to Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait:Credibility and MisperceptionThe Bush Administration’s Relation With Iraq Prior to Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait:Credibility and MisperceptionPrior to the August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait on the part of Iraq, theUnited States had questionable relations with Iraq dictator, Saddam Hussein, tosay the least. In retrospect, which is inherently advantageous as a 20/20perspective, questions remain unanswered as to whether or not the United Stateswas too appeasing to Saddam Hussein in the years, months, and days leading up tothat early August morning. There remains to this day lingering questions as tothe role that the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, played in conveying theAdministration’s message to the Iraqi leader. In addition, questionssurrounding the Administrators official policy, the calculations (ormiscalculations) on the part of the State Department and other agencies withinthe US government, the Administrations covert plan to aid an Italian bank inillegal loans to benefit Saddam’s military and the advice that the US receivedfrom other Arab nations with respect to what US relations should be with Iraq interms of any impending border dispute, constitute a limited context of theissues that faced the Administration as it tried to deal with the leader of thelargest economy of the Persian Gulf region.
The Bush Administration’s relations with Iraq prior to its invasion ofKuwait were clouded in a context of misperception by both states and furthercomplicated by a lack of credibility on the part of key actors of both sides aswell. This tragic sequence of events that led to the invasion of Kuwait cannotsolely be attributed to personality traits or even actions by key individualswithin the Administration. In retrospect, it is much more complex than that.
However, the actions and public and private statements on the part of keypersonnel on both sides most likely contributed to the eventual invasion ofKuwait by Iraq in 1990.
Since, a brief, yet modest account of the history of the events leadingup to the invasion and the invasion in itself along with the regional and globalactors has been offered in section A, section B will be an analysis of the roleof misperception and questions of credibility with respect to key actors on bothsides of the issue, from State Department officials to Saddam Hussein himself.
While touching on the importance and significance of other aspects of thesequence of events already mentioned, specific focus will be given to theactions of the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, as she personally deliveredthe diplomatic message that the Bush Administration wanted to send to the Iraqileader at the time we knew of the accumulation of close to 100,000 Iraqi troopsonto Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait.
Summoned before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to clarify herrole in the Administration’s relations with Iraq prior to August 2, 1990,Ambassador Glaspie offered her version of the events that led to the invasion.
She recalled that Iraq had first and foremost just finished a long, drawn outwar with its neighbor and nemesis, Iran. Hussein, she recalled, had maderepeated threats against the state of Israel in the first half of 1990, butabruptly switched his focus from Israel to that of Kuwait and another neighborto the south, the United Arab Emirates. “He announced in that speech, in thecrudest and most unmistakable way, that if Kuwait and the United Arab Emiratesdid not revise their oil policy and produce according to their OPEC quotas, Iraqwould take upon itself effective measures to make sure they did.”1Later,under examination by members of the Senate Committee, Glaspie further detailedIraq’s basic conflict with Kuwait and the UAE as “…it was Kuwait and theUnited Arab Emirates whom he Saddam accused of overproducing their OPEC quotaswhich of course put prices down and he needed the prices up because he wasdeeply in debt.”2That debt, of course, had been incurred by Hussein in thedrawn out conflict with Iran only years earlier.
SETTING THE AMERICAN TRAP FOR HUSSEIN”The Americans were determined to go to war from the start,” and SaddamHussein “walked into a trap” according to the former French foreign ministerClaude Cheysson (IHT March 11). “State Department officials…led Saddam Husseinto think he could get away with grabbing Kuwait….Bush and Co. gave him noreason to think otherwise” (New York Daily News Sept. 29).
The Former White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger has written atlength about how this trap was set. Bits and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle trapare also emerging elsewhere, however; and some may be summarily put togetherhere. The belatedly publicized July 25 interview between President Hussain andAmerican Ambassador April Glaspie is literally only the tip of the largelysubmerged iceberg of this trap setting story.
Evidence has emerging to suggest that the Persian Gulf war is the resultof a long process of preparation, much more so than the Tonkin Gulf one inVietnam. For a decade during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq hadenjoyed US and Western military, political and economic support, including $ 1.5billion of sales approved by the U.S. government. George Bush had been a keyfigure in the Reagan Administration’s support for Iraq. After the conclusion ofIraq’s war with Iran and the accession of George Bush to the American presidency,US policy towards Iraq became increasingly confusing at best and/or the productof a downright Machiavellian strategy to deceive Iraq and set a trap for Hussein.
