All wars must teach lessons. If they do not do so, they were fought in vain and those who died in them did so for naught.
The Gulf War taught two clear lessons, if the powers have the wit to learn them.
The first is that it is madness for the thirty most industrially developed nations of the world, who dispose between them of ninety-five percent of high-tech weaponry and the means for its production, to sell these artifacts to the crazed, the aggressive, and the dangerous for short-term financial profit.
For a decade the regime of the Republic of Iraq was allowed to arm itself to a frightening level by a combination of political foolishness, bureaucratic blindness, and corporate greed. The eventual destruction, in part, of that war machine cost vastly more than its provision.
A recurrence could easily be prevented by the establishment of a central register of all exports to certainregimes, with draconian penalties for nondisclosure. Analysts able to examine the broad picture would soon see, by the type and quantity of materials ordered or delivered, whether weapons of mass destruction were in preparation.
The alternative will be a proliferation of high-tech weaponry that will make the years of the cold war seem like an age of peace and tranquillity.
The second lesson concerns the gathering of information. At the end of the cold war, many hoped this could safely be curbed. The reality shows the opposite.
During the 1970s and 1980s technical advances in the gathering of electronic and signals intelligence were so impressive that governments of the Free World were led to believe, as the scientists produced their expensive miracles, that machines alone could do the job. The role of “humint,” the gathering of information by people, was downgraded.
In the Gulf War the full panoply of Western technical wizardry was brought to bear and, partly because of its impressive cost, presumed to be virtually infallible.
It was not. With a combination of skill, ingenuity, guile, and hard work, large parts of Iraq’s arsenal and the means of its production had been hidden or so disguised that the machines could not see them.
The pilots flew with great courage and skill, but often they too were deceived by the cunning of those who had devised the replicas and the camouflage.
The fact that germ warfare, poison gas, or the nuclear possibility was never employed was, like the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo, “a damn close-run thing.”
What became plain by the end was that for certain tasks in certain places, there is still no substitute for the oldest information-gathering device on earth: the human eyeball, Mark One.