Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 4, 2013

Memories of the first Gulf War linger as questions mount over Syria campaign

— — Although I was a child of the 1970s, I was a little too young at the time to remember much, if anything, associated with the official end of the Vietnam War. I do remember a few of the celebrations associated with the big bicentennial year in 1976, but that was mainly because of a patriotic train I received as a toy.

A good 16 years later I was a student on the campus of then Concord College when President George H.W. Bush drew a so-called line in the sand in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. And the administration began beating the drums of war. As a young, somewhat liberal-minded college student at the time, I had trouble understanding why we were talking about going to war against Iraq. Many of my fellow college students at the time shared similar concerns. America had not been attacked. Nor was there any looming danger or threat of an Iraqi invasion on American soil. Yet the administration seemed determined to go to war.

We didn’t have any protests on campus, and there were no official speeches or rallies opposing the war. But peace was the preferred course of action in the minds of many at the time. Operation Desert Storm began with a stunning aerial bombardment on Jan. 17, 1991. In a change from past conflicts, we had continuous 24-hour coverage of the conflict. CNN was the network that brought us — average Americans — to the front lines of the war from our own living rooms. Or in my case from the small color television in our equally small college dormitory.

The beginning of the war prompted a great deal of uneasiness. Many didn’t understand why we were bombing Iraq, and preparing for a ground assault. And the question lingered as to whether it was America’s intention to topple Saddam Hussein. I personally had trouble accepting the reasons given to me for the war. Of course, I was a young and still somewhat naive college student at the time pursuing a degree in journalism. But peace is always the preferred course. Watching the images of war, and the aerial bombardment, was a somewhat uncomfortable experience. I also realized that I was young enough at the time to be drafted if this war grew.

Many people at the time— as they do with every conflict involving the Middle East — were whispering of rumors of World War III. Others felt biblical prophecy was being fulfilled with the first Gulf War. Such battles always create concern, and uncertainty. And this was a new age of war. A war with more modern weaponry and aircraft. Soon we were all too familiar with the term “scud missile.”

The ground assault began a month later as the war dragged on. A decisive victory was at hand for the coalition forces — although Saddam Hussein was still in power. By April of 1991 the conflict would be over. But it was a tense three months on the college campus. And once the conflict had ended, many of us who were college students at the time were still not sure why America had went to war. Sure it was in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. But was that enough justification for America and her coalition partners to launch the first Gulf War? And little did we know at the time that America would invade Iraq again in 2003 as part of the second Iraq War.

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The drums of war are beating again. This time the target is Syria. And the president is Barack Obama. But many of the same questions we were asking in 1991 and 2003 are still relevant today. I’m no longer a liberal-minded college student, but instead a very independent-minded voter. And I’ve read the numerous Facebook concerns our readers have posted in recent days about the proposed attack on Syria. I can say I share many of your concerns.

Should America really be involved in this civil war? What is our end game? What will we do if our involvement creates a greater global conflict in the region? What if Iran or Syria attacks Israel in response to a U.S. strike on Syria?

While I have many concerns about the actions of the current administration in Washington, I will say this: The president did make the correct decision in seeking congressional approval. A president shouldn’t act alone — and without congressional approval — in launching such a military strike.

It is also interesting to note that polls out there are suggesting that a majority of Americans don’t support such an attack. I find it somewhat comforting to know that a majority of Americans still prefer peace over war. So what happens next? That’s a good question. Maybe Congress will endlessly debate Obama’s request without actually taking action. That’s a distinct possibility.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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