Share This Page
If you like Norman Schwarzkopf's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
and Chuck Yeager
Norman Schwarzkopf can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center
Norman Schwarzkopf also appears in the videos:
Schwarzkopf on Leadership: 50th Anniversary of D-Day,
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership,
Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Norman Schwarzkopf in the Achievement Curriculum section:
What is a Leader?
Norman Schwarzkopf Interview (page: 4 / 6)
Commander, Operation Desert Storm
Your plan was rather daring, and it certainly worked. Is it true that there's a connection to the World War II battle of El Alamein, in which Montgomery vanquished Rommel?
Norman Schwarzkopf: No. The deception tactics of Desert Storm compare favorably I think. The Battle of El Alamein was the turning point in North Africa. It's considered one of the three decisive battles of World War II. The British used deception tactics to make the Germans think that they were going to attack where they weren't. That's the parallel between Desert Storm and the World War II battle. I can name any number of campaigns where the major portion of the enemy was fixed by one force here, while another force went around and hit them. That's sort of a classic maneuver, if you can get away with it, if you've got the forces to do it.
Did you have any doubts that this strategy was the right way to go?
Norman Schwarzkopf: My job is to have doubts. My job is to think of everything that could possibly go wrong, and then try and fix it. Let's face it, I knew that I was going to be ordering thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women into battle, and if I didn't have it right, I could be responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of people. That's sort of a heavy burden to carry, so you don't carry that burden lightly. You don't carry that and say, "Oh ho-hum, so what." No. To my mind, if you have any sort of a conscience at all, you have doubts, but you work your way through those doubts. You work it in such a way that you're quite sure that you've done everything you can possibly do, so that the outcome is a favorable one.
What was your general strategy for getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait?
Norman Schwarzkopf: It was very simple.
It pays to be prepared.
Norman Schwarzkopf: You don't rush into these things without thinking. But I think that's the strategy for any kind of business you're in. If you're competing against someone, that's what you should be doing.
Still, didn't it surprise you, the lack of effective Iraqi response? It surprised us.
Norman Schwarzkopf: No. Let me tell you why. We put together a campaign plan specifically to make sure that by the time we launched a ground campaign the Iraqis could not respond. That's what happened.
The campaign plan was aimed at absolutely destroying, insofar as possible, the Iraqis' ability to wage war. Today, a lot of people are saying the Iraqis really weren't there. That's ridiculous. The Iraqis were there on the 17th of January when we started the air campaign.
Whether the Iraqis were there on the 24th of February, when we launched the ground campaign, or not, is irrelevant. Probably a lot of them weren't. We knew there had been mass desertions at that time. We knew that their units were under strength. We knew that we had inflicted great casualties on their tanks and their artillery pieces. Why? Because that's what we were going after. We were deliberately trying to eliminate those things that we knew would hurt us on the battlefield.
One of my criteria was to reduce the strength of the front line forces that we had originally run into to below 50 percent. We generally classify a unit that's below 70 percent as combat-ineffective. Below 50 percent it's totally ineffective.
The campaign plan turned out exactly like we had planned it. It was a campaign plan that had been very carefully constructed to make sure that when we finally had to send our ground forces against his ground forces, who outnumbered us originally, that we would prevail.
Did you feel this was the right time for us to use force?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Sure. We had tried over, and over, and over again to bring about a peaceful solution. The Secretary of General of the United Nations went to Baghdad because that's the only place the peaceful solution was going to come from. Everybody else wanted a peaceful solution. Countless diplomats from east, west, north, south, from the then Communist bloc, all went to Baghdad, because that's where the peaceful solution had to come from.
Secretary Baker met with Tariq Aziz in Geneva, where he came out and gave that pessimistic report and said, "I'll let the Iraqis speak for themselves." And then Tariq Aziz came out and spoke for 45 minutes. Didn't even mention the word "Kuwait." The country had been blotted off the map as far as the Iraqis were concerned, and that was irrevocable. Nothing else was going to change after that.
When you looked at other things, like the effects of the weather, some people say we should have let the sanctions run a little bit longer. That's very nice to say if you're sitting in the comfort of your living room in the United States of America. But if you were somebody who was in Kuwait and you were seeing your children tortured, and your wives raped, and the terrible things that were going on to the people in Kuwait, was it okay to wait for them? These things are very, very relative to who you are and where you are.
