Not since General Douglas MacArthur had Americans celebrated a general as we did “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, who cut a figure of strength on the world stage as he decimated Saddam Hussein’s military–which was then thought to be the world’s fourth most powerful–and restored our confidence in our armed forces.
In the Gulf War of 1991, Gen. Schwarzkopf not only liberated a small nation, Kuwait, from an aggressive invader, but also liberated the U.S. from the timidity and apprehension that had hovered over our military since the end of the Vietnam War. What President Ronald Reagan made possible with his investment in military technology and hardware in the 1980s, Gen. Schwarzkopf brought to fruition in Iraq, shocking even our European allies with the degree to which our military had leapt generations ahead of friend and foe alike.
It is almost difficult to imagine today, but Schwarzkopf led a broad coalition of armies that included every significant Arab military power, with the exception of Jordan. The coalition’s crushing victory set the stage for American military, economic, and cultural dominance in the post-Cold War era, enabling President George H. W. Bush to embark on building both the “kinder, gentler” nation and the “new world order” he had promised.
In that victory, there were seeds of future conflict. Coalition forces–obeying United Nations Security Council mandates–left Saddam Hussein in power, enabling him to quash an uprising with appalling brutality. And the presence of foreign forces in Saudi Arabia inspired Osama bin Laden to embark on his terrorist war against America. The recession that followed the war caused Americans to turn inward, replacing Bush with President Bill Clinton, who oversaw military reductions and arguably neglected to stop the rising Islamist threat.
But none of that was Schwarzkopf’s fault. He left policy to the diplomats and politicians, and focused on victory, which he secured with honor. He left the national spotlight as a hero, and departs this world beloved by the men and women who fought under his command, well remembered by the people for whom he fought.