There is considerable evidence that the Bush administration saw the Persian Gulf war of 1990-1991 as, among other things, the conflict that could define a new politico-military strategy for the 1990s. The war with Iraq would be the emblematic contest for the post-Cold War period, what the Korean War of 1951-1952 had been for the Cold War era.
Both wars, 40 years apart, were detonated by specific dynamics — local, regional and global. Beyond some uncannily similar particulars (invasion across disputed border unwittingly encouraged by signals from Washington), each of these crises helped consolidate an evolving approach to apparently new circumstances. Korea, coming on top of confrontations with the Soviet Union over Iran, Turkey and Berlin, confirmed the post-World War II strategy of containment. Similarly, the crisis in the Persian Gulf fit with remarkable ease into the new national security paradigm already emerging with the decline of the Soviet threat. Les Aspin, chair of the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representations and a key Democratic supporter of the war option, described the Persian Gulf conflict as “the defining moment for America‘s role in the world for a decade or more to come. How we come out of this will determine whether we can or cannot still call on force to achieve our goals abroad.” 
1990, in more than a few respects, was “year zero of the post-Cold War world.”  When the year began, the series of political upheavals in Eastern Europe and the irreversible collapse of the Warsaw Pact had decisively undermined the customary rationale of the American national security state. While Washington found much to relish in the dissolution of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, the “victory over Communism” also brought with it a sense of bewilderment. “The military is going through a real soul searching,” said Aspin in early January 1990. “They are looking for a mission.”  “Peace dividend” had become a Congressional mantra. The Pentagon was finding it difficult to parlay the December 1989 invasion of Panama and the dispatch of an aircraft carrier off the coast of Colombia as part of the “war on drugs” into support for a military budget request of $295 billion for the 1991 fiscal year.
The administration’s dilemma was neatly framed on page 13 of the New York Times of February 7, 1990. “Discount Soviet Peril to Iran” was the headline on a report about the Defense Planning Guidance document, a biannual document that spells out current thinking of the US military chiefs. This latest version instructed the head of the US Central Command, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, to drop his mission of protecting Iran from Soviet attack, and instead to concentrate on securing Arabian Peninsula oilfields from “regional threats.” While this seems prescient enough in hindsight, the document itself was uncommonly brief (28 pages), and press accounts agreed that it offered “little specific guidance to help military officers carry out their long-range planning” and “does not say which of the military’s future missions should take priority in the competition for scarce defense dollars.”  A less prominent story on the same page in the Times described President George Bush standing “on a bleak Mojave Desert ridge to watch American soldiers fight ‘Soviet’ tanks in a mock World War III battle.” By acknowledging a reduced Soviet military threat but simultaneously insisting that “fundamental Soviet objectives in the Third World do not appear to have changed,” the Guidance document supported civilian defense expert William Kaufmann’s contention that an “identity crisis” had seized US strategists and left the Pentagon “rudderless.” 
In fact, the construction of a new threat paradigm was already well underway. “The security challenges we face today do not come from the East alone,” observed President Bush in a May 1989 address at the Coast Guard Academy. “The emergence of regional powers is rapidly changing the strategic landscape…. We must check the aggressive ambitions of renegade regimes.”  The president’s language echoed the theme of a 1988 document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, entitled “Meeting the Mavericks: Regional Challenges for the Next President.” For the CSIS authors, “At issue is the viability of military power as a general instrument of diplomacy…. The gap between US capabilities and credibility may widen further as the world becomes increasingly multipolar.” Citing weapons proliferation, the rise of regional powers, and a generally “more diffuse environment,” the report urged that Third World developments “no longer be regarded either as troubleshooting at the margins of security or as subsets of the central US-Soviet rivalry. Instead, the ability to cope with regional challengers must become a central objective of US foreign policy.” 
