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The Bush Administration’s Relation With Iraq Prior

to Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait:Credibility and Misperception
Prior to the August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait on the part of Iraq, the
United States had questionable relations with Iraq dictator, Saddam Hussein, to
say the least. In retrospect, which is inherently advantageous as a 20/20
perspective, questions remain unanswered as to whether or not the United States
was too appeasing to Saddam Hussein in the years, months, and days leading up to
that early August morning. There remains to this day lingering questions as to
the role that the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, played in conveying the
Administration’s message to the Iraqi leader. In addition, questions
surrounding the Administrators official policy, the calculations (or
miscalculations) on the part of the State Department and other agencies within
the US government, the Administrations covert plan to aid an Italian bank in
illegal loans to benefit Saddam’s military and the advice that the US received
from other Arab nations with respect to what US relations should be with Iraq in
terms of any impending border dispute, constitute a limited context of the
issues that faced the Administration as it tried to deal with the leader of the
largest economy of the Persian Gulf region.

The Bush Administration’s relations with Iraq prior to its invasion of
Kuwait were clouded in a context of misperception by both states and further
complicated by a lack of credibility on the part of key actors of both sides as
well. This tragic sequence of events that led to the invasion of Kuwait cannot
solely be attributed to personality traits or even actions by key individuals
within the Administration. In retrospect, it is much more complex than that.
However, the actions and public and private statements on the part of key
personnel on both sides most likely contributed to the eventual invasion of
Kuwait by Iraq in 1990.

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Since, a brief, yet modest account of the history of the events leading
up to the invasion and the invasion in itself along with the regional and global
actors has been offered in section A, section B will be an analysis of the role
of misperception and questions of credibility with respect to key actors on both
sides of the issue, from State Department officials to Saddam Hussein himself.
While touching on the importance and significance of other aspects of the
sequence of events already mentioned, specific focus will be given to the
actions of the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, as she personally delivered
the diplomatic message that the Bush Administration wanted to send to the Iraqi
leader at the time we knew of the accumulation of close to 100,000 Iraqi troops
onto Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait.

Summoned before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to clarify her
role 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 out
war with its neighbor and nemesis, Iran. Hussein, she recalled, had made
repeated threats against the state of Israel in the first half of 1990, but
abruptly switched his focus from Israel to that of Kuwait and another neighbor
to the south, the United Arab Emirates. “He announced in that speech, in the
crudest and most unmistakable way, that if Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates
did not revise their oil policy and produce according to their OPEC quotas, Iraq
would take upon itself effective measures to make sure they did.”1Later,
under examination by members of the Senate Committee, Glaspie further detailed
Iraq’s basic conflict with Kuwait and the UAE as “…it was Kuwait and the
United Arab Emirates whom he Saddam accused of overproducing their OPEC quotas
which of course put prices down and he needed the prices up because he was
deeply in debt.”2That debt, of course, had been incurred by Hussein in the
drawn out conflict with Iran only years earlier.

“The Americans were determined to go to war from the start,” and Saddam
Hussein “walked into a trap” according to the former French foreign minister
Claude Cheysson (IHT March 11). “State Department officials…led Saddam Hussein
to think he could get away with grabbing Kuwait….Bush and Co. gave him no
reason to think otherwise” (New York Daily News Sept. 29).

The Former White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger has written at
length about how this trap was set. Bits and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle trap
are also emerging elsewhere, however; and some may be summarily put together
here. The belatedly publicized July 25 interview between President Hussain and
American Ambassador April Glaspie is literally only the tip of the largely
submerged iceberg of this trap setting story.

Evidence has emerging to suggest that the Persian Gulf war is the result
of a long process of preparation, much more so than the Tonkin Gulf one in
Vietnam. For a decade during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had
enjoyed US and Western military, political and economic support, including $ 1.5
billion of sales approved by the U.S. government. George Bush had been a key
figure in the Reagan Administration’s support for Iraq. After the conclusion of
Iraq’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 product
of 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 Relations
Committee staff report, rebellious Iraqi military officers had sent out feelers
asking Washington for support for a coup against Saddam Hussein. However, the
Bush adminstration rebuffed them, and they desisted.

The forced? resignation and the testimony to Congress of former
Undersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration Dennis Kloske revealed that
in April 1990 he recommended “at the highest levels” the reduction of high tech
sales to Iraq. He himself sought to delay these exports by tying them up in red
tape to compensate for the lack of such action by the Bush administration. Still
during the last week of July, the Bush administration approved the sale of 3.4
million 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 (IHT
March 12). As Kloske later testified, “The State Department adamantly opposed
my position, choosing instead to advocate the maintenance of diplomatic
relations with Iraq” (IHT, April 11).