Consider the troops that were sitting out in the desert sand. It may have been fine for everybody else to say we ought to wait and let the sanctions work. But did we really want to go through another summer with our troops in the absolutely oppressive heat of the desert, just sitting there suffering? Was that all right? While their morale was going, down, down, down? So when we put it all together, there was no question. That was a time to go and get it over with. We had done everything else we possibly could to end it peacefully.
No moral dilemma about this war?
Norman Schwarzkopf: No. You know why? The whole world told us we were right. There were 40 different countries involved in that coalition, in one way or another. We got letters from all over the world. We started getting 100 tons of mail a day when we first got over there. By the time the holidays rolled around, we were getting 400 tons of mail a day, and almost 100 percent of that mail was positive, saying, "You're doing the right thing."
After the war was over, one of my commanders said, "You know, if we had had their equipment and they had had ours, we still would have won, because of the will within our soldiers." Our soldiers knew that what they were doing was the right thing. Rule 14.
What effect did advances in technology have on the war? How did you see that?
Norman Schwarzkopf: We were able to take the night away from the enemy, and that's probably one of the major ones. But you've got to remember, our armed forces have been training for years to fight outnumbered and win. We thought we were going to be fighting against the Soviet Union, a military that had many, many more tanks than we did, many, many more armored personnel carriers, many, many more aircraft.
So you have a military out there that was very well trained to do the job that needed to be done. It's a combination of the technology, yes, but also the training of the military -- some very, very good military.
What's it like working for Colin Powell?
Norman Schwarzkopf: I really didn't work for Colin Powell. You've got to remember that as a unified commander, I really answered directly to the Secretary of the Defense. In this case, I really worked directly for the President. Colin Powell was the person that passed to me the directives of the President of the United States. But as a unified commander you really have tremendous autonomy. You're almost working for yourself. People tell you what to do, they don't tell you how to do it, and then you go off and do it. But Colin and I were good friends. We talked to each other on the phone every single day. I kept him informed of everything that I planned to do. In most cases when an order was to be given, he'd call me up and say, "What do you want to do with it?" And I'd say, "This is what I want to do," and that's the order that would come back down again. We had a very good relationship, as I say, talked to each other every single day. What was really terrific about Colin is he probably had more access to the White House than any General officer since George Marshall in World War II. Marshall was really the person that Roosevelt looked to for all of his military advice. I think the President did the same thing with Colin, and you could get decisions very quickly because Colin had this direct access to the White House, and that helped us tremendously in our work.
The President pretty much let you do what you wanted to?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Yeah, I would say, he let you do what you wanted, so long as he knew what you were doing was right. I don't think I could have done the wrong thing. If I had proposed some things that were stupid, or things that would lead to thousands and thousands of casualties, or something that was immoral, or unethical, of course, I wouldn't be able to do it.
The President was very presidential. The President did exactly what a President does. He told you what to do, he gave us our orders, and then he stayed informed all along the way, in great detail, as to what it was we were doing. But he did not interfere and decide that he was going to play General. That's very important.
Did that happen to some extent with the Vietnam War?
Norman Schwarzkopf: Yeah. During the Vietnam War, targets that were going to be bombed by the Air Force in North Vietnam were being selected by politicians back in Washington. That's crazy. If you're going to bomb a target, it should be a target that fits in with the overall campaign plan. Not just something that's arbitrarily selected back in Washington.
Another achievement of this war is the way that you got Arabs, French, British, Americans, and so on, to work so cohesively together. Your own skills as a diplomat obviously came in there.
Norman Schwarzkopf: I started honing those skills when I was a young man in Europe. I know how to work with people of all nations, and all beliefs. But don't forget something else, we all had a common goal. We all knew exactly what it was we wanted to do, and that was get Iraq out of Kuwait. It was easy to get people to focus on the goal. When things came up that were not part of the goal, you put that aside.
There was some controversy about the way the information coming out of Riyadh was handled. There was tremendous control of the press.
