January 16, 1991, President George H. W. Bush appeared on national television to announce that the Persian Gulf War had begun. Courtesy of The Library of Congress. Reproduced by permission. On January 16, 1991, President George H. W. Bush appeared on national television to announce that the Persian Gulf War had begun. Published by Gale Cengage Courtesy of The Library of Congress. Reproduced by permission.

Excerpt from his announcement of war against Iraq

Nationally televised on January 16, 1991

At 9:00 PM on January 16, 1991, President George H. W. Bush appeared on national television to inform the American people that the United States and its allies were engaged in a war against Iraq. Most Americans had been expecting this announcement for some time. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ordered his military forces to invade the neighboring country of Kuwait. Hussein argued that Iraq had a historical claim to Kuwait's territory. He also wanted to control Kuwait's oil reserves and to gain access to Kuwait's port on the Persian Gulf. But the invasion outraged members of the international community and started a chain of events that seemed to lead inevitably toward war.

Many countries around the world criticized Husseins's actions. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion and demanding that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. It also imposed strict restrictions on trade with Iraq in order to punish Hussein for breaking international law. Many people hoped that the sanctions would hurt the Iraqi economy and make it impossible for Hussein to continue his occupation of Kuwait.

In the meantime, the United States and its allies began sending military forces to the Persian Gulf region. On November 29, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 678, which established a deadline of midnight on January 15, 1991, for Hussein to withdraw his army from Kuwait. If Iraq continued to occupy Kuwait after the deadline, the Security Council authorized the allied coalition, made up of more than thirty-five countries, to use "all necessary means to ... restore international peace and security in the area."

During the next six weeks, a number of world leaders made frantic efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis. But Hussein refused to withdraw his forces from Kuwait and instead moved even more troops across the border. He also began threatening to attack other nearby countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. As the UN deadline drew closer, the U.S. Congress held a series of debates and formally approved the use of force against Iraq. The January 15 deadline came and went without any indication that Hussein would withdraw. The following day the U.S.-led coalition launched an air war against Iraq.

The first official U.S. government announcement of the start of the war came at 7:00 PM on January 16. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater gave a press briefing in which he stated that "the liberation of Kuwait has begun." Two hours later President Bush made a prepared speech on national television. In this speech, which is excerpted here, Bush tells the American people that negotiations and sanctions failed to convince the Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait. He claims that the six-month Iraqi occupation took a terrible toll on the Kuwaiti people and also had negative effects on other countries around the world. He outlines the U.S. strategy, which involves using massive air strikes to destroy Iraq's offensive military capability so that it can no longer threaten its neighbors. Bush stresses that his goal is to free Kuwait rather than conquer Iraq. He places the blame for the war squarely on Saddam Hussein and says that he has no argument with the Iraqi people.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from President Bush's announcement of war against Iraq:

  • In his speech President Bush says that the Iraqi army "subjected the people of Kuwait to unspeakable atrocities [extremely cruel or brutal acts]." He is referring to the fact that thousands of people in Kuwait were arrested, tortured, or killed in the weeks following the Iraqi invasion. Iraqi soldiers randomly pulled people off the streets of Kuwait City and held them for questioning. Anyone who was suspected of resisting Iraqi rule was executed. Many witnesses reported that the Iraqi forces set up "torture centers" to intimidate and extract information from the Kuwaiti people. Iraqi soldiers also broke into thousands of private homes and businesses and stole or destroyed everything of value.
  • Among the reasons President Bush provides for going to war is that Iraq's occupation of Kuwait was causing serious damage to economies around the world. The price of oil doubled to reach $40 per barrel in the months following the Iraqi invasion. This rapid price increase hit hardest in the poor countries of the developing world (also known as the Third World). As these countries struggled to industrialize, they became more dependent on oil imports than ever before. One economist estimated that every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil added $2 billion to a developing country's annual cost of imports. The crisis in the Persian Gulf also affected some Third World countries by cutting off the flow of income from their citizens who worked in the region. Hundreds of thousands of people from poor nations of Asia and North Africa lived in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other wealthy Middle Eastern nations. They held jobs as "guest workers" and sent most of their earnings home to support their families. The revenue generated by these citizens played an important role in some developing countries. Guest workers sent $400 million per year back to India, for example, and $100 million per year back to the Philippines. Finally, many guest workers fled the Persian Gulf region following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which left many developing nations struggling to deal with refugees.

Excerpt from President Bush's 1991 announcement of war against Iraq

Just two hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Ground forces are not engaged.

This conflict started August 2nd when the dictator of Iraq invaded a small and helpless neighbor. Kuwait—a member of the Arab League and a member of the United Nations—was crushed, its people brutalized. Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined.

This military action, taken in accord with United Nations resolutions—and with the consent of the United States Congress—follows months of constant and virtually endless diplomatic activity on the part of the United Nations, the United States, and many, many other countries. Arab leaders sought what became known as an Arab solution—only to conclude that Saddam Hussein was unwilling to leave Kuwait. Others traveled to Baghdad in a variety of efforts to restore peace and justice. Our Secretary of State, James Baker, held an historic meeting in Geneva—only to be totally rebuffed. This past weekend, in a last ditch effort, the Secretary General of the United Nations went to the Middle East with peace in his heart—his second such mission. And he came back from Baghdad with no progress at all in getting Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait.

Now the 28 countries with forces in the Gulf area have exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution, have no choice but to drive Saddam from Kuwait by force. We will not fail.

As I report to you, air attacks are underway against military targets in Iraq. We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb potential. We will also destroy his chemical weapons facilities. Much of Saddam's artillery and tanks will be destroyed. Our operations are designed to best protect the lives of all the coalition forces by targeting Saddam's vast military arsenal.

