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Felix Rodriguez, in US Army uniform. [Source: Cuba Informazione]CIA operative Felix Rodriguez testifies before the Iran-Contra committee (see May 5, 1987). Rodriguez, a Cuban exile and former US Army officer, is notorious for his involvement in the execution of South American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1967. Rodriguez also ran covert assassination operations for the CIA during the Vietnam War. Rodriguez’s connection to the White House was through Donald Gregg, the national security adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). Gregg had helped station Rodriguez at an airport in El Salvador, where Rodriguez could, under the pseudonym “Max Gomez,” manage the Contra resupply operation for Oliver North and Richard Secord (see Mid-September 1985 and November 19, 1985). CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus (see October 5, 1986) told his Sandinista captors that “Max Gomez” was his contact with the CIA. Rodriguez’s testimony is potentially explosive, but committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) has no interest in eliciting any such infomation. Instead, he invites Rodriguez to launch a well-scripted diatribe against allowing the Soviet Union to establish a Communist foothold in Latin America. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 73-74]
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
The Iran-Contra hearings come to an end after over 250 hours of testimony from 28 witnesses. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The hearings have been unsatisfactory at best, with the committee saying in a final statement, “We may never know with precision or truth why [the Iran-Contra affair] ever happened.” [PBS, 2000] The biggest wrangle left for the committee is the status of the final report. The committee’s Democratic leaders want a unanimous report. The Republicans demand numerous concessions for such a unanimous report, including the exclusion of critical evidence of an administration cover-up and evidence implicating President Reagan in the Iran-Contra policy decision-making. The committee produces dozens of drafts of the final report, each more watered-down than the previous one, to accommodate Republican demands. The Republicans will get a report almost completely to their liking, but will then pull away and issue their own minority report anyway (see November 16-17, 1987). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Faced with revelations of his possible involvement in the Iran-US arms-for-hostage deals (see November 3, 1986), Vice President George Bush, who has been heavily involved in the deals both with Iran and with its enemy Iraq (see July 23, 1986), denies knowing anything about anything. He tells the press that he knew nothing about any administration officials objecting to selling arms to Iran: “If I had sat there, and heard George Shultz and Cap [Caspar Weinberger] express it strongly, maybe I would have had a stronger view. But when you don’t know something it’s hard to react…. We were not in the loop.” Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, telephones Shultz, the Secretary of State, and snaps, “He was on the other side [supporting the arms deals with Iran]. It’s on the record! Why did he say that?” Former National Security Council aide Howard Teicher, who was deeply involved in the arms-for-hostage deals with Iran, will say in 1992, “Bush definitely knew almost everything about the Iranian arms-sales initiative. I personally briefed him in great detail many times. Like so many others, he got premature Alzheimer’s after the arms sales became public.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008; Associated Press, 7/2/2008] In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” [Time, 7/2/2008] “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Claiborne Pell. [Source: Brown University]The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” [Boston Globe, 10/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
The congressional Iran-Contra committee has finally produced a final report, which committee Democrats thought would be unanimous. But committee Republicans fought successfully to water down the report, including the exclusion of evidence proving President Reagan’s involvement in the policy decisions (see August 3, 1987 and After), and then at the last minute broke away and announced their intention to issue a minority report—which was their intention all along. “From the get-go they wanted a minority report,” Republican staffer Bruce Fein will later recall. The official majority report is due to come out on November 17, but a printing error forces it to be delayed a day (see November 18, 1987). The committee Republicans, headed by Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) and Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) leak their minority report to the New York Times on November 16, thus stealing a march on the majority. On November 17, all of the committee Republicans save three—Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH), Paul Trible (R-VA), and William Cohen (R-ME)—hold a press conference in which they accuse the majority of staging a “witch hunt” against the president and the administration. The minority report asserts: “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for the ‘rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up.… In our view the administration did proceed legally in pursuing both its Contra policy and the Iran arms initiative.” Rudman calls the minority report “pathetic,” and says his Republican colleagues have “separated the wheat from the chaff and sowed the chaff.” The press focuses on the conflict between the two reports. The Democrats largely ignore the minority report: “This was ‘87,” one Democratic staff member will recall. “We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn’t matter.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
The US increases the amount of military intelligence it provides Iraq, a significant portion of which is channeled to the Iraqis through the CIA’s Baghdad office. [Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
Conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) says, “Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has gotten into the wrong hands.” Presumably Helms is referring to countries which have used democratic elections to choose leaders unfriendly to US interests. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 10]
Iraq uses chemical weapons to retake the Fao Peninsula. After the attacks, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, an American defense intelligence officer, is dispatched to the battlefield where he meets with Iraqi officers. According to a New York Times report, Francona “reported that Iraq had used chemical weapons to cinch its victory…. [He] saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002]
The US Commerce Department allows the export of equipment to Iraq for its SCUD missile program, allowing the Iraqis to increase the range of its SCUD missiles. [US Congress, 7/2/1991]
According to several accounts, Iraq uses US-supplied Bell helicopters to deploy chemical weapons during its campaign to recapture lost territories in its war with Iran. One of the towns that is within the conflict zone is the Kurdish village of Halabja, with a population of about 70,000. Between 3,200 and 5,000 Halabja civilians are reportedly killed by poison gas (see August 25, 1988). Other accounts, however, suggest that Iranian gas is responsible for the attack on Halabja, a version that is promoted by the Reagan administration in order to divert the blame away from Iraq. Some believe the US version of the Halabja massacre is “cooked up in the Pentagon.” A declassified State Department document “demonstrate[s] that US diplomats received instructions to press this line with US allies, and to decline to discuss the details.” [US Department of the Navy, 12/10/1990; Los Angeles Times, 2/13/1991; Washington Post, 3/11/1991; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003; New York Times, 1/31/2003]
The United Nations sends experts to the Iraq-Iran war conflict zone to document Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
Dr. Stephen Bryen, a neoconservative serving in the Defense Department who dodged espionage charges a decade before (see March 1978 and April 1979), helps Israel obtain secret US weapons information. Israel is in the final stages of building its “Arrow” anti-ballistic missile. It does not have “klystrons,” small microwave amplifiers needed for the missile’s target acquisition system to function. Klystrons are among the most secret of American weapons research products. Bryen is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), which itself is contained within the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Policy, headed by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle. Bryen attempts to secure the authority to allow four klystrons to be exported to Israel via Varian Associates, a private defense manufacturing firm, without consulting with tech transfer officials from the Army, the Air Force, or other agencies. Navy tech transfer official Richard Levine refuses the request, and holds a meeting with officials from the above agencies. All the officials agree that the transfer should not be approved. Bryen responds by suggesting that he go back to the Israelis to ask why they needed the klystrons. After the Israelis provide what one Defense Department official later calls “a little bullsh_t answer,” Bryen tells the participants that he had received an acceptable response. Varien is granted a license, he says, and the klystrons will be sent to Israel. The license is withdrawn after Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Richard Armitage, objects to Bryen’s maneuvering. Two senior Defense Department officials later say that the attempt to provide Israel with classified weapons materials is “standard operating procedure” for Bryen, who has often ignored Defense and State Department refusals to provide sensitive information and materials to Israel. Later in the year, Bryen will leave the government and work as a consultant for a number of defense technology firms. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
The United Nations dispatches two delegations of experts to the conflict zone on a mission that documents Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
Crew members monitor radar screens in the combat information center aboard the Vincennes. This photo was taken by a crew member in January 1988. [Source: Public domain]The USS Vincennes, a state-of-the-art Aegis guided missile cruiser patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in an effort to keep oil tankers safe from Iranian and Iraqi depredations, detects an Iranian aircraft apparently closing in on its position. The captain and crew of the Vincennes are aware of previous attacks on US ships and Kuwaiti oil tankers by Iranian gunboats, and know of the attack a year before on the USS Stark by an Iraqi fighter (see May 17, 1987 and After). Just a half-hour before, the Vincennes itself had fired on Iranian gunboats. Captain Will Rogers III has seven minutes to decide what to do about the aircraft, which he and his radar operators believe is most likely an Iranian F-14. Although the first transmission from the Iranian aircraft identifies itself as “commair”—commercial aircraft—the radio operator forgets to reset his receiver, and subsequently receives transmissions from Iranian military aircraft which he mistakenly attributes to the incoming aircraft. When the aircraft is nine miles away, Rogers fires two SM-2 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. At least one missile hits the plane, which is not a military fighter, but Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian Boeing 747 carrying 290 passengers. The missile slices the airliner in half; all 290 passengers, including 66 children, die. Though the international community is outraged, the White House and the Pentagon defend the Vincennes’s action. The UN Security Council will not condemn the attack, and President Reagan volunteers to pay compensation to the families. The Navy is embarrassed that in the first real military action from one of its new Aegis cruisers, it had shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft. An investigation proves that the aircraft had been well within a commercially designated flight path, and was not descending in a threatening manner, as was initially claimed by both Vincennes personnel and Pentagon officials. No disciplinary actions against Rogers or any of his crew are ever taken. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush will frequently say of the incident: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.” [New York Times, 11/9/1988; TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007; History (.com), 2008]
