April Glaspie, then Ambassador to Iraq, has long been blamed for giving a “Green Light” to dictator Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait on August 2, 1990. The young Ambassador had been summoned, for the very first time, to the president’s palace only one week before Iraqi troops crossed the disputed borders between the two oil-rich countries in the corner of the Persian Gulf. On July 25, 1990, Glaspie allegedly said to Saddam:
“But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. […] All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.”
The cables which she had sent to the State Department have been posted on the Cablegate site by WikiLeaks on January 1, 2011. They had been declassified, though, already in 1998 and have been made available by, for instance, the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. The exact wording of the cable which described “Saddam’s message of friendship to President Bush” was,
“Â¶30. NOTE: ON THE BORDER QUESTION, SADDAM REFERRED TO THE 1961 AGREEMENT AND A “LINE OF PATROL” IT HAD ESTABLISHED. THE KUWAITIS, HE SAID, HAD TOLD MUBARAK IRAQ WAS 20 KILOMETERS “IN FRONT” OF THIS LINE. THE AMBASSADOR SAID THAT SHE HAD SERVED IN KUWAIT 20 YEARS BEFORE; THEN, AS NOW, WE TOOK NO POSITION ON THESE ARAB AFFAIRS.”
It is worth to read the entire cable very carefully. Of course, the overstrained Ambassador has not been able to look behind the scenes. She later was blamed rightfully for sending ambiguous messages to the dictator. It proves that Saddam was staging a charade in front of the Ambassador who seemed to be impressed when both the interpreter and one of the note takers even burst out in tears when Saddam tried to evade a specific question about his intentions by mentioning the financial situation of widows and orphans and then left the room for a telephone call by Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.
“Â¶24. AMBASSADOR SAID THERE WERE MANY ISSUES HE HAD RAISED SHE WOULD LIKE TO COMMENT ON, BUT SHE WISHED TO USE HER LIMITED TIME WITH THE PRESIDENT TO STRESS FIRST PRESIDENT BUSH’S DESIRE FOR FRIENDSHIP AND, SECOND, HIS STRONG DESIRE, SHARED WE ASSUME BY IRAQ, FOR PEACE AND STABILITY IN THE MID EAST. IS IT NOT REASONABLE FOR US TO BE CONCERNED WHEN THE PRESIDENT AND THE FOREIGN MINISTER BOTH SAY PUBLICLY THAT KUWAITI ACTIONS ARE THE EQUIVALENT OF MILITARY AGGRESSION, AND THEN WE LEARN THAT MANY UNITS OF THE REPUBLICAN GUARD HAVE BEEN SENT TO THE BORDER? IS IT NOT REASONABLE FOR US TO ASK, IN THE SPIRIT OF FRIENDSHIP, NOT CONFRONTATION, THE SIMPLE QUESTION: WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS?
Â¶25. SADDAM SAID THAT WAS INDEED A REASONABLE QUESTION. HE ACKNOWLEDGED THAT WE SHOULD BE CONCERNED FOR REGIONAL PEACE, IN FACT IT IS OUR DUTY AS A SUPERPOWER. “BUT HOW CAN WE MAKE THEM (KUWAIT AND UAE) UNDERSTAND HOW DEEPLY WE ARE SUFFERING.” THE FINANCIAL SITUATION IS SUCH THAT THE PENSIONS FOR WIDOWS AND ORPHANS WILL HAVE TO BE CUT. AT THIS POINT, THE INTERPRETER AND ONE OF THE NOTETAKERS BROKE DOWN AND WEPT.”
The CIA had reported on July 23 that 30’000 Iraqi troops had moved to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and the U.S. naval fleet in the Gulf was placed on alert.
“Â¶27. AT THIS POINT, SADDAM LEFT THE ROOM TO TAKE AN URGENT CALL FROM MUBARAK. AFTER HIS RETURN, THE AMBASSADOR ASKED IF HE COULD TELL HER IF THERE HAS ANY PROGRESS IN FINDING A PEACEFUL WAY TO DEFUSE THE DISPUTE. SADDAM SAID THAT HE HAD JUST LEARNED FROM MUBARAK THE KUWAITIS HAVE AGREED TO NEGOTIATE. THE KUWAITI CROWN PRINCE/PRIME MINISTER WOULD MEET IN RIYADH WITH SADDAM’S NUMBER TWO, IZZAT IBRAHIM, AND THEN THE KUWAITI WOULD COME TO BAGHDAD ON SATURDAY, SUNDAY OR, AT THE LATEST, MONDAY, JULY 30.
Â¶28. “I TOLD MUBARAK,” SADDAM SAID, THAT “NOTHING WILL HAPPEN UNTIL THE MEETING,” AND NOTHING WILL HAPPEN DURING OR AFTER THE MEETING IF THE KUWAITIS WILL AT LAST “GIVE US SOME HOPE.”
Â¶29. THE AMBASSADOR SAID SHE WAS DELIGHTED TO HEAR THIS GOOD NEWS. SADDAM THEN ASKED HER TO CONVEY HIS WARM GREETINGS TO PRESIDENT BUSH AND TO CONVEY HIS MESSAGE TO HIM.”
“Nothing will happen during or after the meeting (which took place in Jeddah, not Riyad, later that very week) if the Kuwaitis will at last ‘give us some hope.’” There should have rung alarm bells.
It is also very clear that Ambassador Glaspie spoke to a close ally of the United States. The meeting was cordial on both sides. It’s interesting that WikiLeaks right now published the (already declassified) cables, at a time when tensions between the West and Iran seem to culminate again.
Last modified January 4, 2011.