The Hundred-Hour War

We were in the small office off the Oval when the president made the decision to cease hostilities. I took note of the time--5:57 p.m., Feb. 27. It was the commander in chief's decision to make, and he made it. Norm [Schwarzkopf] and I completely agreed; so did Bush's policymaking team. At that point we were at risk of killing Iraqi teenagers and American teenagers for no reason. The mission had been accomplished. We had never intended to go to Baghdad.

Then we moved into the Oval Office to discuss what the president would say to the nation. He also began calling the other leaders in the coalition. We weren't ending the war yet; we were just suspending hostilities. Norm needed a few more hours of daylight to make sure he could see the battlefield and tie up any loose ends. If we ended the ground campaign at midnight, that would make it the Hundred-Hour War.

I called Schwarzkopf again and told him the president would make his speech at 9 p.m. to announce that the fighting, which had begun with airstrikes back on Jan. 16, would stop at 8 the following morning Riyadh time.

The president and [Defense Secretary Dick] Cheney got on the line with Schwarzkopf. "Helluva job, Norm," the president told him. Then Schwarzkopf gave us some cautions--he told us the line was not completely shut and there would be some leakage of Iraqi troops. Some Republican Guard units and T-72 tanks could get away. But that didn't fundamentally change the military or political calculus we had made. Saddam's Army's back was broken, and what was left of it was retreating.

It was always a question in our minds whether this would end as World War II ended aboard the Missouri--with the total capitulation of the enemy. But this wasn't that kind of thing. We had achieved our objectives. At 9:02 that night the president spoke to the country, announcing that "Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's Army is defeated." Afterward, he and the First Lady asked all of us upstairs to the family quarters for a small celebration; I had a rum and Coke. We were all more relieved than festive. "I'm comfortable," President Bush said. "No second thoughts." I got home an hour later, and Alma was already asleep.