Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Background to the 1991 Gulf War
Early last year, I decided there were so many public misconceptions of what was going on in Iraq that I would write a book about the roots of the 1990 Gulf War and the events of the last decade. I wrote several chapters but abandoned the project when I could find no publisher interested in a book that would view that history from the Iraqi perspective as well as from Washington's. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on Saddam’s rationale for invading Kuwait, material largely forgotten in the years since, but worth reviewing today. It consists largely of a letter from Saddam to President Bush and the transcript of a conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad.
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On July 25, 1990, a week before Iraq invaded Kuwait, a neighbor so tiny one American diplomat called it a gas station in the desert, Saddam Hussein summoned the American Ambassador, a career civil servant named April Glaspie, to his office. To critics of the Gulf War, what happened at that meeting has been known since as the green light. Saddam essentially explains his economic predicament, complains of the economic warfare being waged against Iraq by Kuwait, and asks for the official U.S. government view. Ms. Glaspie, acting under instructions from Washington, knows the situation in the neighborhood is tense, as the Iraqi army has massed at a short distance from its border with Kuwait.
The transcript provides the best sense of Saddam Hussein's calculations on how to proceed and also leaves the impression, especially with Ambassador Glaspie, that things will almost certainly work out in the weekend discussions between Iraq and Kuwait. Note she says at the end of the meeting that she thought perhaps she might delay her vacation trip, but given the tone of the meeting with him, she will proceed to Washington and perhaps be able to deliver his letter to President Bush in person. As you see here, the transcript of that meeting was not made publicly available until it appeared in the New York Times more than seven weeks later. By that time the Bush administration had already determined that Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was an aggression comparable to the fascist power grabs of the 1930s. The charges that he had gassed his own people in an Arabic holocaust were dusted off after having been dismissed earlier in 1990 by a U.S. Army War College report. Most of the best informed political leaders in Washington have never read the transcript, let alone the American people. I would be astonished if I learned that President Bush ever even knew of its existence. It is reprinted here in its entirety, with my comments at the conclusion:
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THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERNATIONAL SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1990
Excerpts From Iraqi Document on Meeting with U.S. Envoy
Special to The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 -- On July 25, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq summoned the United States Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, to his office in the last high-level contact between the two Governments before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2. Here are excerpts from a document described by Iraqi Government officials as a transcript of the meeting, which also included the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. A copy was provided to The New York Times by ABC News, which translated from the Arabic. The State Department has declined to comment on its accuracy.
SADDAM HUSSEIN: I have summoned you today to hold comprehensive political discussions with you. This is a message to President Bush. You know that we did not have relations with the U.S. until 1984 and you know the circumstances and reasons which caused them to be severed. The decision to establish relations with the U.S. were taken in 1980 during the two months prior to the war between us and Iran.
When the war started, and to avoid misinterpretation, we postponed the establishment of relations hoping that the war would end soon.
But because the war lasted for a long time, and to emphasize the fact that we are a non-aligned country, it was important to re-establish relations with the U.S. And we choose to do this in 1984.
It is natural to say that the U.S. is not like Britain, for example, with the latter's historic relations with Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq. In addition, there were no relations between Iraq and the U.S. between 1967 and 1984. One can conclude it would be difficult for the U.S. to have a full understanding of many matters in Iraq. When relations were re-established we hoped for a better understanding and for better cooperation because we too do not understand the background of many American decisions. We dealt with each other during the war and we had dealings on various levels. The most important of those levels were with the foreign ministers.
We had hoped for a better common understanding and a better chance of cooperation to benefit both our peoples and the rest of the Arab nations.
But these better relations have suffered from various rifts. The worst of these was in 1986, only two years after establishing relations, with what was known as Irangate, which happened during the year that Iran occupied the Fao peninsula.
It was natural then to say that old relations and complexity of interests could absorb many mistakes. But when interests are limited and relations are not that old, then there isn't a deep understanding and mistakes could have a negative effect. Sometimes the effect of an error can be larger than the error itself.
Despite all of that, we accepted the apology, via his envoy, of the American President regarding Irangate, and we wiped the slate clean. And we shouldn't unearth the past except when new events remind us that old mistakes were not just a matter of coincidence.
