Profile: April Glaspie
Positions that April Glaspie has held:
April Glaspie was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
Iraq continues to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon as a method of seeking revenge against Syria for refusing to support Iraq in its war with Iran. Syria is in the process of seizing control of Lebanon and imposing military force to quell the fighting between the warring Lebanese factions, and Iraq has tried numerous times to interfere with Syria’s activities in Lebanon. Iraq earns the ire of the US when it tries to ship surface-to-surface missiles into Beirut through the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Such missiles deployed in an urban environment such as Beirut would drastically increase the level of violence throughout Lebanon. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, meets with Iraqi officials daily in the US’s attempt to dissuade the Iraqis from arming Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun and his Maronite Christian faction, in Aoun’s losing struggle against Syria. Glaspie points out that Aoun is a friend of Israel, and by arming Aoun, Iraq is placing itself in a tacit alliance with Israel. Joseph Wilson, Glaspie’s deputy, will later write, “For the Iraqis, of course, it had nothing to do with Israel, or Aoun’s position in Lebanon; it had everything to do with giving Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad a bloody nose and using Beirut as the cudgel with which to bash him. For the Iraqis, the road from Baghdad to Damascus went through Beirut.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 88-89]
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]
During a meeting with US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie (see July 25, 1990), Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein interrupts the meeting to take a phone call from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has worked tirelessly to mediate the burgeoning dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. After the phone call, Hussein tells Glaspie that he has just told Mubarak the same thing he told her—that he will not invade Kuwait so long as there is an active negotiating process taking place. The US later learns that Hussein asked Mubarak not to share that piece of information with Kuwait in order to keep his “bluff” alive. Mubarak apparently honors the request, because Iraq’s subsequent invasion (see August 2, 1990) is a complete surprise to Kuwait. Mubarak is reportedly infuriated at Hussein’s apparent betrayal of his trust. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 98] In 2003, Glaspie’s then-deputy, Joseph Wilson, will tell an interviewer that Hussein “lied to [Glaspie]. He lied to President Mubarak that he was going to allow the negotiating process to go forward.” [PBS, 2/28/2003] In 2004, Wilson will write: “I believe that he met with Glaspie for the express purpose of deceiving us about his intentions, as he did with… Mubarak at the same time. In this way, he maintained the element of surprise. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 123]
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).
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]
Barry Lando. [Source: Master Media Speakers]Author and investigative producer Barry Lando later writes that the entire Iraq-Kuwait dispute may have been manipulated to some extent by the UUS, with the meeting between US Ambassador April Glaspie and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (see July 25, 1990) a centerpiece of the operation. In February 2007, Lando will say, “After Iraq’s war with Iran ended, the Kuwaitis manipulated the world oil price through their production—they greatly increased their oil production, which dropped the world oil price (see May 28-30, 1990 and Mid-1990). That really hurt Iraq, because Saddam was counting on oil revenues to rebuild after the war. He went to the Kuwaitis and he said, look, back off because you’re killing my economy. The Kuwaitis refused to back down. Later it came out that the Kuwaiti’s leaders had been meeting with the CIA exactly to put pressure on Saddam Hussein. [Glaspie] told Saddam Hussein that we will not take any position as far as your border disputes with Kuwait go. Her superior, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly, also testified before Congress a couple of days later (see July 31, 1990). When asked point blank, ‘If Saddam invades Kuwait, do we have any treaty with Kuwait?’ he said, ‘No, we don’t.’” [Buzzflash (.com), 2/23/2007]
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]
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]
US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie (see July 25, 1990) leaves the country for long-planned, long deferred home leave. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is left in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad. Many other ambassadors also leave the city, as is customary due to the extremely high seasonal heat in late July and August. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 106]
Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad after US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie departed for her twice-delayed annual vacation to the US (see July 31, 1990). At 2:30 a.m., local time, Wilson is awakened by a phone call from Washington. The operator tells him, “Mr. Wilson, I have the White House on the line.” Wilson, assuming he is going to speak directly to the president, finds himself standing at attention, stark naked in the middle of his bedroom. Instead, the line goes dead. (Phone service in Iraq is unreliable at best, and the Iraqis often cut service to the embassy phones.) Wilson calls Sandra Charles, a National Security Council specialist on the Middle East, and Charles tells him that she is receiving reports that the US Embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait, is being surrounded by hostile Iraqi troops (see August 2, 1990). At 7:30 a.m., Wilson, having gotten dressed, pounds on the door of Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. The two have what Wilson will later recall as a forceful exchange, and Aziz agrees to restore phone service to the embassy. More pertinently, Wilson tells Aziz that the US is flatly opposed to any military moves against Kuwait. “It seems to me that with your army in Kuwait City and my navy in the Gulf we have an obligation to avoid any escalation of this crisis if we can,” Wilson tells Aziz. A member of the embassy staff later recalls being impressed with Wilson’s political dexterity. “I always knew Joe was bright,” the former staffer recalls, “but he really showed here he could be quick on his feet. That was a pretty smart way to handle the situation.” The meeting with Aziz is the first of many diplomatic efforts Wilson will make over the next few weeks to defuse the situation (see August 2-4, 1990) and protect the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait, whom Wilson fears will be taken hostage by Iraqi forces. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
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).
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]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.