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Context of 'July 27, 1990: Bush Letter Equivocates on Likely Response to Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait'

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The deputy for US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, Joseph Wilson, later writes of the fateful meeting between Glaspie and Saddam Hussein (see July 25, 1990). In his view, Glaspie will become a scapegoat, receiving unfair blame for giving Hussein tacit permission to invade Kuwait. Wilson later writes, “The one-on-one meeting with Saddam was fateful for Ambassador Glaspie. Out of it emerged the charge that she had not been tough enough with him and had somehow given him a green light to invade Kuwait. Nothing could be further from the truth. Glaspie has been made a convenient scapegoat for a more complicated and complex failure of foreign policy.… Her explanation of American policy towards Arab disputes did not waver from our standing instructions. The United States did not take positions on the merits of such quarrels between Arab nations, although the policy was to, in the strongest terms, urge that the parties to a dispute resolve it diplomatically or through international mediation, and not via military threats or action.” During the meeting, Hussein made clear to Ambassador Glaspie that Iraq had no intention of taking any military action against Kuwait so long as there was an ongoing negotiating process. He tells Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the same thing (see July 25, 1990). In later years, Iraqi officials such as Aziz and then-Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nizar Hamdun will acknowledge that Glaspie did nothing more than reiterate the main points of US policy towards Iraq to Hussein. Wilson, a friend of Hamdun’s, will recall his last conversation with Hamdun before his death in July 2003, where the ailing Hamdun confirmed that, in Wilson’s words, “The Iraqi leadership had not come away thinking she had tacitly indicated that the US condoned the use of force. On the contrary, [Hussein] knew exactly what the American position was—opposition to Iraqi military action, under any and all circumstances.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 99-101]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Joseph C. Wilson, Nizar Hamdun, April Glaspie, Hosni Mubarak

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie delivers a letter written by President Bush to Saddam Hussein. The letter reads in part: “I was pleased to learn of the agreement between Iraq and Kuwait to begin negotiations in Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] to find a peaceful solution to the current tensions between you (see August 1, 1990). The United States and Iraq both have a strong interest in preserving the peace and stability of the Middle East. For this reason, we believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict. I also welcome your statement that Iraq desires friendship rather than confrontation with the United States. Let me reassure you, as my ambassador (see July 25, 1990), Senator Dole (see April 12, 1990), and others have done, that my administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq. We will also continue to support our friends in the region with whom we have had long-standing ties. We see no necessary inconsistency between these two objectives. As you know, we still have certain fundamental concerns about certain Iraqi policies and activities, and we will continue to raise these concerns with you in a spirit of friendship and candor.… Both our governments must maintain open channels of communication to avoid misunderstandings and in order to build a more durable foundation for improving our relations.”
Positive Tone - According to the later recollections of Glaspie’s deputy, Joseph Wilson, the Iraqi leadership is “startled by the positive tone of the letter.” The letter is overtly conciliatory towards Iraq and its aggression towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990 and August 2, 1990), and, as then-Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Nizar Hamdun will recall, leaves “the impression that the American desire for good relations with Iraq might override its concerns about Iraqi aggression.” Hamdun believes that the letter “had sent the wrong signal to Saddam by not explicitly warning him against taking any harsh military action, and not threatening harsh retaliation if he did.” Hamdun believes that Hussein “concluded from the positive tone of the letter that the US would not react militarily and that he could survive the political criticism resulting from the aggressive action toward Kuwait.”
Letter Influences Saddam's Thinking - Wilson will conclude, “This letter, much more than any other United States statement (see July 25, 1990), appears to have influenced Saddam’s thinking.” Ultimately, Wilson will note, the US’s influence with Hussein is limited at best, and his perceived reasons to annex Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990 and July 17, 1990) will override any fears of US disapproval. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 101-104]

Entity Tags: Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, April Glaspie, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Nizar Hamdun

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie is confronted with transcripts of her July meeting with Saddam Hussein, where she told Hussein that the US had “no position” on Iraq’s dispute with Kuwait, a statement that Hussein apparently took as tacit US permission to invade its neighbor (see July 25, 1990). A British reporter asks Glaspie, “You encouraged this aggression—his invasion. What were you thinking?” Glaspie replies, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait,” to which the astounded journalist asks, “You thought he was just going to take some of it? But how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed, he would give up his Iran [Shatt al Arab] goal for the ‘whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be.’ You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as an historic part of their country!” When Glaspie refuses to answer, the journalist continues, “America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay—that the US would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumalya oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands—territories claimed by Iraq?” Again, Glaspie refuses to respond, and is driven away in a limousine before she can refuse to answer further questions. [New York Times, 9/19/1990] Speculation has always been rampant about why Bush, who formerly considered Hussein a staunch ally against Iran and Islamist influences in the Middle East, suddenly turned on his former ally. Author and investigative producer Barry Lando has a partial reason. Lando will write in 2007, “One of the reasons was [British prime minister] Margaret Thatcher, who had a talking to him. She told him he had to act like a man and react. But it was also the fear that Saddam would take over Kuwait, and then have a much stronger position in the world oil market. That really scared George Bush…. At that point, he totally turned around. They began calling the man who had been almost a de facto ally a few months earlier, a man worse than Hitler. And Bush started shipping thousands of American troops to the Gulf.” [Buzzflash (.com), 2/23/2007]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Barry Lando, Saddam Hussein, April Glaspie, Margaret Thatcher

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

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