Initial reports from General Schwarzkopf are that our operations are proceeding according to plan.

Our objectives are clear. Saddam Hussein's forces will leave Kuwait. The legitimate government of Kuwait will be restored to its rightful place and Kuwait will once again be free. Iraq will eventually comply with all relevant United Nations resolutions. And then, when peace is restored, it is our hope that Iraq will live as a peaceful and cooperative member of the family of nations, thus enhancing the security and stability of the Gulf.

Some may ask, why act now? Why not wait? The answer is clear: The world could wait no longer. Sanctions, though having some effect, showed no signs of accomplishing their objective. Sanctions were tried for well over five months, and we and our allies concluded that sanctions alone would not force Saddam from Kuwait.

While the world waited, Saddam Hussein systematically raped, pillaged, and plundered a tiny nation, no threat to his own. He subjected the people of Kuwait to unspeakable atrocities—and among those maimed and murdered [were] innocent children.

While the world waited, Saddam sought to add to the chemical weapons arsenal he now possesses an infinitely more dangerous weapon of mass destruction—a nuclear weapon. And while the world waited, while the world talked peace and withdrawal, Saddam Hussein dug in and moved massive forces into Kuwait.

While the world waited, while Saddam stalled, more damage was being done to the fragile economies of the Third World, the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe, to the entire world, including our own economy.

The United States, together with the United Nations, exhausted every means at our disposal to bring this crisis to a peaceful end. However, Saddam clearly felt that by stalling and threatening and defying the United Nations he could weaken the forces arrayed against him.

While the world waited, Saddam Hussein met every overture of peace with open contempt. While the world prayed for peace, Saddam prepared for war.

I had hoped that when the United States Congress, in historic debate, took its resolute action, Saddam would realize he could not prevail and would move out of Kuwait in accord with the United Nations resolutions. He did not do that. Instead, he remained intransigent, certain that time was on his side....

We have no argument with the people of Iraq. Indeed, for the innocents caught in this conflict, I pray for their safety. Our goal is not the conquest of Iraq—it is the liberation of Kuwait. It is my hope that somehow the Iraqi people can, even now, convince their dictator that he must lay down his arms, leave Kuwait, and let Iraq itself rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.

Thomas Paine wrote many years ago: "These are the times that try men's souls." Those well-known words are so very true today. But even as planes of the multinational forces attack Iraq, I prefer to think of peace, not war. I am convinced not only that we will prevail, but that out of the horror of combat will come the recognition that no nation can stand against a world united. No nation will be permitted to brutally assault its neighbor.

What happened next...

The U.S.-led attack on Iraq received the code name Operation Desert Storm. Allied warplanes flew more than one thousand sorties (one plane flying one mission) in the first fourteen hours of the war. These planes used high-tech weapons to destroy hundreds of military and industrial targets in Iraq. Although the laser-guided "smart bombs" and missiles usually hit their targets successfully, they did occasionally miss and cause casualties (people wounded or killed) among Iraqi civilians (people not involved in the war, including women and children).

Iraq offered little resistance to the allied air strikes. Most Iraqi fighter pilots chose not to fight and instead flew their warplanes to neutral (a country not favoring either side in a war) Iran. The few Iraqi air force planes that did challenge coalition forces were shot down. Hussein did strike back, however, by firing Scud missiles (Soviet-made missiles

with limited range and accuracy) into Saudi Arabia and Israel beginning on January 17. He also ordered his troops to destroy Kuwaiti oil wells and to release millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf.

On January 23 U.S. military commanders announced that the coalition forces had achieved air superiority. This meant that the allied air strikes had destroyed all of Iraq's warplanes and anti-aircraft guns, so that future air strikes could proceed at will and expect to meet with no resistance. By mid-February U.S. military leaders felt confident that the air strikes had destroyed enough of Iraq's military capability to reduce the risk to coalition ground forces (tanks and combat troops) if an allied ground attack became necessary.

On February 22 President Bush issued a deadline of noon the following day for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait. He warned that allied forces would launch a ground war if Hussein failed to meet the deadline. By this time, two thousand planes from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait had flown more than ninety-four thousand sorties during the five-week air war.

On February 24 Bush appeared on national television once again to announce that "the liberation of Kuwait has now entered a final phase." An estimated seven hundred thousand allied troops moved into Kuwait and Iraq. They met with little resistance from the retreating Iraqi army. Three days later Bush informed the American people that "Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's army is defeated."

Did you know...

  • The Bush administration's official announcements were not the first news many Americans heard about the start of the Persian Gulf War. A number of reporters for Western television stations were staying at the Al Rasheed Hotel in downtown Baghdad on January 16, 1991. They broadcast reports regarding the start of the air war against Iraq about thirty minutes before White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater made his press briefing, and more than two hours before President Bush made his televised speech. The reporters appeared live on television to tell viewers about hearing air-raid sirens and explosions in Baghdad, and about seeing bright flashes in the sky and fires on the horizon. One British reporter stood on his balcony as a U.S. cruise missile sailed past and smashed into the Iraqi Defense Ministry building nearby. This marked the first time that the start of a war was broadcast live on television.
  • On March 19, 2003, twelve years after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President George W. Bush (son of the former president) made a similar speech announcing the start of another war against Iraq. According to the younger Bush, Iraq ignored United Nations demands to disarm following the 1991 war. He believed that Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction and could provide such weapons to terrorists, making Iraq a significant threat to world security. "My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger," President George W. Bush said in his announcement of war against Iraq. He continued by saying:

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime [government] that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities [following a terrorist attack].

For More Information

Cipkowski, Peter. Understanding the Crisis in the Persian Gulf. New York: John Wiley, 1992.

Ridgeway, James, ed. The March to War. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991.