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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.
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."1 Later,
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."2 That debt, of course, had been incurred by Hussein in the
drawn 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 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
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Kuwait, April Glaspie, Saddam Hussein, Invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi Army, 20th-century history of Iraq, IraqUnited States relations, persian gulf region, invasion of kuwait, private statements, personality traits, italian bank, us ambassador to iraq, lingering questions, border dispute, saddam hussein, arab nations, iraqi leader, early august, sequence of events, ambassador to iraq, histo, bush administration, retrospect, dictator, credibility, state department
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