The Gulf War

January 17, 2011 6:12 p.m.

TPM Reader CS points out that today is the 20th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War, which started as an air campaign on January 17, 1991. “I don’t see a peep about it in the news,” he writes. “Is it just me, or is that surprising?”

Personally, I’m not sure which is more surprising: that there’s not a peep about this in the news or that, my god, the Gulf War was 20 years ago.

I confess it makes me feel kind of old. But CS’s point is a good one. A quick glance at Google News shows very few references to the anniversary and a surprisingly large number of those in non-US publications. And yet on so many levels the Gulf War has proven to be a pivotal event in recent global history and an event of mammoth significance in recent US history.People say Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda or 9/11. Indeed, I said that on numerous occasions in this very spot for years in the first half of the last decade. But that’s only half true. Saddam Hussein’s government had no role in the 9/11 plot. But the two events were actually intimately related. Each were aftershocks of the events of January 1991 and the five months leading up to that date.

The Gulf War, the subsequent imposition of no-fly-zones over Iraq and the refusal to allow Iraq back into the good graces of the international system did not make the Iraq War inevitable. But it created a strong and ineluctable gravitational force pushing both countries in that direction. It was the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia (initially to prevent an Iraqi move into Saudi Arabia) that created the formative offense around which al Qaeda was built.

History has no starting point of course. As Lawrence Wright explains in The Looming Tower, the seeds of al Qaeda reach back into the early 20th century, with key stopovers in Sadat’s Egypt and the Afghanistan War. One might similarly say that the key event was the fall of the Shah’s regime in Iran, which increased the centrality of the US-Saudi security alliance as the linchpin of US policy in the Persian Gulf. Or for that matter we could go coup against Mosaddegh, which in many ways set the stage for what ended up being the Islamic Revolution.

But the Gulf War still looks like one of those pivotal events, where numerous strands of history meet together in a single knot. Or to pick another metaphor, one detonation point from which numerous shards and projectiles are still ripping forward into history. By that measure, the lack of commemoration seems less odd than telling.

Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Newswriter:
Editor at Large:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: