George H.W. Bush, the forty-first president of the United States, delivered the most consequential speech of his presidency on January 16, 1991 just a few hours after the United States attacked Iraqi forces who had occupied the sovereign nation of Kuwait. Labeled Operation Desert Storm, the US actions in Kuwait were coordinated with the approval and participation of some 35 other nations, including, most notably, the Soviet Union, in a worldwide coalition condemning the actions of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the invasion of Kuwait.
In the beginning of his speech, Bush lays out the case against Iraq, including the coalition's attempts at forging a bloodless peace. He makes clear the coalition's goal was to force Hussein's forces out of Kuwait. He speaks of diplomatic attempts at bringing Hussein to the table, especially the meeting in Geneva between US secretary of state James Baker and emissaries of Hussein. Unfortunately, diplomatic solutions proved unsuccessful as Hussein continued to dominate Kuwait.
Bush makes both a moral and strategic argument for the attack on Iraqi forces. First, he claims, with plenty of evidence, that Iraqi forces are wreaking havoc in 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, innocent children.
Bush further claims that Hussein has been stockpiling chemical weapons and is on the verge of having a nuclear device. Bush asserts that coalition forces are systematically destroying chemical and nuclear threats as well as most of Hussein's artillery, tanks and aircraft. Bush goes on to assure the American people that this military conflict will not escalate into anything like Vietnam, which lasted twenty years and cost the lives of more than 50,000 American servicemen. He argues that the military will not be held back in this conflict with "one arm tied behind their back" (as he believes was the case in Vietnam).
Speaking at a time when the US had seemingly won the Cold War, Bush also uses his speech to tout what he calls "a new world order" where world leaders cooperate in going against rogue nations and where "a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the UN's founders." Bush hoped for "a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations."
Bush concludes his speech with anecdotal stories of American soldiers, such as Marine Lieutenant General Walter Boomer, who said, "There are things worth fighting for. A world in which brutality and lawlessness are allowed to go unchecked isn't the kind of world we're going to want to live in.'' Operation Desert Shield was by all accounts a complete success, with Hussein's troops badly routed and ousted from Kuwait in slightly more than a month.