The problem was not that the national security managers had not identified a mission. Rather, they had not managed to package that mission in a manner that would secure the level of funding to which the Pentagon had become accustomed. The response to the challenge of Third World insurgences, advanced from the fringes of the US national security establishment, was the concept of low-intensity conflict (LIC). At one level, this was the Pentagon’s way of overcoming the “Vietnam syndrome” by redefining war and intervention as something less intimidating than that (for the US public). But US military planners, in the services and in the military industries, never fully embraced LIC, which required rethinking missions and de-emphasized heavy, expensive weapons systems. The Pentagon held its first Low Intensity Warfare conference in January 1986, and President Reagan signed a National Security Decision Directive in June 1987 authorizing development of a unified LIC strategy, but the main enthusiasts of LIC were in Congress. The Pentagon, under Congressional compulsion, finally set up an LIC command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, far from Congressional or Pentagon corridors of influence (though adjacent to the headquarters of the Central Command). 
The advent of the Bush administration coincided with a shift of emphasis on the “conflict spectrum.” “High-intensity conflict” — a world war or a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union — was fast losing currency as a threat that could justify a Reagan-sized military budget, and LIC, by definition, could not supplant it in budgetary and force configuration terms. The new paradigm, one that the Persian Gulf war of 1990-1991 would exemplify, was Mid-Intensity Conflict. This added to the explicit Third World (South) focus of LIC a range of scenarios involving professional armies and an array of sophisticated heavy weaponry as a consequence of weapons proliferation.  The Iran-Iraq war, and the US naval intervention in the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988, previewed this mix. 
One of the first official markers of this new approach was a December 1988 speech by then-CIA chief William Webster, noting that “By the year 2000, at least 15 developing countries will either have produced or be able to produce their own ballistic missiles” and another 20 were developing chemical weapons. Webster, and later the new secretary of state, James Baker, initially posed the proliferation issue as an arms control problem, but it soon took on the dressing of a battlefield challenge.
A CSIS report in May 1990, Conventional Combat Priorities: An Approach for the New Strategic Era, provided a blueprint of the new approach. LIC would remain the most likely form of conflict with potential for US engagement, and the report critiqued the Pentagon’s failure to get into the LIC spirit. But the main emphasis of the report was elsewhere: “The most dangerous form of conventional combat in the future for US forces will be Mid Intensity Conflict, especially in the Middle East and southwest Asia…. Nothing short of a redesign of forces to fight effectively in the Mid Intensity Conflict environment and for greater deployability is required.” In a “stringent budgetary environment” the priorities would be: logistics (airlift and sealift); anti-tactical ballistic missile defenses; capability to fight in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare environments; and long-range fighter-bombers and cruise missiles for “Third World contingencies in which a small US force can deal with adversaries decisively at standoff ranges.” A “redesign of forces” and “greater deployability” will not come cheaply, and the report predicts that “the potential for US involvement in mid-intensity conflict — wars with or between powerful regional states — will provide a key justification for military budgets during the 1990s.”
Here was a “threat reconstruction” the military could endorse enthusiastically. In this same period, during the months prior to the Gulf crisis, each of the service chiefs issued “white papers” stressing the indispensably critical role that branch of the military would play in projecting US power abroad. US Army Chief of Staff Carl Vuono identified “terrorism, trafficking in illicit drugs, proliferation of sophisticated weaponry…and regional instability” as the threats his forces needed to be ready to combat.  Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, in his first annual report to Congress, warned of “challenges beyond Europe that may place significant demands on our defense capabilities,” and that US strategies must “rely more heavily on mobile, highly ready, well-equipped forces and solid power projection capabilities.”  Sea power advocates had the apparently successful Persian Gulf intervention of 1987-1988 to point to. The US Air Force asserted that among the services it offered “in most cases, the quickest, longest-range, leading-edge force available to the president” and “exceptional flexibility across the spectrum of conflict as an instrument of national resolve.”  The competition between the services was polite only in public. One unnamed Air Force official spoke contemptuously of Army budget claims: “We have trouble finding places where the enemy forces and our political objectives are such that we are likely to be committing more than one or two Army divisions.” 
