Operation Desert Sham

Patricia Axelrod is an anti-war writer. Her weapons system analysis earned her a Project Censored Award and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing grant.

As seen through the hypnotic glow of television sets around the world, the rockets’ red glare of Operation Desert Storm was a glorious video game of magical, precision-guided warfare. In truth, it was a public relations coup for the military-industrial complex and serves today as an invaluable lesson for and a guide to the return to Iraq.

Briefly, this is what happened in 1991. The Pentagon, ever-mindful of the defeat of the Vietnam War, corralled Persian Gulf media into controllable press pools. Daily public briefings assured the public that although Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the implied threat of American nuclear retaliation curtailed their use.

A policy of overwhelming firepower was adopted, and more than a hundred thousand tons of explosive power rained death on the Iraqi people. Pentagon TV also went into production, dispatching photographers, writers and editors. Information was centralized and sterilized. Only friendly fire and non-combat airplane crashes marred the picture.

Bloodshed disappeared as sophisticated weapon systems rose in public opinion to the status of saviors. Routine press conferences saw the generals hyping war as science and civilian casualties as collateral damage. President George H. W. Bush praised Desert Storm attacks as “fantastically accurate” and praised U.S. weapons systems for “saving lives, not only American lives … but the lives of Iraqis.”

In the end, Pentagon accountants restored American faith when it priced out Desert Storm at $42 billion dollars. Offsetting that cost was the $55 billion dollars promised by America’s allies, so that it appeared as though the war actually realized a profit.

Desert Storm was the perfect war—until close examination of the facts made it look like Desert Sham.

Postwar, Steven Hildreth of the Congressional Research Service shot down Patriot performance with one sentence: “Out of 157 Patriot missiles [launched against Scud missiles] the U.S. Army can claim only one [Scud] warhead kill.”

By May 1992, the General Accounting Office had contradicted Pentagon accountants with its estimate of Desert Storm costs of $120 billion.

As round-the-clock carpet bombing was recognized as the main attack tactic, the estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths rose from 9,000 to as high as 300,000.

This month, President George W. Bush is marching America back to war against Iraq. Once again there is talk of depleted uranium weapon deployment and overwhelming force. This go-round, the Pentagon has announced that more than one million tons of bombs will be aimed against the 24 million Iraqi people; 48 percent of whom are children and teenagers.

Dr. Mohammed Aldouri, the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the UN said his nation has been threatened once again with nuclear weapons.

“It is possible that as many as one million Iraqis could die as a consequence of this new siege,” even without nuclear weapon use, he said.

No matter what the ostensible reasons for attack against Iraq are, only the weapon manufacturers are guaranteed to win this war.