In March 1990, the “U.S. Bungled Chance to Oust Hussein, Report Says”(IHT May 4-5,l991). According to a belated U.S. Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee staff report, rebellious Iraqi military officers had sent out feelersasking Washington for support for a coup against Saddam Hussein. However, theBush adminstration rebuffed them, and they desisted.
The forced? resignation and the testimony to Congress of formerUndersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration Dennis Kloske revealed thatin April 1990 he recommended “at the highest levels” the reduction of high techsales to Iraq. He himself sought to delay these exports by tying them up in redtape to compensate for the lack of such action by the Bush administration. Stillduring the last week of July, the Bush administration approved the sale of 3.4million in computers to Iraq. The day before the invasion of Kuwait on August 1,the US approved the sale of $ 695,000 of advanced data transmission devices (IHTMarch 12). As Kloske later testified, “The State Department adamantly opposedmy position, choosing instead to advocate the maintenance of diplomaticrelations with Iraq” (IHT, April 11).
Later in May l990, the National Security Council NSC submitted a whitepaper to President Bush “in which Iraq and Saddam Hussein are described as ‘theoptimum contenders to replace the Warsaw Pact’ as the rationale for continuingcold war ilitary spending and for putting an end to the ‘peace dividend’.” Yetthe same NSC toned down an April 30 speech by Vice President Dan Quayle adding”emphasis on Iraq misplaced given U.S. policy, other issues” John Pilger, TheNew Statesman Feb. 8.
At the State Department, Secretary James Baker had promoted John Kellyto Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs. Kelly visitedBaghdad in February, “the records of which he is desperately trying to deep-sixbury” (William Safire, IHT March 26,1191. However, it has been revealed thatKelly told President Hussein that “President Bush wants good relations with Iraq,relations built on confidence and trust.” Moreover, Kelly then rebuked theVoice of America and countermanded the Defense Department on statements, whichhe considered too unfriendly to Iraq. On April 26, Kelly testified to Congressthat Bush administration policy towards Iraq remained the same and praisedSaddam Hussein for “talking about a new constitution and an expansion ofparticipatory democracy.” Still on July 31, two days before the August 2invasion of Kuwait, Kelly again testified to a Congressional sub-committee “wehave no defense treaty with any Gulf country.”Kelly had sent the same message to President Hussein through the U.S.
American Ambassador April Glaspie. In the July 25 interview with PresidentSaddam Hussein, she told him that “we have no opinion on …conflicts like yourborder dispute with Kuwait…I have direct instruction from the President…
Secretary of State James Baker has directed our official spokesman to emphasizethis instruction.” “Mr. President Hussein, not only do I want to tell youthat President Bush wants better and closer relations with Iraq, but also thathe wants Iraq to contribute to peace and prosperity in the Near East. PresidentBush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare economic war againstIraq.” In her testimony to Congress, which the State Department deliberatelydelayed until after the end of the war, Ambassador Glaspie was asked “did youever tell Saddam Hussein…if you go across that line into Kuwait, we’re goingto fight?” Ambassador Glaspie replied “No, I did not.”According to Glaspie’s testimony before the Senate committee, the UnitedStates responded almost immediately to the blatant threat that Hussein hadimposed on Kuwait. Glaspie recalled the public statement that the StateDepartment spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler made on behalf of the US government.
“She said we were strongly committed to the individual and collective self-defense of our friends in the gulf. That’s a pretty clear statement, I think.”3Tutwiler had declared that the US would defend its vital interests in the gulfregion.
Glaspie also stated that the senior Iraqi official in the US was told atthe State Department that the US would continue to defend its vital interests inthe gulf, and would continue to support the sovereign rights of each individualnation in the region. “He was reminded that while we would not take positionson the equities of bilateral Iraqi-Kuwaiti disputes, we would insist–I repeatinsist–that disputes be settled peacefully and not by threat or intimidation.”4While first clearly portraying a message to Hussein that the United Stateswould indeed defend it “vital interests,” the message suddenly became at thevery least a little muffled and foggy as US officials also claimed that nosides would be taken on the part of the US in any bilateral dispute amongneighbors in the Arab world. This seems to be the first incident of possibleconfusion and miscalculation caused by the official US policy towards Iraq atthe time.