Iraq provided, for a time, the answer to that riddle, becoming, in William Pfaff’s words, “a metaphor for a Third World that can attack the wealthy nations that dominate the international system, and so avenge the poverty of the ‘South.’”  Baghdad’s behavior lent an ideological justification for US military and intervention strategy once the “Soviet threat” had been overtaken by events. Right-wing commentator Charles Krauthammer identified the new enemy as the Weapon State. For Krauthammer, “The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery will constitute the greatest single threat to world security for the rest of our lives,” making George Bush’s new world order “not an imperial dream or a Wilsonian fantasy but a matter of the sheerest prudence.” The Weapon State (today Iraq, tomorrow North Korea or Libya) must be disarmed, “and there is no one to do that but the United States.”  Krauthammer ignores the inconvenient fact that, according to a Congressional Research Service study, “At least half the countries that are now acquiring missiles are considered to be friends of the US [and] it is primarily these countries that are developing their own missile production capabilities.”  In a less self-conscious exposition of the Weapon State thesis, the Washington Post published a chart during the war comparing US and Iraqi casualties: the number of dead American troops alongside the number of “killed” Iraqi armored personnel carriers and tanks, with no effort to extrapolate how many Iraqis might have been inside those vehicles at the time. 
For others, the threat is more pervasive than proliferation: It is disorder. Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis postulated that “another form of competition has been emerging that could be just as stark and just as pervasive as was the rivalry between democracy and totalitarianism at the height of the Cold War: It is the contest between the forces of integration and fragmentation in the contemporary international environment.”  In Pfaff’s words, the collapse of the Soviet Union produced not Krauthammer’s “unipolar moment” but “the abolishment of superpower status itself.” 
Iraq briefly supplanted the Soviet Union in filling the need for a tangible threat, an embodiment of the evil challenges that lurk abroad. Not the least of his casting virtues is the fact that he is Muslim and Arab. This seems to be a prototypical feature of the new “threat perception.” Krauthammer is typically most extreme in this aspect, displaying an infallible ear for the quintessential soundbite. In a syndicated column in February 1990, he coined the phrase “global intifada,” seeing in events from Yugoslavia to Kashmir “not just a common thread — the Muslim demand for hegemony — but a geographical unity…. These conflicts are all taking place at the edges of [the Islamic] heartland, precisely where the Muslim world meets the surrounding non-Muslims.” 
Gaddis the historian more subtly invokes the Muslim bogey. “The forces of fragmentation do not just take the form of pressures for self-determination, formidable as those may be,” he writes: “They certainly show up in the area of religion. The resurgence of Islam might be seen by some as an integrationist force in the Middle East. But it is surely fragmentationist to the extent that it seeks to set that particular region off from the rest of the world…. One can look at Beirut as it has been for the past decade and a half and get a good sense of what the world would look like if the forces of fragmentation should ultimately have their way.” 
At the policy level, there is little to support the claim of one unnamed “senior” Bush official that “the march of Islamic fundamentalism” is a particularly grave concern.  The “fundamentalist” angle for US policymakers can be reduced to four letters: I-R-A-N. Leak-inspired press accounts of Islamist rule in Sudan, for instance, have mainly highlighted the fall 1992 visit of Iranian President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to Khartoum. To do otherwise would risk implicating US regional allies, notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco, as key funders of the Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan, and among the Palestinians. 
Dealing seriously with Islamist trends would also mean grappling with issues of social and economic equity, the enormous disparities of wealth and poverty that afflict the region, and the deteriorating material conditions of life. These trends underlie the growth of Islamist politics, and such trends appear to be less hostile to US interests than overtly class-based movements that the Islamists have for the time being supplanted. Finally, as far as the Pentagon is concerned, there is no military response to the growth of Islamist politics. Western fears of hostile and alienated Muslim societies provide useful atmospherics for threat projections, but cannot deliver the scare that will sustain large military budgets.