Our suspicions increased after we liberated the Fao peninsula. The media began to involve itself in our politics. And our suspicions began to surface anew, because we began to question whether the U.S. felt uneasy with the outcome of the war when we liberated our land.
It was clear to us that certain parties in the United States -- and I don't say the President himself -- but certain parties who had links with the intelligence community and with the State Department -- and I don't say the Secretary of State himself -- I say that these parties did not like the fact that we liberated our land. Some parties began to prepare studies entitled: "Who will succeed Saddam Hussein?" They began to contact gulf states to make them fear Iraq, to persuade them not to give Iraq economic aid. And we have evidence of these activities.
Iraqi Policy on Oil
Iraq came out of the war burdened with $40 billion debts, excluding the aid given by Arab states, some of whom consider that too to be a debt although they knew -- and you knew too -- that without Iraq they would not have had these sums and the future of the region would have been entirely different.
We began to face the policy of the drop in the price of oil. Then we saw the United States, which always talks of democracy but which has no time for the other point of view. Then the media campaign against Saddam Hussein was started by the official American media. The United States thought that the situation in Iraq was like Poland, Romania or Czechoslovakia. We were disturbed by this campaign but we were not disturbed too much because we had hoped that, in a few months, those who are decision makers in America would have a chance to find the facts and see whether this media campaign had had any effect on the lives of Iraqis. We had hoped that soon the American authorities would make the correct decision regarding their relations with Iraq. Those with good relations can sometimes afford to disagree.
But when planned and deliberate policy forces the price of oil down without good commercial reasons, then that means another war against Iraq. Because military war kills people by bleeding them, and economic war kills their humanity by depriving them of their chance to have a good standard of living. As you know, we gave rivers of blood in a war that lasted eight years, but we did not lose our humanity. Iraqis have a right to live proudly. We do not accept that anyone could injure Iraqi pride or the Iraqi right to have high standards of living.
Kuwait and the U.A.E. were at the front of this policy aimed at lowering Iraq's position and depriving its people of higher economic standards. And you know that our relations with the Emirates and Kuwait had been good. On top of all that, while we were busy at war, the state of Kuwait began to expand at the expense of our territory.
You may say this is propaganda, but I would direct you to one document, the Military Patrol Line, which is the borderline endorsed by the Arab League in 1961 for military patrols not to cross the Iraq-Kuwait border.
But go and look for yourselves. You will see the Kuwaiti border patrols, the Kuwaiti farms, the Kuwaiti oil installations -- all built as closely as possible to this line to establish that land as Kuwaiti territory.
Since then, the Kuwaiti Government has been stable while the Iraqi Government has undergone many changes. Even after 1968 and for 10 years afterwards, we were too busy with our own problems. First in the north then the 1973 war, and other problems. Then came the war with Iran which started 10 years ago.
We believe that the United States must understand that people who live in luxury and economic security can each an understanding with the United States on what are legitimate joint interests. But the starved and the economically deprived cannot reach the same understanding.
We do not accept threats from anyone because we do not threaten anyone. But we say clearly that we hope that the U.S. will not entertain too many illusions and will seek new friends rather than increase the number of its enemies.
I have read the American statements speaking of friends in the area. Of course, it is the right of everyone to choose their friends. We can have no objections. But you know you are not the ones who protected your friends during the war with Iran. I assure you, had the Iranians overrun the region, the American troops would not have stopped them, except by the use of nuclear weapons.
I do not belittle you. But I hold this view by looking at the geography and nature of American society into account. Yours is a society which cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle.
You know that Iran agreed to the cease-fire not because the United States had bombed one of the oil platforms after the liberation of the Fao. Is this Iraq's reward for its role in securing the stability of the region and for protecting it from an unknown flood?
Protecting the Oil Flow
So what can it mean when America says it will now protect its friends? It can only mean prejudice against Iraq. This stance plus maneuvers and statements which have been made has encouraged the U.A.E. and Kuwait to disregard Iraqi rights.
I say to you clearly that Iraq's rights, which are mentioned in the memorandum, we will take one by one. That might not happen now or after a month or after one year, but we will take it all. We are not the kind of people who will relinquish their rights. There is no historic right, or legitimacy, or need, for the U.A.E. and Kuwait to deprive us of our rights. If they are needy, we too are needy.
