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Reflections on the Gulf War: The August Nightmare That Could Happen Next Time

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Technical Report

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Center for Naval Analyses Alexandria United States

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Although the Gulf War is rapidly becoming old news, it is still big news for defense planning. The war remains the single best source of information on what works and what needs to be fixed. It also serves as the starting point for thinking about the types of contingencies for defense planning in the post-cold-war world. This short paper looks at one aspect of the latter problem. It steps back from the details of what happened in the Gulf War to explore the implications of what might have happened if Saddam Hussein had not stopped in Kuwait. This August nightmare an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia in August 1990 is more than a bad dream. The next Saddam, though probably more cautious in picking a fight with the United States, would be more likely to go for broke if he chooses the path of military aggression. Such a short-warning contingency represents the most demanding scenario for U.S. forces short of a major war in Europe. This paper merely scratches the surface of a complicated topic. Its purpose is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and, in line with the background and institutional affiliation of the author, the focus is on implications for the Navy and Marines. Clearly, however, the capabilities of all the services would be required. Only by planning and operating together can U.S. forces cope with what would initially be a difficult situation.

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