Later in May l990, the National Security Council NSC submitted a white
paper to President Bush “in which Iraq and Saddam Hussein are described as ‘the
optimum contenders to replace the Warsaw Pact’ as the rationale for continuing
cold war ilitary spending and for putting an end to the ‘peace dividend’.” Yet
the 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, The
New Statesman Feb. 8.

At the State Department, Secretary James Baker had promoted John Kelly
to Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs. Kelly visited
Baghdad in February, “the records of which he is desperately trying to deep-six
bury” (William Safire, IHT March 26,1191. However, it has been revealed that
Kelly told President Hussein that “President Bush wants good relations with Iraq,
relations built on confidence and trust.” Moreover, Kelly then rebuked the
Voice of America and countermanded the Defense Department on statements, which
he considered too unfriendly to Iraq. On April 26, Kelly testified to Congress
that Bush administration policy towards Iraq remained the same and praised
Saddam Hussein for “talking about a new constitution and an expansion of
participatory democracy.” Still on July 31, two days before the August 2
invasion of Kuwait, Kelly again testified to a Congressional sub-committee “we
have 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 President
Saddam Hussein, she told him that “we have no opinion on …conflicts like your
border dispute with Kuwait…I have direct instruction from the President…

Secretary of State James Baker has directed our official spokesman to emphasize
this instruction.” “Mr. President Hussein, not only do I want to tell you
that President Bush wants better and closer relations with Iraq, but also that
he wants Iraq to contribute to peace and prosperity in the Near East. President
Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare economic war against
Iraq.” In her testimony to Congress, which the State Department deliberately
delayed until after the end of the war, Ambassador Glaspie was asked “did you
ever tell Saddam Hussein…if you go across that line into Kuwait, we’re going
to fight?” Ambassador Glaspie replied “No, I did not.”
According to Glaspie’s testimony before the Senate committee, the United
States responded almost immediately to the blatant threat that Hussein had
imposed on Kuwait. Glaspie recalled the public statement that the State
Department 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.”3
Tutwiler had declared that the US would defend its vital interests in the gulf

Glaspie also stated that the senior Iraqi official in the US was told at
the State Department that the US would continue to defend its vital interests in
the gulf, and would continue to support the sovereign rights of each individual
nation in the region. “He was reminded that while we would not take positions
on the equities of bilateral Iraqi-Kuwaiti disputes, we would insist–I repeat
insist–that disputes be settled peacefully and not by threat or intimidation.”4
While first clearly portraying a message to Hussein that the United States
would indeed defend it “vital interests,” the message suddenly became at the
very least a little muffled and foggy as US officials also claimed that no
sides would be taken on the part of the US in any bilateral dispute among
neighbors in the Arab world. This seems to be the first incident of possible
confusion and miscalculation caused by the official US policy towards Iraq at
the time.

Which policy was Hussein to believe, one of clear confrontation or one
of independent observer? At the very least, the combination of the above
statements gave Hussein mixed signals on the Administration’s response to his

It was on July 20 that the US government first picked up intelligence
information that indicated the amassing of Iraqi troops along the border with
Kuwait, according to Glaspie’s testimony. Recalling her frequent diplomatic
efforts to meet with Iraqi officials, Glaspie recounted how the US went against
the popular opinion within the Arab world to not provoke Hussein into further
conflict. It was advised to the US on part of other Arab nations that any US
response (e.g. a show of force) would result in sure military conflict with the
Iraqis. The US chose not to take such advice, rather engaging in a joint
military exercise with the United Arab Emirates on July 24. Following this
exercise, Glaspie recalled how she was summoned to meet with Hussein himself on
July 25.