Which policy was Hussein to believe, one of clear confrontation or oneof independent observer? At the very least, the combination of the abovestatements gave Hussein mixed signals on the Administration’s response to histhreats.
It was on July 20 that the US government first picked up intelligenceinformation that indicated the amassing of Iraqi troops along the border withKuwait, according to Glaspie’s testimony. Recalling her frequent diplomaticefforts to meet with Iraqi officials, Glaspie recounted how the US went againstthe popular opinion within the Arab world to not provoke Hussein into furtherconflict. It was advised to the US on part of other Arab nations that any USresponse (e.g. a show of force) would result in sure military conflict with theIraqis. The US chose not to take such advice, rather engaging in a jointmilitary exercise with the United Arab Emirates on July 24. Following thisexercise, Glaspie recalled how she was summoned to meet with Hussein himself onJuly 25.
HE SAID, SHE SAIDThe meeting between Hussein and Glaspie on July 25 served as a pivotalmoment in time in the overall situation. It is this meeting that remainscontroversial in the United States to this very day for a variety of reasons.
It was the first personal contact that any US official had had with Husseinafter he had ordered his troops to descend upon the Kuwaiti border. This was aopportune time to convey to Hussein exactly what the consequences would be, whatclear and decisive action the United States would take, should Iraq invadeKuwait or any other country in the region. Glaspie recalls that Hussein “spokeon the telephone with President Mubarak and he wanted to inform President Bushthat he would not solve his problems with Kuwait by violence, period. He wouldnot do it. He would take advantage of the Arab diplomatic framework whichPresident Mubarak and King Fahd had set up. That’s what he would do.”5Although Hussein had claimed he would not use brute force to resolveIraq’s conflict with Kuwait, he obviously lied about his intentions. But theIraqi press, which Hussein no doubt controls, continued to keep the entire worldfooled about Hussein’s intentions for the few days between July 25 and august 2,1990. Testifying about the Iraqi press’ previous slander of Kuwait, Glaspiesaid, “Every day for the past 10 days the front pages had been crowded withinsults toward Kuwait and its rulers. Every word of that was dropped, and, Imight add, the Arab ambassadors, many of then dropped by and congratulated ourtactics. They believed he meant what he said.”6Again, what Hussein had succeeded in doing was fooling the entire worldinto believing that he would not use force to solve Iraq’s conflict with Kuwait.
No one in the US government anticipated that he would use force at that moment,although he continued to amass troops along the Kuwaiti border. Hussein wastaken for his word. It turned out, however, that Hussein’s credibility was nilland the US made a blatant miscalculation in its policy toward Iraq. Coming offyears of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran, the Bush administration could notfind a way to unequivocally portray upon Hussein that if he were to use forceagainst Kuwait and invade and occupy Kuwait, the United States would respondwith a force of unacceptable levels to the dictator and expel him from Kuwait.
There is a certain level of speculation in hindsight surrounding this verycomplex issue.Questions remain regarding whether or not Hussein had alreadymade up his mind whether or not to invade Kuwait prior to the July 25 meetingwith Glaspie, whether or not his mind could have been changed with adequatepersuasion, whether or not Hussein’s choice to proceed could have been alteredby tough, clear and precise diplomatic relations between Glaspie or other USofficial and the dictator. All of these questions remain unanswered, although amore complete analysis of the misperceptions, miscalculations, and credibilityissues, especially with respect to the role that Ambassador Glaspie played onJuly 25, surely raises more questions than answers. At the very least, it issafe to say that while the Bush Administration’s relations with Iraq prior toAugust 2 were clouded in misperception, unclear communication, and questionsregarding credibility, the actions that were taken in the days prior to theIraqi invasion of Kuwait certainly did not have a clear effect of halting theuse of military force. If anything, stances taken on the part of theAdministration most likely contributed to the implicit assumption on the part ofSaddam Hussein that Kuwait was his for the taking, and he would not face asignificant opposition on the part of the United States or any other country.
