President Bush
Q&A on end of the Persian Gulf War

Q. Why did you end the war when you did, instead of going on to Baghdad to get Saddam Hussein?

A. It was never part of our mission to take Baghdad. We stopped the war when we achieved our objectives -- to liberate Kuwait and destroy Iraq's offensive military capability, its ability to threaten its neighbors. That was the mission agreed to by Congress, the United Nations, and our coalition partners, and supported overwhelmingly by the American people.

We ended the war when the enemy was defeated. It was a unanimous recommendation of Secretary Cheney, General Powell, and General Schwarzkopf.

To then ask American troops to continue their combat operations, to continue the killing and the destruction, was not something we were eager to do. There is a basic decency to our men and women in uniform. They quickly made the transition from being warriors to being angels of mercy, taking care of the thousands of surrendering Iraqi prisoners. The pictures of those young Americans caring for the Iraqi soldiers were some of the most poignant images of the war.

If we had kept going, we would have gone beyond what we said we intended to do, beyond what our coalition partners agreed to, beyond what the UN Security Council signed up to, and beyond what the Congress and the American people approved. We entered the war with clear-cut military objectives.

We certainly had the military capability to go on to Baghdad, but for what purpose? To get Saddam Hussein? I doubt that he would have waited at his palace for us to drive up and get him. So we would have needed to send a very large force and might well have faced intensive combat inside the city. The artillery, tanks, and air power that performed so well for us in the open desert would not have been very useful inside a major city. That would have cost us dearly in terms of additional casualties. And I'm not sure what we would have done with Baghdad, once we had it.

But once we had prevailed and had toppled Saddam Hussein's government, we presumably would have had to stay there and put another government in place. And what would that have been: a Suni government, a Shia government, a Kurdish government, or another Bathist regime? How long would US forces have been required to say in to prop the government up? And how effective could it have been if the government we put in had been perceived as a puppet of the US military?

My guess is that if we had gone to Baghdad, we'd still have US forces there today. And to involve American forces in a civil war inside Iraq would have been a quagmire, because we would have gone in there with no clear-cut military objective. It's just as important to know when not to use force as it is to know when to use it. And we got it right both times.