Margaret Thatcher

Gulf War: MT meeting with Jim Baker (reinforcing British deployment) [memoirs extract]

Document type: Press
Source: Margaret Thatcher The Downing Street Years , p.828
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 350
Themes: Defence (general), Energy, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Defence (Gulf War, 1990-91)

Reinforcing the British deployment & reflections on the outcome of the first Gulf War

I argued this last point [the need ”to wean them (the US) away from seeking prior authorisation for the use of force from the UN and to rely instead on Article 51”] through with Jim Baker when he came to see me on the evening of Friday 9th November. But I was not able to sway him. He said that UN authority was crucial to sustain the support of American public opinion for military action. I raised my worries about delaying the military option until the extra American forces now being sent had arrived in the Gulf. I said that it was vital not to miss the window of opportunity which would close in early March. He was able to reassure me on this point. But by now time was running out for me as well as for Saddam Hussein.

In response to Jim Baker's request and at my last Cabinet on Thursday 22nd November to which I announced my resignation as Prime Minister the decision was made to double Britain's military commitment and to deploy an extra brigade to the Gulf. We would send the 4th Brigade from Germany, comprising a regiment of Challenger tanks, two armoured infantry battalions and a regiment of Royal Artillery, with reconnaissance and supporting services. Together the two brigades would form the 1st Armoured Division. The total number of UK forces committed would amount to more than 30,000.

Since the morning of Thursday 2nd August hardly a day had passed without my involvement in diplomatic and military moves to isolate and defeat Iraq. One of my very few abiding regrets is that I was not there to see the issue through. The failure to disarm Saddam Hussein and to follow through the victory so that he was publicly humiliated in the eyes of his subjects and Islamic neighbours was a mistake which stemmed from the excessive emphasis placed right from the start on international consensus. The opinion of the UN counted for too much and the military objective of defeat for too little. And so Saddam Hussein was left with the standing and the means to terrorise his people and foment more trouble. In war there is much to be said for magnanimity in victory. But not before victory.