Vice President Dan Quayle traveled to the most forward American positions Monday and told cheering U.S. troops that the United States is prepared to use massive force to prevent the Persian Gulf crisis from turning into another Vietnam.
Quayle said President Bush still hopes that a peaceful solution is possible, but he warned the troops in Operation Desert Shield that war is ominously near.
“If our shield must become a sword,” he said in his New Year’s Eve message, “you Marines will be the tip of that sword.”
During a daylong trip that took him from a rear air base bristling with fighter jets to the isolated desert encampment of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Quayle told the troops that they have the support of the American public and that excessive patience in waiting for the sanctions to work would only lead to appeasement.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said, could have peace tomorrow if he abided by the U.N. resolutions calling for his withdrawal from Kuwait.
Arriving in an unarmed Blackhawk helicopter, Quayle drew standing ovations and cheers when he said: “President Bush has said--and I repeat today--this will not be another Vietnam. If force is necessary, it will be quick, massive and decisive. You will do your job and then go home to your loved ones.”
“I think he captured how we feel,” said Specialist Reuben Limon, 28, of El Paso. “We’ve been sitting out here for four months. We want to get on with it.”
Dressed in a blue, open-collar shirt, khaki trousers and hiking shoes, the vice president bantered with the soldiers and Marines, played basketball and volleyball with them and surprised Pfc. Mike Kendall by snatching the phone out of his hand while he was talking to his mother, Nancy, in Ft. Worth.
“Nancy,” he said, “this is Vice President Dan Quayle. Your son is doing super. He has a sparkle in his eyes. We won’t keep him any longer than necessary.”
“Usually when he’s got that sparkle in his eyes, he’s done something wrong,” Nancy Kendall replied.
Quayle, cutting short a family skiing holiday in Vail, Colo., arrived in Saudi Arabia aboard Air Force Two on Sunday for a three-day visit. He met King Fahd shortly after his arrival. When the subject of American dissent over Washington’s gulf policy came up, Quayle told the king “not to worry about what you see on CNN,” according to sources familiar with the session.
Quayle reportedly told the Saudi monarch that Bush will make the final decision on what action to take and that the President is confident of receiving the support of the American people.
Before he leaves Saudi Arabia tonight on his return flight to Washington, Quayle is scheduled to visit the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and meet the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, in the Saudi Arabian mountain resort of Taif. The emir has been running his government-in-exile from a Sheraton hotel since Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Although he wasn’t given quite as much a celebrity treatment as Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received when he visited troops here two weeks ago, the vice president’s reception was warm and enthusiastic. The former controversy over his service in the Indiana National Guard during the Vietnam War seemed long forgotten.
“I haven’t even heard the controversy mentioned around here,” said Marine Chief Warrant Officer Tom Ducan, 33, of Atlanta. “I imagine a lot of the troops don’t even know anything about it. Besides, we’re just glad the vice president cared about making this trip.”
Quayle--whose father and brother were both Marine sergeants, one in World War II, the other in Vietnam--spent nearly three hours with the Marine outfit known as MAG-13, the most forward of the U.S. forces’ fixed-wing air groups.
Several thousand Leathernecks were on hand to hear him speak in the “Scud Bowl"--a soccer stadium built several years ago by King Fahd but never used until it became part of a base for the U.S. military buildup.
“You have been patient long enough, and so has President Bush. . . ,” he told the Marines. “The message is simple. ‘Saddam Hussein--either get out of Kuwait peacefully or be forced out.’ ”
When Quayle suggested that some Americans are advocating patience and caution in dealing with the Iraqi strongman, 6-foot-5-inch Lance Cpl. Mike Frye, 20, of Cottontown, Tenn., bellowed out, “No!”
“We need to take you home to tell that to the American people,” Quayle shot back.
The recognition brought congratulations and high-fives from Frye’s pals.
It was nearly dark when Quayle left the encampment of the 3rd Cavalry, a unit constituted in 1846 as the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen. The unit was the first to receive the United States’ most sophisticated tank, the M-1A1, which in the event of war would play a key role in battling Iraq’s Soviet-made T-72.
Back at the air base where he had landed earlier in the day, Quayle talked privately with Lt. Col. Sam Graves, 44, of Indianapolis, who had been his boss in the 1970s when both were members of the Indiana National Guard’s 120th Public Information Detachment. Graves remembered Quayle, who then had the rank of specialist 4th class, as “hard-working and really sincere . . . a very human kind of guy.”
Quayle later joined a group of soldiers in a mess hall, where dinner included spaghetti and a chocolate cake emblazoned with a red, white and blue American flag and the words, “Happy New Year 1991.”