And yet the Persian Gulf war occupies a more complex place in military history than the hagiography suggests. The generalship was not without its faults, and the White House decision to bring the conflict to a close before all of Mr. Hussein’s Republican Guard divisions were destroyed has remained a subject of debate, even among ranking officers who were on the battlefield.

The 1991 gulf conflict may have been a “war of necessity,” as its supporters say, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq a “war of choice.” But it was the outcome of the first gulf war, which left Mr. Hussein in power and forced the United States to carry out more than a decade of air patrols over northern and southern Iraq, that presented the United States with that choice…

According to American intelligence, half of the Republican Guard tanks escaped as of March 1, 1991. Significantly, headquarters units also survived, and this helped Iraqi generals reconstitute their forces and put down the Shiite uprising that began in the south afterward.

At cease-fire talks that were held in Safwan, Iraq, General Schwarzkopf agreed to an Iraqi request that the Iraqi military be allowed to fly helicopters in southern Iraq because so many bridges had been destroyed. But the Iraqi military abused this concession by using the helicopters to attack the Shiite insurgents. The United States, along with its British and French allies, did not establish a no-fly zone in southern Iraq until August 1992.