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US Intelligence Failures in the Persian Gulf War and Iraq War

1. Introduction

Since the end of World War II, the Persian Gulf has been a vital strategic interest to the United States and its allies. The Persian Gulf region houses some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, making it a critical energy security concern for the US and other Western nations. In addition, the region is home to several US allies, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

The Persian Gulf has also been the site of two major wars involving the US: the Persian Gulf War in 1991 (also known as Desert Storm) and the Iraq War in 2003 (also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom). In both cases, US intelligence failed to accurately assess the situation on the ground in the lead-up to hostilities, resulting in costly military interventions that could have been avoided.

In this essay, I will discuss the US intelligence failures in both the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003. I will argue that in both cases, US intelligence was hampered by poor analysis, inadequate human intelligence (HUMINT), and a reliance on technology at the expense of human sources.

2. US Intelligence Fault in Persian Gulf War I

The Persian Gulf War in 1991 was triggered by the decision by Iraq to invade Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Iraq had long claimed that Kuwait was historically part of its territory, and it justified the invasion by accusing Kuwait of “stealing” Iraqi oil through slant drilling and overproduction.

In response to the invasion, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 660, which demanded an immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. When Iraq ignored this resolution, the UN passed Resolution 661, which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. These sanctions included a complete embargo on Iraqi oil exports, which deprived Iraq of its main source of revenue.

In November 1990, US President George H. W. Bush ordered troops to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield, a move designed to protect Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion. At this point, Bush began to build an international coalition to support military action against Iraq if diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis failed.

On January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm began with a massive bombing campaign by US and Coalition forces. After 38 days of bombing, ground troops from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and other countries moved into Kuwait and southern Iraq to drive out Iraqi forces. By February 28, 1991, Kuwait had been liberated and Iraqi forces were in retreat. A ceasefire was declared on April 11, 1991.

In retrospect, it is clear that US intelligence failed to anticipate Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Kuwait. This failure has been attributed to several factors, including a lack of HUMINT assets in Iraq, poor analysis by CIA analysts who were fixated on Iran as Iraq’s main adversary, and a reliance on technology at the expense of human sources.

The lack of HUMINT assets in Iraq meant that the CIA had little information about Saddam Hussein’s intentions prior to the invasion. According to former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack: “We didn’t even have a single spy inside Saddam’s innermost circle… Not only did we not know what Saddam was thinking; we didn’t even know what Saddam’s closest advisers were thinking.”

This lack of information led to poor analysis by CIA analysts who were fixated on Iran as Iraq’s main adversary. At the time, Iran and Iraq were engaged in a brutal 8-year war, and it was widely believed that Saddam Hussein would not risk open conflict with the US while he was still embroiled in this conflict. This belief led US intelligence analysts to downplay the possibility of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, despite growing evidence that such an invasion was imminent.

In addition, US intelligence relied too heavily on technology at the expense of human sources. In particular, the CIA relied heavily on satellite imagery to assess Iraqi military movements in the lead-up to the invasion. However, satellite imagery is not well-suited to detecting troop movements, as troops can easily be hidden from view. As a result, the CIA failed to detect the massive Iraqi troop buildup along the Kuwaiti border in the days leading up to the invasion.

3. US Intelligence Fault in Persian Gulf War II

The Iraq War in 2003 was triggered by the decision by US President George W. Bush to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003. The stated justification for the war was Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and its links to terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.

In retrospect, it is now clear that these justifications were false. Iraq did not have WMD, and it had no links to al-Qaeda. So why did Bush decide to invade Iraq?

According to former CIA analyst Paul Pillar, Bush’s decision was driven by a desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power and establish a friendly regime in Baghdad that would be supportive of US interests in the region. This desire was fueled by a belief that Saddam Hussein was a threat to US security, despite the fact that there was no evidence that he posed a direct threat to the US.

This belief was based on several faulty assumptions, including:
-Saddam Hussein was developing WMD;
-Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda;
-Saddam Hussein was a threat to Israel;
-Saddam Hussein’s overthrow would lead to democracy in Iraq;
-Iraq’s oil reserves would be used to benefit the US economy.

These assumptions were all false, but they were accepted as fact by Bush and his advisors. As a result, Bush made the decision to invade Iraq without any consideration for the possible consequences.

The intelligence failure in the lead-up to the Iraq War has been attributed to several factors, including:
-A lack of HUMINT assets in Iraq;
-Poor analysis by CIA analysts who were fixated on Iran as Iraq’s main adversary;
-A reliance on technology at the expense of human sources;
-Pressure from the Bush administration to produce intelligence that supported the decision to invade Iraq.

All of these factors led to a faulty intelligence assessment that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to US security. As a result, the US invaded Iraq without any justification, resulting in a costly and pointless war that could have been avoided.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that US intelligence failed in both the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003. In both cases, US intelligence was hampered by poor analysis, inadequate HUMINT, and a reliance on technology at the expense of human sources.

These failures led to costly military interventions that could have been avoided. In the case of the Persian Gulf War, US intelligence failed to anticipate Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Kuwait. As a result, the US was drawn into a war that could have been avoided if US intelligence had been better prepared.

In the case of the Iraq War, US intelligence failed to accurately assess the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. This failure led to the invasion of Iraq without any justification, resulting in a war that has cost the US trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

FAQ

The US intelligence community's role in the Persian Gulf War I and II was to provide information and analysis to policy makers in order to help them make informed decisions.

Some of the key intelligence failures during these wars included underestimating the Iraqi military's capabilities, failing to anticipate Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, and not adequately tracking his development of nuclear weapons.

These failures contributed to US military defeats by leading to surprise attacks, miscalculations about enemy strength, and a lack of knowledge about enemy plans and intentions.

Lessons that can be learned from these failures include the importance of thoroughly understanding an adversary's capabilities and intentions, maintaining good intelligence coverage of potential threats, and being prepared for unexpected developments.

The US intelligence community can improve its performance in future conflicts by implementing better collection and analysis methods, improving coordination among agencies, and increasing resources devoted to intelligence gathering and analysis.

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