The erosion of the Gulf War coalition and constant prophesies of its imminent collapse make this study of its formation and early life both timely and useful. Brown, a former U.S. diplomat and an adviser to General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War, imparts a sense of realism to this discussion by reminding us how difficult was the coalition's formation, how fragile was its cohesion, and how divergent were the interests of various members from the very beginning.
This slim volume has a modest purpose: to instruct would-be practitioners of diplomacy on the skills and pitfalls involved in developing international support for U.S. policy aims. Scholars and diplomats involved in the region should not look here to find new information on the crisis itself or revisionist thinking on U.S. aims and goals. But within its narrow aim, the book accomplishes well its stated goal.
Drawing on conversations with senior U.S. executives and diplomats, as well as published memoirs and congressional testimony, Brown takes the reader through various phases of U.S. diplomacy from the initial surprise of August 2, 1990 to the cease-fire resolutions of March 1991. Along the way, he gives us some interesting insights and conclusions as well as some lessons worth pondering.
Like others, Brown finds that the invasion caught both Kuwait and the international community by surprise. Most observers thought the acrimonious dispute between Kuwait and Iraq over a variety of issues would be settled by Iraq's extracting more aid from Kuwait. But he usefully reminds us that Iraq had been preparing for this crisis by courting the "have-nots," currying favor with some Arab governments, appealing to public opinion over the heads of others, and radicalizing the Arab dialogue in an anti-Israeli and anti-American direction. Iraq also picked a target (Kuwait) less easily identifiable than Israel or the United States. However, the very success of Saddam Hussein's PR campaign may have lulled him into thinking he could swallow all of Kuwait, rather than settling for more modest solutions to border and financial problems, a crucial mistake on his part. It was the enormity of this act that helped galvanize the United States and the international community.
The book shows how events moved quickly to lock in some aspects of the diplomatic strategy within the first week. President Bush moved swiftly to deny Iraq any profit from the action through a freeze on assets and a trade embargo, soon followed by other states. Like others, Brown credits the Bush-Thatcher meeting early in the crisis with hastening a U.S.-U.K. agreement to stand firm against the invasion and to develop the widest possible coalition so as to present the crisis as "the world vs. Iraq." On August 6 the U.N. Security Council passed the key sanctions resolution against Iraq, Resolution 661. Some hoped that sanctions would prove effective in securing Iraq's withdrawal, but the reverse occurred. Saddam reacted to coercion by raising the stakes - annexing Kuwait, taking Westerners inside Iraq hostage, and declaring a "holy war" against his Arab opponents- a pattern that has persisted until now.
Several main themes run through the volume, chief among them the diversity and fragility of the coalition. Coordinating it, as Brown makes clear, was never an easy task. The United States faced a constant struggle to keep the USSR on board. Primakov wanted to broker a deal with Iraq to undercut his rival, Foreign Minister Schevardnadze, and undertook constant missions to Baghdad. France, too, wanted its own identifiable "role," and its unilateralism had to be assuaged by constant telephone diplomacy between Bush and Mitterrand. The United States was vulnerable on its ties to Israel, and the ever-present Arab-Israeli conflict, adroitly exploited by Saddam Hussein. But the coalition guidelines established in the United Nations were kept broad enough to satisfy both the United States and the individual members. As time went on, the passage of numerous resolutions gradually solidified its cohesion, giving individual members an increasing stake in its success.
Brown does a good job in showing that coalition diplomacy, even at the height of its success, exhibited precisely the same characteristics it does today, when it is presumed to be collapsing. "Decisions on common measures were taken incrementally and in response to specific circumstances, but with very different motivations and strategic views. Differences were dealt with, not resolved" (p. 32). This explains some of its current difficulties. The very ambiguities in strategy allowed a broad consensus, particularly on coercion versus compromise, allowed a degree of freedom to individual members to undermine coalition cohesion and permitted Iraq's splitting tactics. It is not clear, however, whether more clarity would have been productive, even if it could have been achieved. It might have made coalition maintenance even more time-consuming than it already was, and lost some members in the process. Nonetheless, fears that the coalition would not long survive, or that it would collapse under protracted warfare, were a constant, underlying anxiety during the entire crisis.
A second theme of the volume is the intransigence of Baghdad and its implications for the outcome. Baghdad's stonewalling allowed decisions to drift into the hands of those who favored coercive measures rather than those desiring compromise, and thwarted attempts of some coalition partners to negotiate.
Interestingly, Brown shows that Resolution 660 allowed for some flexibility of response. It called for withdrawal and negotiations between parties to resolve the dispute, leaving some room for Arab League mediation. However, on August 3, a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers voted 14 out of 22 for condemnation of Iraq and immediate withdrawal, which was met with an unbending Iraqi response. This early split in Arab ranks was confirmed by a second vote later, that effectively closed the door on a coherent Arab action. Despite this unpromising beginning, many governments - in Europe as well as the Arab world - continued to hope for a negotiated settlement before adding more coercive elements to diplomacy. Iraq's resistance to withdrawal, however, gradually caused the desire for a negotiated settlement to fade on the coalition side.
In Brown's view, the coalition's size and unwieldiness may have contributed to foreclosing a diplomatic solution and hastened the decision for war. As time went on, fear grew that Iraq's ability to outride sanctions was greater than the staying power of the coalition. On October 8, a Palestinian demonstration in Jerusalem was put down by Israeli forces, killing 22 Palestinians. A proposed U.N. resolution condemning Israel threatened to split the coalition. Although this issue was finessed, from that time on, impatience grew in Washington and the GCC for an early end to the crisis for fear that some other incident could disrupt the entire process. Had Saddam shown some flexibility, especially earlier on, Brown thinks he might have tested the coalition weakness and achieved at least some benefits for Iraq.
The book also recognizes one of the major flaws in coalition strategy, the absence of any planning on conflict resolution. The resolutions taken to assemble the coalition and to pressure Iraq to withdraw were not framed to resolve postwar hostilities. Moreover, the contradictions in the coalition itself made such discussions inadvisable, while the speed of the military victory virtually ruled them out. At the end, the cease-fire terms were hasty and last-minute, reducing the victors' options and their leverage for peace. The result was the one we see today: a continuing struggle with Saddam Hussein rather than a permanent settlement of issues.
Because of its specific focus, the book skirts some important issues worth pondering. One is whether negotiations, at any point in the crisis, could have produced a more satisfactory outcome without war. Although there is little evidence to suggest that they could, this avenue is not explored. Another, far more relevant today than seven years ago, is whether the costs of keeping a coalition together may exceed its usefulness, either because it reduces decisions to the "lowest common denominator," or because it rules out the flexibility to seek new solutions when the old ones no longer seem to work. These criticisms aside, it is difficult to argue with the author's conclusion that American diplomacy in the crisis was successful in "mustering a large international coalition... achieving its stated goals," and convincing "others to pay much of the bill" (p. ix).