Coffee House

General ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Schwarzkopf: a tribute

3 January 2013

2:12 PM

3 January 2013

2:12 PM

‘Stormin’ Norman’ Schwarzkopf was a formidable figure: formidable in size, in his fearsome temper—and as a genius in the art of war.

I first met the General in Oman a few weeks before the unleashing of the First Gulf War of 1990, where he commanded a remarkable array of coalition forces, including Egyptians and Syrians. At first glimpse it was hard to take seriously the bear-like figure, bursting out of his desert fatigues, with a cap that seemed several sizes too small. But within five minutes it was plain that here was a most remarkable man. Speaking very directly, he made it clear that the coming battle would be ‘short and sharp.’ He was surprisingly open in outlining his strategy. Rather than butt his head up frontally against Saddam’s formidable fixed defenses, he would perform (in American football parlance) ‘an end-run far to the west.’

This was more or less what he did do, defeating Saddam’s massive forces in 100 hours of battle. What the record reveals is that, as well as being a brilliant strategist and battlefield manager, in dealing with the Arab forces under the Coalition Command, he proved to be also a diplomat and politician of quite staggering ability. And he had studied history.

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Meeting him again in London after the Gulf War, I asked him what the precedents had been for his classic battle plan of ‘Desert Storm.’? The ‘Manstein Plan’ which had defeated France by splitting the Allied armies in May 1940 was one, he said; though more immediate had been its forerunner, the ‘Schlieffen Plan’ of 1914. This great turning movement was intended to swing the Kaiser’s army round behind Paris, taking the French from the rear. It failed — only just; but it was a similar manoeuvre, of far greater daring, which enabled Schwarzkopf to pin Saddam’s Republican Guard up against the Euphrates within a hundred hours.

Privately he had favoured going on, into Iraq, to complete the smashing of Saddam’s forces. That might well have saved the West the disaster of Blair’s baby, the Second Gulf War. But, as ground commander, he was held back by the restraining influences of both his superior, General Colin Powell (whom he held in total respect), and the admirable but wimpish President, George Bush Senior.

At our second encounter, I asked Schwarzkopf what had been his biggest headache in the war? He replied instantly: ‘The media.’ It was, he explained, ‘a management problem; in Vietnam, we had 80 press, and news came on TV 36 hours later; in the Gulf we had 2,060 – and instantaneous TV – how do you control such a huge number?’ In 1990 he had ‘switched off all TVs in my HQ,’ If there were heavy losses, ‘I didn’t want it to get into the brain cells of my staff – better to rely on their own instantaneous judgments than Stateside experts, often giving wrong assessments.’

I asked him what might have happened if there had been CNN on Omaha Beach, that first bloody day of June 6 1944? He replied simply: ‘There would have been no D-Day plus 2.’ His British counterpart, General de la Billière, confirmed to me he had shared ‘Stormin’ Norman’s’ anxiety about the media; as he wrote to his wife when Gulf One began: ‘It really is war by TV.’

Alistair Horne’s most recent book is But What Do You Actually Do?’

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Show comments
  • Jabez Foodbotham

    I don’t know about the genius, but I still recall seeing him on some US TV station giving an account, while the dust of battle had hardly settled, of what his forces had intended to do and how they had accomplished it. It was the clearest live exposition of the military art I have ever heard from an active general. He was certainly a brilliant communicator.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I have rarely met or seen a senior US military commander who isn’t also a brilliant communicator, and that trait is also prevalent in senior business types as well. It’s part of the job, and is a quite unremarkable trait amongst those types.

      I think what you mean to say is that Schwarzkopf was extremely charismatic in a broadcast media environment, in a way more akin to performance artists. He was definitely that.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Oh, and now that we’ve worked through all the whimpering from the peanut gallery, let’s get back to my original queries, re the writer’s extremely loose use of the language in this blogpost.

    What is it precisely that made this Schwarzkopf guy a “genius”?

    Describe in detail what made him a “brilliant strategist and battlefield manager”.

    What was it he did that compels you to describe him as “a diplomat and politician of quite staggering ability”.

    Take your time. This is a lot of hot air to back up.

  • TomTom

    His father was also of interest working closely with Kermit Roosevelt with Mi6 to put Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne after removing Mossadeq in Operation Ajax. Schwarzkopf Sr was also involved in the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case as Police Chief in NJ

  • James Strong

    Now, back to the post about Sshwarzkopf, a story about his skills as a diplomat.
    To understand this you have to know that practically everything in Saudi Arabia that is run by Saudis is useless. Truly useless.
    When talking to King Fahd and being asked about the quality of the Saudi army that was part of the coalition forces the General is supposed to have said, ‘Your Highness, there is room for major improvement.’
    At the time the General was representing the President of the USA, so couldn’t speak more bluntly than that, but he got the job done in that audience and in the war.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      US generals have been saying that same thing, everywhere, to everyone, for about 75 years now. You make the same mistake as the addle brained toff, thinking that’s unique or “genius” behavior, and indicative of “a diplomat and politician of quite staggering ability”, when we know empirically that that’s simply the loose language of a groupie. If it were true, then US generals must as a bloc be genius and superman diplomats and politicians.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Oh, and if you have any posts to be directed at me, you should hit the
      reply button and direct them appropriately. Only cowards throw out insults to the wind.