The meeting between Hussein and Glaspie on July 25 served as a pivotal
moment in time in the overall situation. It is this meeting that remains
controversial 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 Hussein
after he had ordered his troops to descend upon the Kuwaiti border. This was a
opportune time to convey to Hussein exactly what the consequences would be, what
clear and decisive action the United States would take, should Iraq invade
Kuwait or any other country in the region. Glaspie recalls that Hussein “spoke
on the telephone with President Mubarak and he wanted to inform President Bush
that he would not solve his problems with Kuwait by violence, period. He would
not do it. He would take advantage of the Arab diplomatic framework which
President Mubarak and King Fahd had set up. That’s what he would do.”5
Although Hussein had claimed he would not use brute force to resolve
Iraq’s conflict with Kuwait, he obviously lied about his intentions. But the
Iraqi press, which Hussein no doubt controls, continued to keep the entire world
fooled about Hussein’s intentions for the few days between July 25 and august 2,
1990. Testifying about the Iraqi press’ previous slander of Kuwait, Glaspie
said, “Every day for the past 10 days the front pages had been crowded with
insults toward Kuwait and its rulers. Every word of that was dropped, and, I
might add, the Arab ambassadors, many of then dropped by and congratulated our
tactics. They believed he meant what he said.”6
Again, what Hussein had succeeded in doing was fooling the entire world
into 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 was
taken for his word. It turned out, however, that Hussein’s credibility was nill
and the US made a blatant miscalculation in its policy toward Iraq. Coming off
years of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran, the Bush administration could not
find a way to unequivocally portray upon Hussein that if he were to use force
against Kuwait and invade and occupy Kuwait, the United States would respond
with a force of unacceptable levels to the dictator and expel him from Kuwait.
There is a certain level of speculation in hindsight surrounding this very
complex issue.Questions remain regarding whether or not Hussein had already
made up his mind whether or not to invade Kuwait prior to the July 25 meeting
with Glaspie, whether or not his mind could have been changed with adequate
persuasion, whether or not Hussein’s choice to proceed could have been altered
by tough, clear and precise diplomatic relations between Glaspie or other US
official and the dictator. All of these questions remain unanswered, although a
more complete analysis of the misperceptions, miscalculations, and credibility
issues, especially with respect to the role that Ambassador Glaspie played on
July 25, surely raises more questions than answers. At the very least, it is
safe to say that while the Bush Administration’s relations with Iraq prior to
August 2 were clouded in misperception, unclear communication, and questions
regarding credibility, the actions that were taken in the days prior to the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait certainly did not have a clear effect of halting the
use of military force. If anything, stances taken on the part of the
Administration most likely contributed to the implicit assumption on the part of
Saddam Hussein that Kuwait was his for the taking, and he would not face a
significant opposition on the part of the United States or any other country.

Turning now to an analysis of the July 25 meeting between US Ambassador
to Iraq April Glaspie and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, it is apparent when
looking at the public record of Glaspie’s statements in chronological order that
there was some level of secrecy regarding the meeting at the very least.

Glaspie’s account of the meeting differed greatly from a transcript
published by the Iraqi government that was provided to ABC News. That
transcript, written in Arabic and translated into English, showed Glaspie as
being nothing less than appeasing to the Iraqi director. Responding to
Hussein’s criticism of the American news media, Glaspie stated, according to the
Iraqi version of the transcript of the meeting, “Mr. President, not only do I
want 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 Middle
East. President Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare an
economic war against Iraq.”7
While causation must be applied immediately when taking into account the
source of this transcript, revelations that Congressional committees made later
on in the chronology of events will prove the prudent analyst to think twice
about statements contained in the Iraqi version of the transcript. Clearly, if
Glaspie were to have said this to Hussein, and take likelihood of this statement
being made is closer to probable than fictitious, it is not a strong statement
on the part of the US that should Hussein use force, he would be met with an
overwhelming and unacceptable military force that will expel him from Iraq and
destroy 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 the
option 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 its
border with Kuwait, but did not intend to take sides in what it perceived as a
no-win border dispute between Arab neighbors.”8 The article continued by
referring to the same Iraqi transcript of the session between Glaspie and
Hussein by stating that Glaspie had said to Hussein, “We have no opinion on the
Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”9
All the while, the US Administration was operated on the false
assumption that Iraq would not invade Kuwait, that Hussein would keep his word.
This misperception caused the US government to fall into a situation where
officials felt that, after consulting with other Arab nations, the US should
avoid further escalating the situation by refraining from using inflammatory
rhetoric or threats of force. Some administration officials conceded that the
US would be willing to live with a limited invasion of Kuwait. “The crucial
factor in determining the American response was not the reality but the extent
of the invasion.”10
The policy of appeasement of Iraq, which President Bush eventually
admitted to being flawed, was based on the assumption, along other things, that
both Iran and Iraq would focus on internal reconstruction following their
prolonged war, not international takeovers of other countries. Prior to the
July 25 meeting, Administration officials sent mixed signals to Iraq with regard
to US policy. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on July 19 said that “the
American commitment made during the Iran-Iraq War to come to Kuwait’s defense if
it were attacked, was still valid.”11
Five days later, on July 24, State Department spokeswoman Margaret
Tutwiler said “We do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait, and there are no
special defense or security commitments to Kuwait … We also remain strongly
committed to supporting the individuals and collective self-defense of our
friends in the gulf with whom we have a deep and long standing ties.”12
This combination of mixed signals sourced in two high level American
official surely did nothing to warn Hussein of imminent military response should
Kuwait be attacked.

