The twist in the long military career of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf is that a 35-year Army soldier is remembered more for what he did in the air than on land.
Commanding his first war, the four-star infantryman decided on a strategy to eject Iraqi forces and liberate Kuwait that showcased air power — the precision weapons and strike jets that had been developed (but had gone mostly unused) in the preceding 20 years.
When Operation Desert Storm kicked off on the night of Jan. 17, 1991, he watched in a command post in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, — and the world witnessed explosions in Baghdad delivered by laser- and computer-guided bombs and missiles.
A new era in strategic bombing had begun, and Air Force fighter pilots suddenly had a favorite general, albeit an Army one.
“Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf was a brilliant strategist and demonstrated this by the use of airpower using the newly introduced precision weapons and stealth technology that many of his Army contemporaries did not fully appreciate,” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who flew scores of fighter missions in Vietnam, told The Washington Times.
“It saved many American lives. His 42-day air campaign shaped the ground campaign such that our ground forces only engaged in a 100-hour ground campaign and defeated the Iraqi’s decisively. I rank him with Gen. [Dwight D.] Eisenhower at Normandy. No other Army general has duplicated such a fete in such a brief ground campaign.”
Gen. Schwarzkopf, who died Thursday at age 78, became the American face of the Persian Gulf War.
The “Stormin’ Norman Show” featured a bear of a man standing before cameras, videotape at the ready, to show the world how he was taking down Iraq’s political and military structure building by building, tank by tank.
He took special delight in one video — an Iraqi vehicle clearing a bridge just as a missile destroyed it.
“Keep your eye on the cross-hairs,” he told reporters at a January briefing. “I’m now going to show you a picture of the luckiest man in Iraq, right through the cross-hairs, and now in his rearview mirror.”
“Saddam Hussein has lied to them,” Gen. Schwarzkopf said. “He told them that Tel Aviv was a crematorium. We all know that is not true. To date, he has told him that he has shot down 170 American and coalition aircraft.
Everybody knows that that is not true. He has announced that he was going to do all sorts of other wonderful things. With regard to Saddam Hussein saying that he has met the best that the coalition has to offer, I would only say that the best is yet to come.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the general’s televised briefings help to instill confidence.
“His personality on television was useful. It was a positive, bullish, optimistic way of looking at the conflict, which I think the country benefited from since there was a fair amount of concern about how that war would go,” Mr. O’Hanlon told The Times. “It is easy to forget now. There were a lot of predictions of chemical weapons usage, of trench lines like World War I, of a lot of casualties. I think it was good for the country to have a more optimistic take on things from an optimistic person.”