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Context of 'July 31, 1990: State Department Official Confirms US Has No Mutual Defense Treaty with Kuwait'

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Alan Simpson.Alan Simpson. [Source: Britt Bolen]A delegation of US senators meets with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to deliver a message from President Bush. The delegation is led by Robert Dole (R-KS) and includes Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Jim McClure (R-ID), Alan Simpson (R-WY), and Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH). The senators are joined by US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, her deputy Joseph Wilson, and various embassy staffers. Dole delivers the message from Bush: Iraq must abandon its chemical and biological weapons programs and stockpiles, and, in return, the US will continue working to improve relations between the two countries (see July 27, 1990 and July 25, 1990). In response, Hussein says he is not trying to destabilize the region and work against US interests. As part of his statement, he says: “I didn’t really say I was going to set fire to half of Israel (see April 1990). What I said was that if Israel attacks me, then I will set fire to half of Israel.” Hussein insists he will only take action against Israel if his country is attacked first, but such a response will be swift and overwhelming, with his new WMD playing a central role. He also protests against what he calls US and British efforts to contain Iraq by scaling back economic and commercial programs, and what he calls a Western smear campaign against him and his government. When the other senators are given a chance to speak to Hussein, Wilson is struck by Metzenbaum’s response. “Mr. President, I can tell you are a honorable man,” Metzenbaum says. Wilson later writes, “I remember thinking to myself that whatever beneficial impact the president’s message and Dole’s statement may have had on Saddam, it had all just been negated by this obsequious boot-licking.” Simpson joins Metzenbaum in stroking Hussein, bending forward so low from his chair that he looks as if he is on bended knee and telling the dictator: “Mr. President, I can see that what you have here isn’t really a policy problem; what you have is a public relations problem. You’ve got a problem with the haughty and pampered press. I know all about that, because I’ve got problems with the press back home. What you need is you need a good public relations person.” Wilson will write: “Saddam no doubt took from the meeting not the admonition to stop developing weapons of mass destruction and threatening his neighbors, but rather support for his own misguided belief that he was an honorable man who didn’t really have policy problems at all, just clumsy relations. After all, one of Israel’s champions had told him so, and another American leader had knelt before him to reassure him that he had no problems with the American government.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 95]

Entity Tags: Jim McClure, Alan Simpson, April Glaspie, Frank Murkowski, George Herbert Walker Bush, Howard Metzenbaum, Saddam Hussein, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

When Saddam Hussein begins massing his troops on the Kuwaiti border (see July 25, 1990), the US intelligence community believes in consensus that Hussein is mostly bluffing. He wants to gain leverage in the ongoing OPEC talks, the community believes, and at most will seize a Kuwaiti oil field just across the border. The intelligence consensus ignores the fact that Hussein is moving his elite Republican Guard units, the core of his forces and what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman will call “the very guarantors of his rule,” from Baghdad to the southern desert. Even after invading Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a National Intelligence Estimate released towards the end of the year concludes that Hussein will withdraw from Kuwait rather than risk a conflict with the US (see Late December 1990). Defense Secretary Dick Cheney becomes increasingly angry and frustrated at the US intelligence community. An intelligence analyst will recall being “whisked into a room, there’s Dick Cheney, he’s right in front of you, he starts firing questions at you, half an hour later and thirty questions later, I’m whisked out of the room, and I’m like, ‘What the hell just happened?’” DIA analyst Patrick Lang, that agency’s foremost Middle East expert and one of the few to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, will recall: “He would ask you factual questions like, ‘OK, about this thing you said. Do I understand you correctly that such-and-such is true? And are you sure about this, and how do you know that?’ And I regard that as a legitimate question.… He wasn’t hostile or nasty about it; he just wanted to know how you knew. And I didn’t mind that in the least.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Spencer Ackerman, Franklin Foer, Patrick Lang, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

July 22, 1990: Iraq Begins Military Buildup

Iraq begins massing troops near the Iraq-Kuwait border in preparation for a possible attack (see August 2, 1990). [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]