      • James Strong

        It was put into the general comments because I wanted everyone to read about how I think Coffe House comment threads have declined, and I’d like it if the vast majority of readers did not reply to your nasty comments.
        You would not dare to call me a coward or attempt to patronise me or other commenters by calling us ‘son’ if you were standing face to face with us. You are abusing this site and trying to show ‘hard’ you are, but really strong and pwerful men are nearly always courteous.You are not.
        I maintain, and repeat, my belief that you’ve got psychological problems, and I think you’d be well advised to get counselling.
        Now, I will not reply to your malice again, and I exhort other readers to ignore you as well.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Good that you responded directly when called out, son. It’s cowardly to do what you first did. And if you don’t like it on this site and see it as in decline, I suggest you move on.

          But if you choose to stay, I’d also suggest that rather than whimpering and throwing around insults at those who disagree with you, you follow your own advice, and ignore my posts, as they do seem to enrage you so deeply.

          Oh, and just to reiterate, your above post re Schwarzkopf was tripe, and empirically proven false.

          Have a nice day.

  • James Strong

    I’ve been coming to Coffee House for a couple of years.
    The comments threads didn’t used to be like this, a series of silly and nasty insults well off the point of the article.
    If you are insulting someone under a pseudonym on the internet then I suggest you are a coward with more than your share of malice. Either behave like a man and use your name or see a special kind of doctor to deal with your psychological problems.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Such loose usage of the language.

    What is it precisely that made this guy a “genius”?

    Describe in detail what made him a “brilliant strategist and battlefield manager”.

    What was it he did that compels you to describe him as “a diplomat and politician of quite staggering ability”.

    I mean, seriously, this guy was a decent guy and all, but the way you Speccie teenagers go on and on about the Petraeuses, McChrystals and Scharzkopfs, one would think they’re each a combination Alexander and Bobby Lee all wrapped up into one. The truth is, any of dozens could have done what these guys did. They are nothing special, other than what the media that Schwarzkopf decried drummed them up to be. This is a statement of media idolatry more than anything.

    • Jasper Todd

      “Speccie teenagers”?

      Do you even know who Alistair Horne is? Or don’t you read ‘books’n’stuff’?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        A simple-minded toff?

        A puffed up fantasist?

        A foolish old groupie, caught adulating in an unedited and uneditable publication?

        Any of that fit for ya’?

        • Etrangere

          They do say ignorance is bliss. Instead of embarrassing yourself, try reading a few of the author’s excellent books. His trilogy on the Paris Commune, Verdun and the Fall of France are masterpieces.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Why bother, with this piece of tripe as guidepost?

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Oh, and let me help you with the Commune, Verdun and the Fall of France, with a bit of simplicity that seems to have escaped the verbose toff: The hun slapped around the frogs… bigtime. That would seem to work in all cases.

              • Jasper Todd

                What a tiresome shouty little knobhead you are. Neither witty nor amusing. Just basically trying to mark – or stain – the thread with your piss. Your opinions are worthless, and your comments are ugly, boorish and unappealing.

                Go away, you semi-literate buffoon.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere any time soon, and jasper is quite appropriate a name for you, son.

                • Jasper Todd

                  So the fart elects to remain in the room. We’ll just have to open a few windows then. Son.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  You do whatever you like, son.

                  I might suggest you quit whimpering, though.

                • Jasper Todd

                  Did someone fart again there?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Not that you’re prone to quit whimpering, but you might just take that obvious suggestion.

            • Colonel Mustard

              Takes the biscuit.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Even uglier.

        • TomTom

          Hardly. He writes really well and has an excellent book on Dunkirk and Fall of France. He is also a biographer of Macmillan

          • the viceroy’s gin

            We’ve previously discussed the Battle of France, but we can amend that comment to include Dunkirk: “The hun slapped around the frogs and the BEF”. I’m sure the verbose toff goes into far more hagiographic handsprings over it all, but not much need for that, or him. I like my history absent the processed sugar, and absent those in love with their own stylings.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ugly.

    • Daniel Maris

      I think Petraeus probably deserves biggest credit. Everyone was in a flunk. The British had run away in Basra. But he said all was not lost. I think the Schwarzkopf
      attack was pretty obvious really. Tanks love desert.

      End note: What chances are there of the son of a Jamaican immigrant getting to the top of the British Armed Forces even now? Got to be close to zero. God Bless America.

      • TomTom

        The US Military is completely different from the British – it is financed by the ENTIRE US Income Tax Revenues….which would be like paying £158 billion on Defence in the UK so you could provide free Education and Postgraduate Education for Soldiers, and make it an attractive career path as in most 3rd World Countries for aspirant Middle Class. The Us Military is a State-within-a-State spending 40% Global Defence Spending…….so if we spend £158 billion on Defence we can give FREE Education to everyone in Jamaica.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I think you are confusing the first Gulf War with the invasion of Iraq.

        • Daniel Maris

          No – I was comparing Petraeus with Norman S.

      • TomTom

        Saudi Arabia had a Sunni controlling Iraq and preserved him after the Kuwait War; then the US/UK Front removed the Sunni power base and aligned Iraq with Iran leaving Iraq with no Air Force……..Saudi Arabia now seeks to spread its influence into Syria and isolate Iran before Iran gets the Shias in bahrein and Saudi Arabia to overthrow the House of Saud.

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