The Gulf war has not closed but rather extended the competition between the military services for claims on shrinking resources. Weapons wizardry in the war provided outstanding film footage for manufacturers to use in peddling their wares abroad. And there has been much peddling. US weapons sales to the Middle East in the year since the ceasefire are at an all-time high.  Part of the reason is that the Pentagon has not made a convincing case for a continued military buildup of US forces, thus encouraging arms manufacturers to rely even more heavily on foreign sales.
The decisive rout of Iraq’s greatly exaggerated military force paradoxically diminished the credibility of the threat that the Cold Warriors had worked to construct. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell told Army Times in April 1991: “Think hard about it, I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains…. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” 
True, Washington still has Saddam Hussein to kick around, an especially useful villain-option in an election year. “Saddam can do us one last favor,” said one Gulf diplomat in the fall. “He can hang on for a year or two.”  A draft of the latest Defense Planning Guidance document (for fiscal years 1994-1999) sets out seven “illustrative” (as opposed to “predictive”) conflict scenarios for the services to use in preparing and justifying their budget requests. The key element is Defense Secretary Cheney’s instruction to the military chiefs to prepare to fight two large regional wars simultaneously — against Iraq and North Korea — while maintaining the capacity to counter military moves in Europe by a “resurgent Russia.”  CIA director Gates habitually ranks Iraq first among all “proliferation challenges.”  Among Congressional Democrats, too, Saddam Hussein remains the villain of choice. House Armed Services chairman Aspin has proposed “sizing” US military forces on the basis of “generic” threats denominated as “Iraq-equivalents.” 
The latest Defense Planning Guidance draft still refers to the war against Iraq, a year after the ceasefire, as “a defining event in US global leadership.” In fact the war has not lived up to this billing, at least not in the sense that the administration intends. The CSIS assessment of the “lessons” of the war notes the “distinctiveness” of this conflict, especially the synchrony and “unique ineptness” with which the Iraqi regime played into US military and diplomatic strengths, and the “superb logistical base” which the US already had in place in Saudi Arabia. 
The CSIS postmortem also stressed the military significance of the political coalition that the US assembled. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 11, 1991, observed that the funds pledged to the US for Desert Shield and Desert Storm “would rank, by a considerable margin, as the world’s third largest defense budget” after those of the US and the Soviet Union. Logistics — essentially running in reverse NATO’s yearly Reforger exercises that brought men and materiel into Europe — engaged four NATO nations as well as Arab allies. “The US will be unable to perform any major contingency operation without a substantial degree of assistance from other nations,” wrote the CSIS authors. “All foreign and defense policy decisions must be made with this realization.” (The CSIS report also points out that key electronic warfare microchips came from Japan and “that weakness nearly became a war stopper. Needed computers and other electronic components had to be drawn out of Japanese producers who did not share the same sense of urgency about the crisis.”) 
These are not the lessons the administration would like to emphasize. The new Defense Guidance draft bluntly defines the US strategic goal as “precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”  The main danger of nuclear proliferation, by this calculation, is that it might instigate other industrial countries like Germany and Japan to develop such weapons as well, thus broadening the areas of challenge to US hegemony. Referring to the Middle East, the Pentagon document reiterates that “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region.” The Pentagon wants to accomplish its “downsizing” by reducing the existing five theater commands (Atlantic, Pacific, European, Southern, Central) to three: Atlantic, Pacific and Contingency.  The anticipated military engagement is clearly in the South; the Atlantic and Contingency commands combined would have the capacity to replay Desert Storm.
New World Aura
This prescription is consistent with Defense Secretary Cheney’s insistence that the administration’s military budget represents the bare minimum necessary “to protect US interests and continue to play a leading role in shaping international events.”  For Secretary of State Baker, “I think what we say is, our preeminent position in international affairs is important in terms of US interests, US economic interests.” 
The problem remains: how to translate this imperial imperative into public acceptance of large military budgets at a time of social and economic crisis domestically. James Schlesinger, former chief of the CIA and the Pentagon, captured the administration’s dilemma when he set out the key US military planning objectives as command of the seas, capacity for rapid intervention in the Middle East, and enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation. But, he writes, “These individual force elements may not add up to the aggregate necessary to sustain America’s position as the leading world power. American policymakers should be quite clear in their own minds that the basis for determining US force structure and military expenditures in the future should not simply be the response to individual threats, but rather that which is needed to maintain the overall aura of American power.” 