The United States must have a better understanding of the situation and declare who it wants to have relations with and who its enemies are. But it should not make enemies simply because others have different points of view regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
We clearly understand America's statement that it wants an easy flow of oil. We understanding American staying that it seeks friendship with the states in the region, and to encourage their joint interests. But we cannot understand the attempt to encourage some parties to hard Iraq's interests.
The United States wants to secure the flow of oil. This understandable and known. But it must not deploy methods which the United States says it disapproves of -- flexing muscles and pressure.
If you use pressure, we will deploy pressure and force. We know that you can harm us although we do not threaten you. But we too can harm you. Everyone can cause harm according to their ability and their size. We cannot come all the way to you in the United States, but individual Arabs may reach you.
War and Friendship
You can come to Iraq with aircraft and missiles but do not push us to the point where we cease to care. And when we feel that you want to injure our pride and take away the Iraqis' chance of a high standard of living, then we will cease to care and death will be the choice for us. Then we would not care if you fired 100missiles for each missile we fired. Because without pride life would have no value.
It is not reasonable to ask our people to bleed rivers of blood for eight years then to tell them, "Now you have to accept aggression from Kuwait, the U.A.E., or from the U.S. or from Israel."
We do not put all these countries in the same boat. First, we are hurt and upset that such disagreement is taking place between us and Kuwait and the U.A.E. The solution must be found within an Arab framework and through direct bilateral relations. We do not place America among the enemies. We pace it where we want our friends to be and we try to be friends. But repeated American statements last year make it apparent that America did not regard us as friends. Well the Americans are free.
When we seek friendship we want pride, liberty and our right to choose.
We want to deal according to our status as we deal with the others according to their statuses.
We consider the others' interests while we look after our own. And we expect the others to consider our interests while they are dealing with their own. What does it mean when the Zionist war minister is summoned to the United States now? What do they mean, these fiery statements coming out of Israel during the past few days and the talk of war being expected now more than at any other time?
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HUSSEIN: I do not believe that anyone would lose by making friends with Iraq. In my opinion, the American President has not made mistakes regarding the Arabs, although his decision to freeze dialogue with the P.L.O. was wrong. But it appears that this decision was made to appease the Zionist lobby or as a piece of strategy to cool the Zionist anger, before trying again. I hope that our latter conclusion is the correct one. But we will carry on saying it was the wrong decision.
You are appeasing the usurper in so many ways -- economically, politically and militarily as well as in the media. When will the time come when, for every three appeasements to the usurper, you praise the Arabs just once?
APRIL GLASPIE: I thank you, Mr. President, and it is a great pleasure for a diplomat to meet and talk directly with the President. I clearly understand your message. We studied history at school That taught us to say freedom or death. I think you know well that we as a people have our experience with the colonialists.
Mr. President, you mentioned many things during this meeting which I cannot comment on on behalf of my Government. But with your permission, I will comment on two points. You spoke of friendship and I believe it was clear from the letters sent by our President to you on the occasion of your National Day that he emphasizes --
HUSSEIN: He was kind and his expressions met with our regard and respect.
Directive on Relations
GLASPIE: As you know, he directed the United States Administration to reject the suggestion of implementing trade sanctions.
HUSSEIN: There is nothing left for us to buy from America. Only wheat. Because every time we want to buy something, they say it is forbidden. I am afraid that one day you will say, "You are going to make gunpowder out of wheat."
GLASPIE: I have a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq.
HUSSEIN: But how? We too have this desire. But matters are running contrary to this desire.
GLASPIE: This is less likely to happen the more we talk. For example, you mentioned the issue of the article published by the American Information Agency and that was sad. And a formal apology was presented.
HUSSEIN: Your stance is generous. We are Arabs. It is enough for us that someone says, "I am sorry. I made a mistake." Then we carry on. But the media campaign continued. And it is full of stories. If the stories were true, no one would get upset. But we understand from its continuation that there is a determination.
GLASPIE: I saw the Diane Sawyer program on ABC. And what happened in that program was cheap and unjust. And this is a real picture of what happens in the American media -- even to American politicians themselves. These are the methods the Western media employs. I am pleased that you add your voice to the diplomats who stand up to the media. Because your appearance in the media, even for five minutes, would help us to make the American people understand Iraq. This would increase mutual understanding. If they American President had control of the media, his job would be much easier.
