This is an interesting book, written by the Saudi co-commander of the Joint Allied Forces in the Gulf War with the help of noted British Middle East Expert Patrick Seale. It was obviously intended to "set the record straight," i.e., in partial answer to or refutation of American General H. Norman Schwarzkopf's earlier book, It Does Not Take a Hero (New York: Bantam, 1992). Schwarzkopf, in Prince Khaled's view, did not do justice to the Saudi contribution to "Desert Storm."
The work under review does more than deal with the Gulf War. Written by an important member of the House of Saud, it is in itself a novelty, as few, if any, books have been written by members of the Saudi royal family. The book's author is a son of Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the number two in succession to the Saudi throne (after Crown Prince Abdullah). This is why the first chapters of the work, dealing with the author's childhood and upbringing, offer insights into some of the relationships with the otherwise secretive and secluded family. But readers who might expect revelations on the inevitable feuds and rivalries bound to exist in any Arab family will be disappointed, as the prince not unexpectedly treats everyone with great respect and restraint, especially his father, and of course King Fahd. Whether conclusions are warranted in microviewing different degrees of warmth is difficult to say. In any event, the author treats his mother with great affection as well as several non-princely members of their household, especially his nurse.
Prince Khaled deals quite frankly with the considerable hardship of his training at Sandhurst, the British West Point, and he emerges as a well-qualified professional officer.
When he comes to the major section of the book, the preparation for the Gulf War and its execution, the author succeeds quite well in underscoring how great was the material and personal role played by the Saudis in this large combined undertaking. There is no doubt that the kingdom massively underwrote the financial burden and, in fact, still suffers from its consequences. This is one subject to which neither General Schwarzkopf nor the media has, in the author's opinion, done justice.
Still, Prince Khaled cannot and does not wish to hide the enormous differences between the American and Saudi undertakings. He succeeds quite well in underscoring how important it was for the Saudi side to stress its formal (nominal?) co-equality. Much of that takes the form of appearances, the place where the co-commanders were to meet, the deference shown to the Saudi side and its smaller allies, and many other examples. In particular, Prince Khaled underlines successfully how difficult or potentially difficult it was for King Fahd to agree to the presence of large foreign, especially American, forces on Saudi soil, and against how much potential criticism the rulers had to guard. Sensitive non-Arab readers will find here important points to ponder.
But it also emerges how very well the foreign, especially American, forces behaved in such an alien cultural environment and confirms that frictions and misconduct were at a minimum, considering how large the American contingent was. And it is notable how well the Americans accepted the relative segregation of their forces from the open exposure to Saudi life that would have been normal in a European country. Clearly the contrast between the conduct of war in Vietnam and in the Gulf is well and tactfully portrayed. It is good to know that in that respect the lessons of Vietnam were well learned.
General Khaled underscores clearly the unique character of the Gulf War: that the topography, the climate, the Saudi military and preparatory action favored the massive infusion of forces and that the Iraqi enemy was in no position to disturb the allied time-table. So, as Khaled clearly states, the circumstances of the Gulf War were unique, unlikely to be repeated in any further conflicts, and it was only the total obtuseness of Saddam Hussein and the brutal nature of his regime that prevented wise counsel from getting to him. The author is clear in his conclusion that the danger to Saudi Arabia's security was clear and present, that the king had no choice but to agree quickly (very quickly by Saudi standards) to the full participation of foreign forces and that idle talk of an "Arab solution" to the conflict was so much poppycock.
On the personal relationship between Khaled and the allied commanders, the Saudi co-commander is extremely tactful, more so than General Schwarzkopf was in his book, but the clashes of personalities are clear and not unlike comparable situations in World Wars I and II. In only one case does Khaled lose his cool; that is when dealing with the French defense minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a doctrinaire socialist who was intensely disliked by all, including his French commanders.
Much of the book is taken up by the description of logistics and command-and-control decisions in which the prince's constant maneuvering for apparent equality is obvious, but also obvious is his need for doing so in the face of potential and undoubtedly real criticism within the Saudi establishment and the conservative religious element. That there was not more friction is a tribute to the military statesmanship of the American leadership, among whom Khaled gives special praise to General Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the General Marshall of this conflict), although General Schwarzkopf also comes off relatively well.
In the description of actual battles, the clash of Al-Khafji is fully but not completely treated, in which the Saudis were caught by surprise and suffered a mauling. Such shocks are common when green troops first encounter battle-hardened foes. Certainly the American defeat at Kasserine Pass in World War II, although much larger, is a parallel. Khaled's analysis does not wholly excuse the debacle, nor does it hide the fact that the Saudi National Guard performed better than the Saudi regulars-a surprise because the guards had often been derided as mere tribal levies. They were, but their years of American training showed up well. Good also was the performance of a Qatari unit, but the author does not underscore the fact that its soldiers were Pakistanis. In any event, the fact that the outcome of the war was never in doubt, due to the enormous inequality of the contending forces, made the battle of Al-Khafji a sideshow.
In a relatively brief epilogue, the author draws a number of lessons that are bound to be restricted by his earlier recognition of the uniqueness of the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein's exceptional stupidity.
First of all, Prince Khaled blames insufficient intelligence on the part of both Americans and Saudis. But, considering the exceptionally closed and brutal Saddam regime, there is a real question whether the intelligence performance could have been much improved. There is also the notorious fear on the part of such services of underestimating the opponent. One might call this a "political handicap," especially of the American services.
The author further sees the lesson that Saudi "overbuilding" of its facilities-always with a view to having them filled up by allied, i.e., American, forces)-will remain a mainstay of Saudi security planning. Finally, Khaled shows that he has learned well what both Sandhurst and the U.S. Command Staff training taught him-namely that wars cannot be planned in a political vacuum, which means that Saudi Arabia cannot defend itself alone but must always count on foreign, i.e., American help. That will determine all present and future Saudi political and military diplomacy. The Gulf War, while unique, proves that this can be done.