He slapped his pointer on the map, and you had to pay attention.
There stood Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf in his baggy desert camouflage outfit, spinning a story of how the outnumbered allies duped Saddam Hussein, blasted through his deadly mine fields and barbed wire and left the Iraqi army in tatters.Far from the routine monotone presentations of his underlings, the burly commander of Operation Desert Storm put on a spellbinding show in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
For the Iraqi soldiers dead in their trenches, he had pity.
For their commander, Saddam, he had scorn.
For the allies, he had a four-star salute.
For the Iraqi soldiers guilty, he said, of committing unspeakable atrocities upon the captive people of Kuwait, he had contempt.
Those who did that, he spat, were "not part of the same human race, the people who did that, that the rest of us are."
And even for the Marines, this Army general had praise.
Their achievement in breaching a "very tough mine field-with-barbed wire, fire trenches-type barrier," he said, was "absolutely superb," a military classic likely to be studied for years.
What, he was asked, did he think of Saddam's talents as a military strategist."Hah!" Schwarzkopf cried.
He leaned on his lectern. He grinned.
"As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist," he said, "he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier.
"Other than that he's a great military man. I want you to know that."
With the skill of a politician, Schwarzkopf saluted every element of the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf war.
He hailed the fighting spirit of the French and the "Brits" who performed "absolutely magnificently" and all the Arab partners - "it was the Saudis, it was the Kuwaitis, it was the Egyptians, it was the Syrians, it was the Emiris from the United Arab Emirates, it was the Bahrainis, it was the Qataris and it was the Omanis, and I apologize if I've left anybody out."
"It was a great coalition of people, all of whom did a fine job."
To keep the Iraqis forces on the defensive along the Kuwaiti coast, he admitted to a ploy. He said he let the word go out that the allies intended to mount an amphibious landing while all the time he planned instead a powerful northward drive to attack from the west.
He wasn't modest about that strategy. It was, he said, "an absolutely, an extraordinary move, a gigantic accomplishment."
Schwarzkopf's tone changed with the questions.
When a reporter suggested that the Iraqis' battlefield obstacles were not as troublesome as commanders had expected, he cut the questioner off: "Have you ever been in a mine field?"
Schwarzkopf said the number of Americans killed - 79, just 28 in the ground battle - was "almost miraculous," then thought better of that.
His voice seemed to catch, and he added, "It will never be miraculous to the families of those people, but it is miraculous."
He could not say, he told another questioner, why the Iraqis had not used chemical or biological weapons. "I don't know the answer, I just thank God that they didn't."
Nor could he guess, he said, how many Iraqi troops had perished in battle.
"The people who will know best, unfortunately, are the families that won't see their loved ones come home."
National security can sometimes make it hard for a general to tell a good story, but Schwarzkopf, flush with victory, wasn't about to let secrecy rules get in his way. When asked for details about what special operations forces had done behind enemy lines as the attack got under way, he replied:
"We don't like to talk about what the special forces people do, as you're well aware." Pause. "But in this case let me just cover some of the things they did."
Having paid the Iraqi forces the minimal compliment of blaming their defeat on faulty leadership, Schwarzkopf couldn't resist a verbal blast at the "elite" Republican Guard. He suggested the guard was cowardly in positioning itself to the rear of the front line. The coalition forces foiled that protective strategy with its flanking maneuver.
"And, oh, by the way, they also were well to the rear here, OK, so they could be the first ones to bug out, OK, when the battlefield started folding, when these poor fellows over here, who didn't want to be here in the first place, bore the brunt of the attack," Schwarzkopf said. "But it didn't happen."
Schwarzkopf clearly had history on his mind. He made several references to the unprecedented scale of the military moves and to the way a force numerically outnumbered 3 to 2 foiled conventional wisdom that an attacking force should have at least a 3 to 1 advantage.
History came up again when Schwarzkopf was asked about his disdain for body counts.
"I don't think there has ever been in the history of warfare a successful count of dead," he said.
And, playfully, the general could not keep from tweaking the press.
To a reporter who asked if he had been allowed to select the timing for the start of the ground campaign, Schwarzkopf raised an eyebrow and wondered, "Why, do you think we did it at the wrong time?"
As usual, the press had the last word.
It was this: "Thank you. Congratulations, general."