The United States started bombing Iraq on January 16, 1991, and, except for a few brief intervals, hasn’t stopped since. Twenty-six years this Monday, more than a quarter of a century, and four US presidents, all of whom have bombed Iraq. Last year, the rate of bombing increased over 20,105. The lion’s share of the 26,171 bombs dropped by the United States on the world was split evenly between Iraq and Syria, though we did reserve a dollop for Yemen. And the United States dropped more on Libya, about 500, in 2016, than in 2015. Trump, and Trumpism, is a symptom of the sickness, not the source.
The 1991 bombing began at 2:10 am Baghdad time (January 17 there)—over 100,000 sorties, tens of thousands of bombs dropped by thousands of planes. “Smart bombs” lit up the sky as the TV cameras rolled. Featured were new night-vision equipment, real-time satellite communications, and cable TV—as well as former US military commanders ready to narrate the war in the style of football announcers, right down to instant replays. “In sports-page language,” said CBS News anchor Dan Rather on the first night of the attack, “this… it’s not a sport. It’s war. But so far, it’s a blowout.”
The next day, January 18, in the CBS studio, Walter Cronkite and Rather engaged in an extended conversation that made them seem less like sports announcers describing live action than veteran color commentators comparing today’s game to how it used to be played. The two men concluded that the old big-bellied B-52s that had been used extensively in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and now were being deployed to bomb Baghdad were more effective at sowing terror and generating panic than the lean “high-tech” missiles the media was fascinated with:
Walter Cronkite: You have seen the B-52s in operation in Vietnam, I have, and they are almost a terror weapon, they are so powerful. They are dropping all of those bombs. My heavens, 14 tons of bomb out of a single airplane—they could very well panic the Iraq army…. One thing that’s interesting about this, Dan, these bombs come in at a very low rate of speed, comparatively—compared to rocketry and other such things, and as a result, the bomb blast is widespread. It can do an awful lot of surface damage without really rather serious damage to a single target, except right where it lands—blow out a lot of windows, blow out a lot of walls, things of that kind as opposed to the high speed missiles that are inclined to bury themselves and blow up….
Dan Rather: Want to pick up on what you were talking about with the B-52s. It’s certainly true, anybody who’s seen or been through a B-52 raid, it’s an absolutely unforgettable, mind-searing experience.