Norman Schwarzkopf: That's a word I violently disagree with. Nobody controlled the press over there at all. That's an argument that is argued in all the wrong arenas. It is not a problem of the military versus the media. Don't forget, the people in your military take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That's who we take our oath to. Most of the people I know of in the military are constitutionalists from the word go, and that's all the Constitution, to include the First Amendment. You have a management problem. It's a management problem that is growing by leaps and bounds, both numerically and technologically. Let me give you an example. The average number of reporters you had in Vietnam at any given time was 50. During the Tet Offensive, the most important battle probably fought during Vietnam you had 80 reporters, in country. I can assure you all of them were no out with the troops because those of us who were in cities like Saigon saw plenty of them back there. In the Gulf you had 2,060. Secondly, in Vietnam when somebody saw a battle it was generally reported and it would end up on television perhaps 36 hours later. In the Gulf, people could report things instantaneously out over international airwaves via satellite. That was being piped directly into the enemy headquarters. So you had people who were reporting things that aided the enemy, that helped them, that helped them. There had to be some guidelines put out that said, look, these are things you don't report. But, despite that, these guidelines were violated, not intentionally. They were violated by reporters who were looking to get a scoop. They wanted to get their story in first. The dilemma with the press in any future wars that are going to be fought is, how do you control these large numbers of the press that you're going to have over there, who have instant access to the airwaves and your enemy is going to be monitoring those airwaves? How do you make sure that the press does not provide information that somehow can come back and kill one of the people that you're responsible for? That's the dilemma.
And it really comes down to that.
Norman Schwarzkopf: Of course it does. Our only concern was to make absolutely sure that, number one, you didn't have 2,060 people running around inside your unit when you preparing a military operation that you were trying to keep a secret.
Number two, making sure that information didn't go to our enemy. We knew Saddam Hussein watched television in his C.P. We knew that before the war ever started.
A New York Times reporter said that during the Vietnam War he spoke to his editor three times in three and a half years, and in the Gulf War he spoke to him every few hours.
Norman Schwarzkopf: This was the most extensively covered war in the history of warfare. There was access. That's why I bristle at the word "control." It sounds like there was some preconceived plot somehow against the media. We were just using our common sense, and our objective primarily was to make absolutely sure that the enemy didn't get his hands on information that would aid and abet him, and eventually cost the lives of our forces. That's all it was.
What particular moments in the Gulf War stand out for you?
Norman Schwarzkopf: This is probably the one that I'll remember more than anything else.
On the second day of the ground war when one of my corps commanders called me up, Gary Luck, to give me a report. And I said, "How are you doing?" And he said, "Sir, we accomplished all of our objectives yesterday." This was about ten o'clock in the morning. "We've already accomplished all of our objectives today. We're way beyond what we should have accomplished and we have captured over 1,300 of the enemy." Then he kind of stopped, and I said, "Okay, Gary, now give me the bad news," meaning the casualty count. And he said, "We have one wounded in action."
Another moment I can remember is when we sent that initial wave of aircraft into Iraq. We expected much higher casualties. My Air Force Commander, Chuck Corner, kept calling me back saying, "Sir, they've all come back. They're all coming back." The recognition that you weren't taking these casualties that you expected, those are the two moments I'll probably remember more than any others.
The numbers are truly fantastic. Especially when you consider the different nationalities of the forces that you were working with. Did you have enough time to prepare for this war? Would you have liked more time?
Norman Schwarzkopf: I had a lot of time to prepare for this war. Let's face it, the gauntlet was thrown on the second of August, and we didn't attack until the 17th of January. It would have been easier if it had been a little bit closer to home. We were about as far away from home as we could possibly be. Therefore, building up the necessary supplies and equipment and getting the troops over there wasn't the easiest thing in the world.
Disappointed, I'm sure, that Hussein is still there?
Norman Schwarzkopf: No.
I could give you some very, very good arguments why it's in the best interest of the United States and the entire rest of the world for Saddam Hussein to still be there, from a strategic standpoint. Now, from a purely emotional, personal, emotional standpoint, sure, I'd love it if he weren't there, but he's irrelevant. If you were to ask me one of the few mistakes we made in this war it was to so personalize the war in the form of a guy named Saddam Hussein. That now some people are looking at it and saying we really didn't win because Saddam Hussein is still alive, that's not true at all. It was a great victory because we did accomplish not only our military objectives, but our strategic objectives. What's more important, today, right now, we have the greatest opportunity for peace in the Middle East we've had in my lifetime, my entire lifetime. Talks are ongoing right now between the Israelis and the Arabs and the Palestinians. You've just seen an incredible outcome in an election in Israel that's going to effect the peace process. The peace process is ongoing and all of that is a direct result of the outcome of the Gulf War. It's a direct result of the fact that Iraq is no longer a player over there. They've become irrelevant in the politics of the Middle East, and that's important to the world.
Norman Schwarzkopf Interview, Page:
1 2 3 4 5 6
This page last revised on Dec 18, 2014 15:38 EDT
How To Cite This Page