This aura is meant to impress allies as much as adversaries — especially allies with ideas of their own about Washington’s proper role in the new era. The Gulf crisis, following on the naval intervention in the Persian Gulf of 1987-1988, has set a precedent for relatively unencumbered NATO out-of-area military activities in the future. The main point of difference appears to be the role of various European states, and the EC as a political unit. When European Community chief Jacques Delors proposed a European Rapid Defense Force in early March 1991, Washington promptly warned against any disruption of NATO or the formation of a “European caucus” within the alliance. As a compromise, rather than the essentially Franco-German brigade originally envisaged, the European Rapid Reaction Corps will have a British commander. The case for a British commander, it seems, was underlined by “the decisiveness of their response to the Gulf crisis” — i.e., their attachment to Washington’s view of it. And, as one unnamed diplomat put it, “They have the most experience with expeditionary forces.” 
For George Bush, the operative term in the phrase “new world order” is not “new” but “order.” The two recent political cataclysms with significance for global politics have been the Persian Gulf crisis and war, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Both have disturbed the balance of power between and within states in and around the Persian Gulf. Of the various threats to the status quo that prompted the US military intervention of 1990-1991, only Iraq’s regional military capacity has been dealt with on terms favorable to the status quo, and that only partially. Iraq’s defeat, moreover, highlights a major concern for Washington and its clients in the region: how to offset Iran’s strategic weight. The US is working closely with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to preclude any growth of Iranian influence in the new independent republics in the Muslim parts of Central Asia. In the Persian Gulf itself, the US has a much greater “residual” military presence, including greater access to Arabian Peninsula ports and bases, compared to the period before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
The other new feature of US policy in the region is Washington’s effort to promote multilateral talks between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states. This is the one area where the Bush administration can make the US ties of key Arab states appear politically productive. In all the other areas — arms control, social justice, democratization, human rights — changes would most likely undermine the regimes. Arms control has received some rhetorical attention but practice continues as before, as record US sales to the region indicate. As for reversing the trend toward acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, the sole goal is to demilitarize Iraq. “I don’t know that Israel has any nuclear capability,” claimed Defense Secretary Cheney in June 1991. “They have certainly never announced it.” 
Sanctions and disarmament of Iraq, inconclusive negotiations between Israeli and Arab representatives, and an augmented US military presence in the Gulf — these three pieces of US strategy in the region are unlikely to be sufficient to forestall potential major social confrontations in the region. Moves toward political and economic liberalization reflect the pervasiveness of economic crisis throughout the region. In deference to the authoritarian sensibilities of the Saudi ruling family and their cohorts in the region, the issue of democracy and political rights is extremely low on the rhetorical agenda, and only then for the states furthest away from the Peninsula. Even in the case of Iraq, where all manner of international intrusion is bruited to secure reparations or reduce Baghdad’s arsenal, the issue of elections is strikingly absent from US policy.  If “the Islamic threat” is not potent enough to drive the US military budget in the 1990s, it is serving to rationalize a status quo policy that may well contribute to the sort of political upheaval capable of triggering another episode of military intervention.
 Quoted by the Washington Post’s fervidly pro-war foreign editor and columnist Jim Hoagland, January 20, 1991. Aspin went on to add that “how we come out of this will determine whether we can or cannot use the UN to achieve our goals.”
 Richard Barnet, “The Uses of Force” The New Yorker, April 29, 1991.
 New York Times, January 9, 1990.
 Los Angeles Times and New York Times, February 7, 1990. Apparently as part of the reorientation prescribed by Cheney, US forces conducted a war game in July 1990 at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina which posited a “Southwest Asia contingency” involving Iraq as the aggressor. This produced a list of 27 strategic targets in Iraq a month before the invasion of Kuwait. Washington Post, June 23, 1991.
