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Context of 'September 5, 1988 and After: Joseph Wilson Takes Diplomatic Post in Baghdad; Engages in ‘Moderate’ US Policy toward Iraq'

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Kurds gassed in Halabja.Kurds gassed in Halabja. [Source: PersianEye / Corbis]Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq War (see August 20, 1988), Saddam Hussein begins the first of a series of poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages inside Iraq. A September 1988 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee states: “Those who were very close to the bombs died instantly. Those who did not die instantly found it difficult to breathe and began to vomit. The gas stung the eyes, skin, and lungs of the villagers exposed to it. Many suffered temporary blindness… . Those who could not run from the growing smell, mostly the very old and the very young, died.” While the gas attacks are continuing, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead circulates a highly classified memo among senior State Department officials recommending that the US cultivate even closer ties with Iraq, whom it supported over Iran in the last few years of the war (see Early October-November, 1986). Whitehead offers a Cold War rationale: “[Soviet] clout and influence is on a steady rise as the Gulf Arabs gain self-confidence and Soviet diplomacy gains in sophistication. The Soviets have strong cards to play: their border with Iran and their arms-supply relationship with Iraq. They will continue to be major players and we should engage them as fully as possible.” Whitehead adds, “It should be remembered… that we have weathered Irangate” (see January 17, 1986). More must be done to develop closer ties with “the ruthless but pragmatic Saddam Hussein.” (Also see September 8, 1988.) [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, John Whitehead, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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

Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 78-79, 451]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Saddam Hussein, April Glaspie

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms reports that between 1984 and 1988 “Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran.” [US Congress, 10/1988]

Entity Tags: Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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

Saddam Hussein, emboldened by President Bush’s continued support for his regime even as he develops chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see September 1989) and is gassing his own citizens (see August 25, 1988), boasts that he now has chemical weapons and will “burn half of Israel.” Additionally, Iraqi forces on manuevers in the southern part of the country are being told that they are training to attack Israel. Nevertheless, the White House blocks efforts by the Commerce Department to stop the flow of US technology to Iraq, even technology that is being used to develop weapons of mass destruction (see 1990 and July 18, 1990-August 1, 1990). One White House official explains, “The president does not want to single out Iraq.” US diplomat Joseph Wilson, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad (see September 5, 1988 and After), will later write: “While we were concerned about the tensions in Iraq’s relations with Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990 and July 17, 1990), we did not suspect that the southern military exercises were, in fact, a first signal of Iraq’s intention to invade that country. We were more worried that Saddam’s hard line toward Israel would further inflame Arab passions and contribute to making any lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that much more difficult to achieve.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Wilson, 2004, pp. 95]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (41), US Department of Commerce, Joseph C. Wilson

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

Faced with a lawsuit from 53 members of Congress demanding that he seek Congressional authorization before invading Iraq (see December 1990 and January 16, 1991 and After), President Bush asks Congress for such an authorization. His carefully worded request does not directly acknowledge the constitutional requirement that Congress authorize any military involvement by the US. After three days of what the New York Times calls “solemn, often eloquent debate,” both chambers of Congress approve the war resolution. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; Dean, 2007, pp. 90-91] That authority is granted in part because of propaganda efforts mounted by Pentagon and Kuwaiti officials (see October 10, 1990). Even with such powerful persuasive tactics, the vote in the US Senate is 52-47 and 250-183 in the US House of Representatives, the closest such vote since the War of 1812. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
House Reminds Bush that Congress Retains Power to Declare War - The House passes another resolution, 302-131, informing the White House that Congress has the exclusive authority under the Constitution to declare war. Of this second resolution, author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007, “The breakdown of the vote is telling: 260 Democrats and 41 Republicans along with one independent voted to support the wording and clear intention of Article I of the Constitution; 126 Republicans and 5 Democrats, all hard-right conservatives (including Tom DeLay, R-TX, and two would-be presidents of the United States, Newt Gingrich, R-GA and Duncan Hunter, R-CA) voted against the resolution.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 90-91]
Gore Persuaded to Support War by Wilson - One of the few Democratic senators to vote for the war is Al Gore (D-TN). Gore takes time from the floor deliberations to speak with the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, Joseph Wilson, who once served as Gore’s aide (see September 5, 1988 and After). Gore grills Wilson for twenty minutes on the efficacy of US sanctions against Iraq (see August 6, 1990) and the necessity of US intervention to free Kuwait before returning to the Senate to vote for the authorization. Wilson later writes of his outrage that Gore’s fellow senator, Alan Simpson (R-WY), would accuse Gore during the 2000 election of being what Simpson will call “Prime Time Al” for the timing of his speech in favor of the war authorization. Wilson recalls Simpson as the senator who had been “practically on bended knee before Saddam in April 1990, reassuring the Iraqi dictator that he had a press problem and not a policy problem” (see April 12, 1990). Wilson will continue, “It was an outrage that a decade later he had the nerve to be critical of the one senator who had really taken the time to listen to an analysis from the field and factor that into his decision on what most senators agreed was one of the most momentous votes of their careers.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 163-164]

Entity Tags: Tom DeLay, New York Times, Joseph C. Wilson, Newt Gingrich, George Herbert Walker Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Duncan Hunter, Bush administration (41), Alan Simpson, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Cover of Wilson’s ‘The Politics of Truth.’Cover of Wilson’s ‘The Politics of Truth.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble]Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who helped disprove the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and in turn had his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, exposed as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see July 14, 2003, September 26, 2003, and September 30, 2003), publishes his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir. He had signed with a relatively small publisher, Carroll & Graf, after making a gentleman’s agreement with C&G editor Philip Turner, and refused to allow his literary agent to bid his book out for a larger advance in order to honor the agreement with Turner. According to Wilson’s wife, he worked relentlessly for four months to complete the book, eager to tell not just the story of his trip to Niger and his wife’s outing, but to write about his wide and varied diplomatic career in Africa and the Middle East (see September 5, 1988 and After, September 20, 1990, and Late November, 1990). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 171-172] The book sells well and garners mostly positive reviews; for example, author and former White House counsel John Dean gives it a glowing review in the New York Times (see May 12, 2004). But right-wing supporters of the Bush administration quickly publish their own vilifications of Wilson and his book (see July 12, 2004). Plame Wilson will write in 2007: “Having lived through the first spate of attacks on Joe’s credibility and character in the wake of the leak, I thought I had acquired some armor. I was wrong. I knew the comments were politically motivated, but they were still painful to read, and once again we felt under siege.” Plame Wilson is particularly alarmed by the death threats made against her and her family by unidentified telephone callers, including one “seriously deranged person” who manages to talk to her four-year-old son for a moment. She asks the CIA for additional security measures to protect her children, a request that the agency will eventually deny. She will recall: “To say that the CIA response ‘disappointed’ me doesn’t begin to touch the betrayal that I felt. After [REDACTED] loyal service, I expected the agency to come through on its standing promise to protect its ‘family,’ something that had always been a point of CIA pride.… Clearly, I was on my own.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 178-180]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Carroll & Graf, John Dean, Philip Turner, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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