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 in the Middle East. President Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.
You are right. It is true what you say that we do not want higher prices for oil. But I would ask you to examine the possibility of not charging too high a price for oil.
HUSSEIN: We do not want too high prices for oil. And I remind you that in 1974 I gave Tariq Aziz the idea for an article he wrote which criticized the policy of keeping oil prices high. It was the first Arab article which expressed this view.
Shifting Price of Oil
TARIQ AZIZ: Our policy in OPEC opposes sudden jumps in oil prices.
HUSSEIN: Twenty-five dollars a barrel is not a high price.
GLASPIE: We have many Americans who would like to see the price go above $25 because they come from oil-producing states.
HUSSEIN: The price at one stage had dropped to $12 a barrel and a reduction in the modest Iraqi budget of $6 billion to $7 billion is a disaster.
GLASPIE: I think I understand this. I have lived here for years. I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. 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 60's. 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. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly. With regard to all of this, can I ask you to see how the issue appears to us?
My assessment after 25 years' service in this area is that your objective must have strong backing from your Arab brothers. I now speak of oil But you, Mr. President, have fought through a horrific and painful war. Frankly, we can see only that you have deployed massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the U.A.E. and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned. And for this reason, I received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship -- not in the spirit of confrontation -- regarding your intentions.
I simply describe the position of my Government. And I do not mean that the situation is a simple situation. But our concern is a simple one.
HUSSEIN: We do not ask people not to be concerned when peace is at issue. This is a noble human feeling which we all feel. It is natural for you as a superpower to be concerned. But what we ask is not to express your concern in a way that would make an aggressor believe that he is getting support for his aggression.
We want to find a just solution which will give us our rights but not deprive others of their rights. But at the same time, we want the others to know that our patience is running out regarding their action, which is harming even the milk our children drink, and the pensions of the widow who lost her husband during the war, and the pensions of the orphans who lost their parents.
As a country, we have the right to prosper. We lost so many opportunities, and the others should value the Iraqi role in their protection. Even this Iraqi [the President points to their interpreter] feels bitter like all other Iraqis. We are not aggressors but we do not accept aggression either. We sent them envoys and handwritten letters. We tried everything. We asked the Servant of the Two Shrines -- King Fahd -- to hold a four-member summit, but he suggested a meeting between the Oil Ministers. We agreed. And as you know, the meeting took place in Jidda. They reached an agreement which did not express what we wanted, but we agreed.
Only two days after the meeting, the Kuwaiti Oil Minister made a statement that contradicted the agreement. We also discussed the issue during the Baghdad summit. I told the Arab Kings and Presidents that some brothers are fighting an economic war against us. And that not all wars use weapons and we regard this kind of war as a military action against us. Because if the capability of our army is lowered then, if Iran renewed the war, it could achieve goals which it could not achieve before. And if we lowered the standard of our defenses, then this could encourage Israel to attack us. I said that before the Arab Kings and Presidents. Only I did not mention Kuwait and U.A.E. by name, because they were my guests.
Before this, I had sent them envoys reminding them that our war had included their defense. Therefore the aid they gave us should not be regarded as a debt. We did not more than the United States would have done against someone who attacked its interests.
I talked about the same thing with a number of other Arab states. I explained the situation t brother King Fahd a few times, by sending envoys and on the telephone. I talked with brother King Hussein and with Sheik Zaid after the conclusion of the summit. I walked with the Sheik to the plane when he was leaving Mosul. He told me, "Just wait until I get home." But after he had reached his destination, the statements that came from there were very bad -- not from him, but from his Minister of Oil.
And after the Jidda agreement, we received some intelligence that they were talking of sticking to the agreement for two months only. Then they would change their policy. Now tell us, if the American President found himself in this situation, what would he do? I said it was very difficult for me to talk about these issues in public. But we must tell the Iraqi people who face economic difficulties who was responsible for that.
Talks with Mubarak
GLASPIE: I spent four beautiful years in Egypt.
HUSSEIN: The Egyptian people are kind and good and ancient. The oil people are supposed to help the Egyptian people, but they are mean beyond belief. It is painful to admit it, but some of them are disliked by Arabs because of their greed.