 Washington Post, February 13, 1990.
 White House transcript.
 Cited in Richard Hutchinson, “US Strategy After the Gulf War,” Against the Current (July-August 1991).
 See Richard H. Shultz, “The Low-Intensity Conflict Environment of the 1990s,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (September 1991).
 Michael Klare, “The US Military Faces South,” The Nation, June 18, 1990 and “Behind Desert Storm: The New Military Paradigm,” Technology Review (May-June 1991).
 Marine Corps General George Crist, when he retired as chief of CENTCOM and turned over that command to Norman Schwartzkopf in late 1988, spoke of the 18-month intervention in the Iran-Iraq war as having brought CENTCOM “from adolescence to young adulthood.” New York Times, December 4, 1988.
 Barnet, “Uses of Force.”
 New York Times, May 21, 1990.
 William Pfaff, “Redefining World Power,” Foreign Affairs 70/1 (1990-1991).
 Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” Foreign Affairs 70/1 (1990-1991).
 Congressional Research Service. “Missile Proliferation: Survey of Emerging Missile Forces,” 88-642 F (October 3, 1988), p. 13.
 Extra! (May-June 1991).
 John Lewis Gaddis, “Toward the Post-Cold War World,” Foreign Affairs 70/2 (Spring 1991).
 Pfaff, “Redefining World Power.”
 Charles Krauthammer, “The New Crescent of Crisis: Global Intifada,” Washington Post, February 16, 1990.
 Gaddis, “Toward the Post Cold War World,” p. 107.
 New York Times, January 1, 1992.
 The best journalistic account is in the Guardian, February 29, 1992. According to this report, Kuwait revealed at the April 1990 Arab summit in Baghdad that it had contributed $60 million in the previous year alone to Hamas, the Palestinian group affiliated with the Muslim Brothers. With reference to Sudan, see Abbashar Jamal, “Funding Fundamentalism,” Middle East Report 172 (September-October 1991).
 According to the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based NGO, the administration has proposed and Congress has agreed to the transfer of $19 billion in “major conventional weapons” to the Middle East since August 1990, $6 billion of which was announced since President Bush proposed a “Middle East Arms Control Initiative” in May 1991. Saudi Arabia accounts for $14.8 billion of the total.
 William W. Kaufmann and John D. Steinbruner, Decisions for Defense (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1991), p. 45.
 Guardian, November 14, 1991.
 New York Times, February 17, 1992. The remaining scenarios include coups in the Philippines and Panama and an unnamed “resurgent/emergent global threat,” or “REGT.”
 For example, see Gates’ testimony before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, January 15, 1992.
 The utility of this measure is apparent from the fact that Cuba, for instance, has only 15 percent of Iraq’s peak land forces but, as befits an island as opposed to a virtually landlocked nation, twice Iraq’s sea strength. “An Approach to Sizing American Conventional Forces for the Post-Soviet Era,” January 24, 1992, p. 10.
 Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Gulf War: Military Lessons Learned (Washington, July 1991), pp. 2-3.
 Ibid. The spirit of this assessment was captured in an Economist editorial of March 9, 1991: “The United States could barely have afforded the battle without plentiful free oil, yen and D-marks. To defeat a country with the national product of Portugal took 75 percent of America’s tactical aircraft and 40 percent of its tanks. Some unipolar gunboat.”
 New York Times, March 8, 1992.
 Kaufmann and Steinbruner, pp. 33-35.
 Ibid., p. 27.
 Washington Post, December 8, 1991.
 James Schlesinger, “New Instabilities. New Priorities,&rqduo; Foreign Policy (Winter 1991-1992).
 The Independent, March 7, 1991.
 Cited in the column of Washington Post editorialist Stephen Rosenfeld, December 1, 1991.
 After the Storm: Challenges for America’s Middle East Policy, the post-war spin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, purports to represent the views of a wide range of present and former policymakers. Interestingly, the authors found themselves explicitly unable to endorse a policy of encouraging democratization in Iraq.