WAS GLASPIE CLEAR ?Turning now to an analysis of the July 25 meeting between US Ambassadorto Iraq April Glaspie and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, it is apparent whenlooking at the public record of Glaspie’s statements in chronological order thatthere was some level of secrecy regarding the meeting at the very least.
Glaspie’s account of the meeting differed greatly from a transcriptpublished by the Iraqi government that was provided to ABC News. Thattranscript, written in Arabic and translated into English, showed Glaspie asbeing nothing less than appeasing to the Iraqi director. Responding toHussein’s criticism of the American news media, Glaspie stated, according to theIraqi version of the transcript of the meeting, “Mr. President, not only do Iwant to say that President Bush wanted better and deeper relations with Iraq,but he also wants an Iraqi contribution to peace and prosperity to the MiddleEast. President Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare aneconomic war against Iraq.”7While causation must be applied immediately when taking into account thesource of this transcript, revelations that Congressional committees made lateron in the chronology of events will prove the prudent analyst to think twiceabout statements contained in the Iraqi version of the transcript. Clearly, ifGlaspie were to have said this to Hussein, and take likelihood of this statementbeing made is closer to probable than fictitious, it is not a strong statementon the part of the US that should Hussein use force, he would be met with anoverwhelming and unacceptable military force that will expel him from Iraq anddestroy much of what his country has for its infrastructure. On the contrary,such a statement sends a clearer signal that the US will not even adopt theoption of trade sanctions.
According to a New York Times article published on September 23, 1990,the Administration’s message to Iraq, personally delivered by Glaspie to Hussein,was that “the United States was concerned about Iraq’s military buildup on itsborder with Kuwait, but did not intend to take sides in what it perceived as ano-win border dispute between Arab neighbors.”8 The article continued byreferring to the same Iraqi transcript of the session between Glaspie andHussein by stating that Glaspie had said to Hussein, “We have no opinion on theArab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”9All the while, the US Administration was operated on the falseassumption that Iraq would not invade Kuwait, that Hussein would keep his word.
This misperception caused the US government to fall into a situation whereofficials felt that, after consulting with other Arab nations, the US shouldavoid further escalating the situation by refraining from using inflammatoryrhetoric or threats of force. Some administration officials conceded that theUS would be willing to live with a limited invasion of Kuwait. “The crucialfactor in determining the American response was not the reality but the extentof the invasion.”10The policy of appeasement of Iraq, which President Bush eventuallyadmitted to being flawed, was based on the assumption, along other things, thatboth Iran and Iraq would focus on internal reconstruction following theirprolonged war, not international takeovers of other countries. Prior to theJuly 25 meeting, Administration officials sent mixed signals to Iraq with regardto US policy. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on July 19 said that “theAmerican commitment made during the Iran-Iraq War to come to Kuwait’s defense ifit were attacked, was still valid.”11Five days later, on July 24, State Department spokeswoman MargaretTutwiler said “We do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait, and there are nospecial defense or security commitments to Kuwait … We also remain stronglycommitted to supporting the individuals and collective self-defense of ourfriends in the gulf with whom we have a deep and long standing ties.”12This combination of mixed signals sourced in two high level Americanofficial surely did nothing to warn Hussein of imminent military response shouldKuwait be attacked.
The Administration took a quiet stance with respect to AmbassadorGlaspie’s performance in her role following the invasion of Kuwait. She wasordered back to Washington were she was immediately assigned to the Iraq desk inthe State Department.The Department of Stake took a hands off approach intrying to explain Glaspie’s actions at the beginning, and waited seven monthsbefore publicly stating a response to the Iraqi transcript of the sessionbetween Glaspie and President Hussein. ” The public explanation given by theState Department today was that it had known for seven months that an Iraqitranscript of a meeting between Ambassador Glaspie and President Hussein wasinaccurate in parts, but did not correct the record because officials did notwant to divert attention from organizing the anti-Iraqi coalition.”13The article continues by stating that the Administration seemed to wantto have it both ways, “Publicly, they want to appear to be supporting Ms.