Entity Tags: Iraq

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein.April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein. [Source: Wilson's Almanac]The US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, goes to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to meet with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, to deliver a statement made earlier in the week by State Department spokesperson Margaret Tutwiler. The statement is equivocal about Iraq’s belligerent pose towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990), noting that although the US has no mutual defense pact with Kuwait, “Iraq and others know there is no place for coercion and intimidation in the civilized world.” Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson will later describe Glaspie as having “a keen mind and a profound understanding of the issues.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 98]
One-on-One with Saddam Hussein - Shortly after her meeting with Aziz, she is summoned back to the Foreign Ministry and driven from there to a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson will write: “This was unprecedented. During the two years she had been ambassador, Saddam had never held a private meeting with her, delegating all contact to Aziz or other underlings.” During the meeting, Glaspie promises Hussein that President Bush wants “better and deeper relations.” She tells Hussein that Bush is an “intelligent man,” and adds, “He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.” [Washington Post, 12/30/2002; London Times, 12/31/2002; Wilson, 2004, pp. 98]
'No Opinion on Arab-Arab Conflicts' - Glaspie tells Hussein: “We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait.… We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your other threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship—not confrontation—regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?” Hussein answers that he intends to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Kuwait; Glaspie asks what solutions Hussein would find acceptable. Hussein wants to keep the entire Shatt al Arab [a strategically important waterway] under Iraqi control, and if given that, he is willing to make concessions to Kuwait. However, if he has to give up some control of the Shatt, he will renounce all control in favor of bringing Kuwait back under Iraqi dominion. Glaspie replies: “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.” Reportedly Hussein takes this as a green light from the US to proceed with the invasion. [New York Times, 9/23/1990; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003]
Glaspie Said to Be Scapegoated - Wilson will later write that the US policy failure that led to the invasion is not Glaspie’s fault and that she is merely made a scapegoat for it (see July 25, 1990 and After): “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.”
Charge of US Manipulation - Author and investigative producer Barry Lando will say that the price of oil was manipulated with US connivance before the crisis in an effort to hurt Iraq (see Around July 25, 1990).

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein, April Glaspie, Joseph C. Wilson, James A. Baker, Margaret Tutwiler

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

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

John Kelly.John Kelly. [Source: WGBH-FM]Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly testifies before an open session of the House International Relations Committee, chaired by Middle East expert Lee Hamilton (D-IN). Hamilton asks Kelly if the US has a mutual defense pact with Kuwait, a question to which Hamilton already knows the answer. Kelly answers, “We don’t have any defense treaty with the Gulf States. That’s clear. We support the independence and security of all friendly states in the region. Since the Truman administration, we’ve maintained naval forces in the area because its stability is in our interest. We call for a peaceful solution to all disputes, and we think that the sovereignty of every state in the Gulf must be respected.” Kelly’s words are transmitted to Iraq within minutes of his speaking them. US diplomat Joseph Wilson, stationed in Baghdad, later writes, “Despite the qualifiers that Kelly put into place about America’s preference for peaceful solutions to disputes, the only thing the Iraqi regime heard was that we had no legal obligation or even any mechanism to react to an invasion. That had far more effect than anything [US Ambassador to Iraq] April Glaspie may or may not have said in her meeting with Saddam Hussein (see July 25, 1990). It substantiated that she was in no position to threaten Saddam, nor that if Kuwait was invaded would we bring the B52s over and bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age. There was no legal or political basis before the invasion to make that threat, and Glaspie was never going to so grossly exceed her instructions. She could not in fact have gone any further in her response to Saddam than she had actually gone.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 104-105]

Entity Tags: John Kelly, April Glaspie, Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Lee Hamilton, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraq announces that it intends to “annex” Kuwait, in essence forcing it to become a part of Iraq instead of a sovereign nation. Kuwait City is renamed al-Kadhima. The next day, the US will declare the annexation null and void. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; Wilson, 2004, pp. 126] Iraq plans for part of Kuwait to become a portion of Iraq’s southernmost Basra province, and the rest is to be Iraq’s 19th province. Iraq’s claim that Kuwait is part of Iraq is rooted in history as well as current events. For centuries, Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire province of Basra, which included much of modern-day Iraq. Iraq has not recognized Kuwait’s sovereignty since 1899, and the border between Iraq and Kuwait has never been clearly defined to both sides’ satisfaction. According to Iraqi officials, the annexation of Kuwait merely rights a historical wrong. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007] The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, will protest that when she gave Iraq indications that the US would not oppose Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see July 25, 1990), she did not expect Iraq to take “all of Kuwait” (see Late August 1990).

Entity Tags: Kuwait, April Glaspie, Iraq

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

The United Nations passes Resolution 678. The resolution gives Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw entirely from Kuwait (see July 25, 1990) and restore its national sovereignty. The US uses UN authority to build a “coalition” of nations to support its upcoming “Desert Storm” operation designed to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait (see January 16, 1991 and After). 34 countries contribute personnel: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. West Germany and Japan do not contribute forces, but they do contribute $6.6 billion and $10 billion, respectively, to the cause. While some countries join out of a sincere belief that Iraq must not be allowed to dominate the region and control Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 7, 1990), others are more reluctant, believing that the affair is an internal matter best resolved by other Arab countries, and some fear increased US influence in Kuwait and the region. Some of these nations are persuaded by Iraq’s belligerence towards other Arab nations as well as by US offers of economic aid and/or debt forgiveness. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007] As with all such UN resolutions, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein rejects this resolution. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Outgoing president George H. W. Bush defends his protection and support of Iraq in the years, months, and days preceding Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see July 23, 1986 and November 8, 1990), arguing that “we were trying to work with Saddam Hussein and try[ing] to bring him along into the family of nations.” He will deny that the US in any way helped Hussein in his attempts to develop a nuclear weapon (see November 1989), calling any such allegations “fallacious.” However, a raft of secret US government documents contradict Bush’s denials and prove that Bush’s own actions helped propel the United States into war with Iraq (see July 25, 1990). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

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