GLASPIE: Mr. President, it would be helpful if you could give us an assessment of the effort made by your Arab brothers and whether they have achieved anything.
HUSSEIN: On this subject, we agreed with President Mubarak that the Prime Minister of Kuwait would meet with the deputy chairman of the Revolution Command Council in Saudi Arabia, because the Saudis initiated contact with us, aided by President Mubarak's efforts. He just telephoned me a short while ago to say the Kuwaitis have agreed to that suggestion.
HUSSEIN: A protocol meeting will be held in Saudi Arabia. Then the meeting will be transferred to Baghdad for deeper discussion directly between Kuwait and Iraq. We hope we will reach some result. We hope that the long-term view and the real interests will overcome Kuwaiti greed.
GLASPIE: May I ask you when you expect Sheik Saad to come to Baghdad?
HUSSEIN: I suppose it would be on Saturday or Monday at the latest. I told brother Mubarak that the agreement should be in Baghdad Saturday or Sunday. You know that brother Mubarak's visits have always been a good omen.
GLASPIE: This is good news. Congratulations.
HUSSEIN: Brother President Mubarak told me they were scared. They said troops were only 20 kilometers north of the Arab League line. I said to him that regardless of what is there, whether they are police, border guards or army, and regardless of how many are there, and what they are doing, assure the Kuwaitis and give them our word that we are not going to do anything until we meet with them. When we meet and when we see that there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death, even though wisdom is above everything else. There you have good news.
AZIZ: This is a journalistic exclusive.
GLASPIE: I am planning to go to the United States next Monday. I hope I will meet with President Bush in Washington next week. I thought to postpone my trip because of the difficulties we are facing. But now I will fly on Monday. [End of Transcript.]
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Take note on how this critical meeting concluded. Ambassador Glaspie knew the situation was critical, with Iraqi forces massed on Kuwaits border. Yet she was so assured of Hussein's intent in a peaceful conclusion of his discussions with Kuwait that she decided it would be all right if she went ahead with her planned vacation, her home leave. Saddam had told her: When we meet and when we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death, even though wisdom is above everything else. There you have good news.
If Saddam needed further assurance that the United States would not resist an Iraqi military solution, he got it over the BBC on July 31, when John Kelly, the assistant Secretary of State, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the developments in the Middle East. Chairman Lee Hamilton first noted that Defense Secretary Richard Cheney had been quoted in the press saying the U.S. was committed to the defense of Kuwait if she were attacked. Hamilton asked if Kelly could clarify that:
Kelly: ... We have no defense treaty relationship with any Gulf country...
Hamilton: ... Do we have a commitment to our friends in the Gulf in the event that they are engaged in oil or territorial disputes with their neighbors?
Kelly: ... As I said, Mr. Chairman, we have no defense treaty relationships with any of the countries. We have historically avoided taking a position on border disputes or on internal OPEC deliberations...
Hamilton: If, for example, Iraq charged across the border into Kuwait, for whatever reason, what would be our position with regard to the use of U.S. forces?
Kelly: That, Mr. Chairman, is a hypothetical or a contingency, the kind of which I cant get into. Suffice it to say that we would be extremely concerned, but I cannot get into the realm of what if answers.
Hamilton: In that circumstance, is it correct to say, however, that we do not have a treaty commitment which would obligate us to engage US forces?
Kelly: That is correct.
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Ambassador Glaspie did go on her vacation, seemingly confident Saddam Hussein and the emir of Kuwait would work out their differences at their weekend meeting in Baghdad. Alas, the emir decided not to go to the meeting, perhaps out of assurances from the Pentagon and Mr. Cheney that he would be protected even without a treaty commitment. From Saddam's point of view, Iraq was being destroyed by Kuwait's "economic aggression." Kuwait had driven down the price of oil to $10 a barrel by producing well above its OPEC promises. It was "slant drilling" under its border to drain oil from Iraqi oil fields, adding insult to injury. And it was demanding full payment on its loans to Iraq during Baghdad's war against the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran. In contrast, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia forgave its war loans to Saddam. It was Saddam's claim that the national security of his country was facing the imminent threat of collapse and that he had no choice but to order the pre-emptive strike on Kuwait. JW