Invading Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein would have bogged down the United States in a quagmire "like the dinosaur in the tar pit," Desert Storm commander H. Norman Schwarzkopf says.
"The legitimacy for what we were doing was the United Nations resolution which called for us to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait," the retired four-star general said in an interview for "Newsweek on Air" carried by The Associated Press radio network."We never considered going to Baghdad. We'd accomplished our mission."
Schwarzkopf said going to Baghdad would have splintered the fragile 28-member coalition that ejected Iraq. And he said the cease-fire saved American lives.
But Schwarzkopf may not completely silence the second-guessing over the cease-fire's timing, which he covers in his biography, "It Doesn't Take A Hero," excerpts of which appear in the Newsweek issue available on newsstands Monday.
In a phone call with Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Schwarzkopf said he wanted to keep going on the advice of his commanders.
"I want to continue the ground attack . . . drive to the sea and totally destroy everything in our path," Schwarzkopf told Powell. "In one more day we'll be done."
But when Powell called back and told him the White House wanted to stop the ground war after 100 hours, Schwarzkopf agreed. The Iraqi army was in full flight from Kuwait, and U.S. pilots were bombing convoys along an escape route called the "Highway of Death."
"I'd have been happy to keep on destroying the Iraqi military for the next six months. Yet we'd kicked this guy's butt, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that we'd won decisively, and we'd done it with very few casualties. Why not end it? Why get somebody else killed? That made up my mind," he wrote.
Schwarzkopf's book will be released later this month by Linda Grey-Bantam publishers in New York.
In it, he talks of disagreements with Powell, frustration over the sluggishness of a commander to attack Iraq's Republican Guard, and, from his early years, he says his mother was an alcoholic.
Schwarzkopf had fueled second-guessing over the cease-fire when he told interviewer David Frost that he wanted "to continue the march." He later apologized and said he agreed 100 percent with President Bush.
But in his book, Schwarzkopf said he "felt irritated" that "Washington was ready to overreact, as usual, to the slightest ripple in public opinion" over the bombing of the fleeing convoys.
"I thought, but didn't say, that the best thing the White House could would be to turn off the damned TV in the situation room," Schwarzkopf wrote.
But part of Washington's thinking was formed by Schwarzkopf's "mother of all briefings," in which he told the world that the coalition had effectively destroyed the Iraqis by the fourth day of fighting.
"So I couldn't very well say, well, I have to have another half a day or the job's not done," Schwarz-kopf said.
He also said leaders in Washington knew some Republican Guard units would escape with their top-of-the-line T-72 tanks. "The White House now understood that some tanks would get away and had decided to accept it."
At bottom, Schwarzkopf defended the outcome of Desert Storm, even if U.S. forces now are back in the Persian Gulf enforcing a "no-fly" zone of Iraqi aircraft.
"Had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit - we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs for that occupation," Schwarzkopf said.
"Saddam's military forces suffered a crushing defeat and are no longer a threat to any other nation," the general said. "Do I think it was worth it? You bet I do."
In other parts of the book, Schwarzkopf said:
- He got into a heated discussion with Powell over the start of the ground war, which Schwarzkopf wanted to delay because of the threat of foul weather. The weather later cleared up.
- When cease-fire talks were to be held at the Safwan air field, U.S. commanders discovered to their horror that the Iraqi army held it, despite Schwarzkopf's orders that the area be taken. The 1st Infantry Division bluffed the Iraqis into leaving, after an angry Schwarzkopf told his Army commander that if the Army couldn't get the job done, "I will send the Marine Corps up there."
- He decided not to take the job as Army chief of staff because he knew the military would be cut. "I'd rather retire with a great victory than suffer a thousand defeats at the hands of Congress."