Glaspie fully so that no one will accuse them of making her into a scapegoat andno one will say that anyone gave President Hussein a green light. But whenchallenged on why they have waited so long to defend her, they leave theimpression that they are uncertain about just how tough she was with the Iraqileader.”14Nearly four months later, Congressional leaders had the opportunity toview a key document which Ambassador Glaspie sent back to the State Departmenton July 25 following her meeting with President Hussein. This document, keptsecret until July 12, 1990, showed Glaspie taking a more appeasing stance withHussein than she had testified to in hearings before the Senate ForeignRelations Committee in March of 1990. Senator Claiborne Pell, chairman of theForeign Relations Committee, expressed his deep concern in a letter to Secretaryof State James Baker, III, and “demanded an explanation of what he called inconsistencies’ between Ms. Glaspie’s testimony and the cabled summary.”15The article continued to point out that although Hussein made repeatedthreats to Kuwait, Glaspie departed from the meeting convinced that Husseinwould not invade Kuwait. “Contrary to her testimony that Mr. Hussein had toldher he would settle his dispute with Kuwait peacefully, Mr. Hussein made anumber of veiled threats during the meeting that he might have to resort toforce. But Ms. Glaspie came away convinced that he did not intend to invadeKuwait.”16Secret cables were sent from President Bush to Hussein as well, alsotaking a conciliatory stance with the Iraqi leader. Bush’s words were similarto those of Glaspie’s, “We believe that differences are best resolved bypeaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict … Myadministration continues to desire better relations with Iraq.”The result of such mixed accounts of events just prior to August 2, 1990,suggest that the Administration was covering up something that it viewed as aterrible blunder in policy.
CONCLUSIONIn conclusion, hindsight cannot proclaim with certainty that a stronger,clearer, policy toward Iraq would have precluded the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
No one can tell what the Iraqi dictator would have done had the United Statesstated clearly and unequivocally from the outset that it would defend the nationof Kuwait should Iraq invade it. Popular sentiment among officials and punditsat the time argued against such a strong stance, saying it would only provokeHussein.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the US relations with Iraq were cloudedin misperception, and that the credibility of those actors involved was inserious doubt. The United States sent varying signals to Hussein, sourced in arange from the President to the Secretaries of State and Defense to the USAmbassador to Iraq.
Those varying expressions of policy had the immediate effect of givingHussein the impression and misconception that the United States would do nothingshould he proceed with his plan to take over Kuwait. It had the long termaffect of raising credibility questions of each and every official involved,beginning with the President, and going all the way down to the Ambassador, forshe was only carrying out the Administration’s policy. “Officials maintain thesignal was meant to stop any aggression, but by then Saddam needed a stick withthe heft of a two-by-four: a direct military warning of US militaryintervention.”17As stated before, it is unclear what Saddam would have done had hereceived a direct threat of military opposition from the US. Nonetheless, morethan any other blunder, the Bush Administration failed into by falsely believingthat Hussein could be appeased into a better behavior. Intelligence informationwas disregarded, and policy was based on false pretense that Hussein was tellingthe truth in that he would not invade Kuwait. Hussein proved to be lyingthrough his teeth.
While fault lies with those involved, the overall blame must be placedon George Bush, as he held the elected office of President of the United States,and his policy was the one that failed to stop, yet, allowed the invasion ofKuwait by Iraq without a second thought on the part of Saddam Hussein.
Works Cited1 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, 3/20/912 Glaspie, April, Examination by Senator Dodd, Hearing by the Senate ForeignRelations Committee, 3/20/913 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, 3/20/914 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, 3/20/915 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, 3/20/916 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, 3/20/917 Iraqi Government, Excerpts from Iraqi Document on Meeting with US Envoy, “TheNew York Times, 9/23/90, p.198 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A19 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A110 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A111 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A1812 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A1814 Friedman, Thomas, “US Explains View of Envoy to Iraq,” The New York Times,3/22/31, p.A9, col. 115 Sciolino, Elaine, “Envoy’s Testimony on Iraq is Assailed,” The New York Times,7/13/91, p.A1, col.116 Sciolino, Elaine, “Envoy’s Testimony on Iraq is Assailed,” The New York Times,7/13/91, p.A4, col.117 McAllister, J.F.O., “The Lessons of Iraq,” Time, 11/2/92, pp.57-59 History