Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf: A Man Wise in the Ways of War

March 10, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA — Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. When Iraqi troops hunkered down behind their elaborate defense lines preparing to fight a war of attrition against U.S.-led coalition forces, U.S. Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf declared to reporters, "I'm not going to fight his war; I'm going to fight our war."

To U.S. troops, he put it this way: "I guaran-damn-tee you that if we fight, we will win."

General Schwarzkopf, the plain-speaking commander of the biggest military operation since World War II, drew up a war plan of epic proportions based on simple concepts. It was the product of a ruthless warrior's intellect, informed by history and his own training and background in the Army.

The 56-year-old general, who during the war kept at his bedside a copy of "Infantry Attack," by Edwin Rommel, commander of the Nazi Afrika Corps in the North African desert, was guided by the lessons of his heroes: Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Creighton Abrams.

"His philosophy is much like theirs: Hit, hit and keep hitting, because that's what saves lives," an aide said recently.

With little, if any, interference from the White House, General Schwarzkopf decided to hit selectively to reap the greatest military gain, systematically working to cripple Iraq's defense industry, to cut supply and communications networks, to reduce the enemy's numerical advantages in troops, tanks and artillery and to render its air force ineffective.

"When we took out his air force, for all intents and purposes, we took out his ability to see what we were doing down here in Saudi Arabia," General Schwarzkopf said last week. "Once we had taken out his eyes, we did what could best be described as the 'Hail Mary' play in football."

Like his own troops, the general was surprised at the swift success of the battle plan, which made allowances for at least 60 days of ground fighting.

"When you're seeing an enemy that is over 500,000 strong, has the reputation they've had of fighting for eight years, being combat-hardened veterans, has a number of tanks and the type of equipment they had, you don't assume away anything," he said. "So we certainly did not expect it to go this way."

General Schwarzkopf, a cigar-smoking officer who some colleagues say has the IQ of a genius, is a highly decorated West Point graduate with a master's degree in guided missile engineering. He directed the ground war during the invasion of Grenada and has led the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for Middle East operations, since November 1988.

As head of the U.S. Central Command, the burly four-star general began more than a year ago to anticipate armed conflict in the Middle East without a Soviet aggressor. Battle plans and war-game scenarios were changed as the threat of a Soviet invasion of Iran subsided, and General Schwarzkopf alerted Congress that other threats to U.S. strategic interests in the region -- especially oil supplies -- could not be ignored.

His mastery of the big picture of strategy and tactics is coupled with a rigorous attention to detail. Staff officers were recommending air targets to him 72 hours in advance of raids in Iraq and Kuwait. They would tell him how many sorties were available and he would decide how many to direct at each area.

The general, who did two combat tours in Vietnam as an infantry battalion commander, still sees himself as a foot soldier with the common touch -- someone, for example, who would make sure the troops had comfortable desert boots to wear.

"We were taken aback by Schwarzkopf's gung-ho appearance," a British commander said in January. "But in a very short time we came to realize that here was a highly intelligent soldier, a skilled planner and battlefield commander."

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