The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said today that there will be no war unless Iraq starts one, a move he said would be “an awfully stupid mistake.”
Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, in his first news conference since moving his command post to Saudi Arabia, repeatedly ducked questions about specific U.S. military options under consideration. But he said the United States is not looking to start hostilities.
“There’s not going to be any war unless the Iraqis attack,” Schwarzkopf told reporters after spending the day visiting American troops in northeast Saudi Arabia.
He said the United States is there to defend Saudi Arabia but would be ready to fight back if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered his forces to invade the kingdom.
“Let’s face it, if he dares come across that border and comes down here, I’m completely confident that we’re going to kick his butt when he gets here,” Schwarzkopf said.
Schwarzkopf called the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait “not only a mugging but a rape.” He said Iraqi forces in Iraq and Kuwait appear to be in a defensive posture but are capable of taking the offensive.
“They certainly have the capability to attack, although I think if they were to do so it would be an awfully stupid mistake,” Schwarzkopf said.
The general glanced at the floor before answering a question about how much impact Iraq’s holding of American and other Western hostages had on his military planning.
“I would tell you that obviously I am just as concerned as anyone else about every single human life,” Schwarzkopf said. But, he added: “What I have to do is plan the military component and not concern myself with the hostages.”
There has been speculation that the United States would seek a permanent military foothold in Saudi Arabia regardless of the outcome of the current standoff--a delicate subject because of anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.
When asked about such prospects, Schwarzkopf said: “We have no intention of establishing a permanent base in Saudi Arabia.”
Schwarzkopf laughed when asked who was in charge of the multinational forces.
“This is not NATO,” he said. “This is not a single command, and there doesn’t need to be.”