The Administration took a quiet stance with respect to Ambassador
Glaspie’s performance in her role following the invasion of Kuwait. She was
ordered back to Washington were she was immediately assigned to the Iraq desk in
the State Department.The Department of Stake took a hands off approach in
trying to explain Glaspie’s actions at the beginning, and waited seven months
before publicly stating a response to the Iraqi transcript of the session
between Glaspie and President Hussein. ” The public explanation given by the
State Department today was that it had known for seven months that an Iraqi
transcript of a meeting between Ambassador Glaspie and President Hussein was
inaccurate in parts, but did not correct the record because officials did not
want to divert attention from organizing the anti-Iraqi coalition.”13
The article continues by stating that the Administration seemed to want
to 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 and
no one will say that anyone gave President Hussein a green light. But when
challenged on why they have waited so long to defend her, they leave the
impression that they are uncertain about just how tough she was with the Iraqi
Nearly four months later, Congressional leaders had the opportunity to
view a key document which Ambassador Glaspie sent back to the State Department
on July 25 following her meeting with President Hussein. This document, kept
secret until July 12, 1990, showed Glaspie taking a more appeasing stance with
Hussein than she had testified to in hearings before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee in March of 1990. Senator Claiborne Pell, chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his deep concern in a letter to Secretary
of State James Baker, III, and “demanded an explanation of what he called
inconsistencies’ between Ms. Glaspie’s testimony and the cabled summary.”15
The article continued to point out that although Hussein made repeated
threats to Kuwait, Glaspie departed from the meeting convinced that Hussein
would not invade Kuwait. “Contrary to her testimony that Mr. Hussein had told
her he would settle his dispute with Kuwait peacefully, Mr. Hussein made a
number of veiled threats during the meeting that he might have to resort to
force. But Ms. Glaspie came away convinced that he did not intend to invade
Secret cables were sent from President Bush to Hussein as well, also
taking a conciliatory stance with the Iraqi leader. Bush’s words were similar
to those of Glaspie’s, “We believe that differences are best resolved by
peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict … My
administration 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 a
terrible blunder in policy.

In 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 States
stated clearly and unequivocally from the outset that it would defend the nation
of Kuwait should Iraq invade it. Popular sentiment among officials and pundits
at the time argued against such a strong stance, saying it would only provoke

Nevertheless, it is clear that the US relations with Iraq were clouded
in misperception, and that the credibility of those actors involved was in
serious doubt. The United States sent varying signals to Hussein, sourced in a
range from the President to the Secretaries of State and Defense to the US
Ambassador to Iraq.

Those varying expressions of policy had the immediate effect of giving
Hussein the impression and misconception that the United States would do nothing
should he proceed with his plan to take over Kuwait. It had the long term
affect of raising credibility questions of each and every official involved,
beginning with the President, and going all the way down to the Ambassador, for
she was only carrying out the Administration’s policy. “Officials maintain the
signal was meant to stop any aggression, but by then Saddam needed a stick with
the heft of a two-by-four: a direct military warning of US military
As stated before, it is unclear what Saddam would have done had he
received a direct threat of military opposition from the US. Nonetheless, more
than any other blunder, the Bush Administration failed into by falsely believing
that Hussein could be appeased into a better behavior. Intelligence information
was disregarded, and policy was based on false pretense that Hussein was telling
the truth in that he would not invade Kuwait. Hussein proved to be lying
through his teeth.

While fault lies with those involved, the overall blame must be placed
on 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 of
Kuwait by Iraq without a second thought on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Works Cited
1 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, 3/20/91
2 Glaspie, April, Examination by Senator Dodd, Hearing by the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, 3/20/91
3 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, 3/20/91
4 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, 3/20/91
5 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, 3/20/91
6 Glaspie, April, Opening Remarks, Hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, 3/20/91
7 Iraqi Government, Excerpts from Iraqi Document on Meeting with US Envoy, “The
New York Times, 9/23/90, p.19
8 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”
The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A1
9 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”
The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A1
10 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”
The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A1
11 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”
The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A18
12 Sciolino, Elaine, “US Gave Iraq Little Reason Not to Mount Kuwait Assault,”
The New York Times, 9/23/90, p.A18
14 Friedman, Thomas, “US Explains View of Envoy to Iraq,” The New York Times,
3/22/31, p.A9, col. 1
15 Sciolino, Elaine, “Envoy’s Testimony on Iraq is Assailed,” The New York Times,
7/13/91, p.A1, col.1
16 Sciolino, Elaine, “Envoy’s Testimony on Iraq is Assailed,” The New York Times,
7/13/91, p.A4, col.1
17 McAllister, J.F.O., “The Lessons of Iraq,” Time, 11/2/92, pp.57-59


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