Never before in American history was there a period quite like it. For 48 days the United States moved inexorably toward war, acting on authority granted by an international organization.
On November 29, 1990, in an unprecedented step, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use after January 15, 1991, of "all necessary means" to achieve the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from the territory of Kuwait. On January 12 the Congress of the United States authorized President Bush to use American armed forces to implement that resolution. This too was unprecedented.
By then the United States found itself only days away from war with Iraq. How had it arrived at such a pass? Again and again this question was asked, in congressional debate and among the American people.
The August 2 invasion came as a shock. Almost until its very eve, Washington had assumed that Saddam Hussein was either bluffing in his threats against Kuwait or would only mount a limited incursion. The fact that Saddam not only invaded the entire country but then quickly annexed it accounts in large part for the increasingly outraged American reaction. The United States was concerned that Saddam's next target would be Saudi Arabia; this was also the fear of the Saudi rulers themselves. Hence, in the very first days of the crisis, the United States made a major commitment of its power and secured strong international support for its demand that Iraq withdraw unconditionally and immediately.
The Bush administration argued that the crisis was a "defining moment," that it was a political test of the embryonic post-Cold War world order. Aggression had to be resisted and reversed. Moreover no power could be permitted to dominate an area that contained resources so vital to the well-being of the international community. Finally it was argued that only an overwhelming show of force and international solidarity would persuade Saddam to give up his gains. Thus the Security Council not only demanded Iraqi withdrawal, it imposed mandatory economic sanctions on Iraq. American troops began