The United Nations sends a delegation of experts to the Iraq-Iran War conflict zone to investigate Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76] However, Baghdad refuses to cooperate and the US makes no serious attempt to press Baghdad to comply with the UN Security Council’s decision. US Secretary of State George Shultz downplays the charges against Iraq, arguing that interviews with Kurdish refugees in Turkey and “other sources” do not conclusively support the allegations being made against Saddam Hussein’s government. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
The Iran-Iraq war ends in stalemate after both sides reluctantly accept a UN-brokered peace agreement. The border between the two countries does not change. The war cost at least 1.5 million lives. The major arms supplier for Iraq was the Soviet Union, while France was the biggest supplier to Iran. The US covertly sold arms to both sides during the war, though towards the end of the conflict, the US, after its clandestine arms-for-hostage deals with Iran were exposed in the international press (see November 3, 1986), tilted towards Iraq (see Early October-November, 1986). The Iranian and Iraqi regimes will set about slaughtering their own dissidents after the war—the Iraqis primarily focusing on separatist Kurds and Iran-sympathetic Shi’ites, and the Iranians focusing on its leftist dissident population. [ZMag, 2/1990; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Infoplease, 2007]
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]
The US Senate unanimously passes the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, which makes Iraq ineligible to receive US loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees and items subject to export controls. It also makes it illegal for the US to import Iraqi oil. [US Congress, 9/8/1988; Jentleson, 1994, pp. 78] Immediately after the bill is passed by the Senate, the Reagan administration launches a campaign to prevents its passage in the House. With the help of its allies in the House, the administration succeeds in killing the bill on the last day of the legislative session. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 78; New York Times, 2/13/2003]
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]
Robert Morgenthau. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam are running a charity front called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah in Peshawar, Pakistan, and it has an important branch in Brooklyn, New York, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center that is sending money and recruits to fight in Afghanistan. The CIA apparently helps the Al-Kifah Brooklyn office send up to 200 people from the US to fight in Afghanistan (see 1986-1993). Many of them are US citizens. Zalmay Khalilzad, a State Department Afghan specialist who will go on to become a prominent neoconservative, will later deny knowing of any Arab-Americans fighting with the mujaheddin. But one anonymous Congressional aide will recall occasional mentions of Al-Kifah Refugee Center or its head Mustafa Shalabi by some of the most radical mujaheddin. He will say: “Among that cabal, the extreme militant fringes, Shalabi was known.… [T]hey were asking to talk to him so he could organize some particular assistance.” The Neutrality Act prevents US citizens from fighting against countries not at war with the US, but the New York Times will note, “Yet there is no sign that a criminal investigation ever took place even though federal agents had come across broad hints about the center’s activities when they investigated the [Meir] Kahane assassination [in 1990] (see November 5, 1990) and the slaying of Mr. Shalabi [in 1991]” (see (February 28, 1991)). Kahane’s assassin, El Sayyid Nosair, was one of Shalabi’s assistants. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] Apparently the CIA’s ties to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center prevent other US agencies from investigating it, even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when all of the bombers are found to have been tied to the center. While Al-Kifah closes itself down shortly after the WTC bombing, it immediately reopens in Boston under a different name and continues to publish the same newsletter and post from the same website (see April 1993-Mid-2003). Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment, “[W]hen the fanatical fervor [the CIA] whipped up leads to unintended consequences—the assassination of a Jewish militant leader in Manhattan, the bombing of the World Trade Center, a terror conspiracy to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and other Manhattan landmarks—[the CIA tried] to discourage local law enforcement agencies and the FBI from looking into the matter too deeply.” After Nosair assassinates Kahane, the FBI tells District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that Nosair was a lone gunman, not part of a broader conspiracy. However, the FBI had truckloads of evidence connecting to Al-Kifah strongly suggesting otherwise that it does not closely investigate. The FBI also blocks him from tying Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman to the WTC bombing (see After February 26, 1993). Morgenthau will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. “The FBI lied to me,” he will say. “They’re supposed to untangle terrorist connections, but they can’t be trusted to do the job.” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will call Al-Kifah “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” [Emerson, 2006, pp. 436] In 1994, a secret internal CIA report will conclude that the agency is “partially culpable” for the WTC bombing because of its support for radicals connected to Al-Kifah. One CIA source will say, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center” (see January 24, 1994). But even after 1994 there is little evidence that the links from Al-Kifah were carefully explored by any US government agency. For instance, the government will not freeze Al-Kifah’s funds until shortly after 9/11, long after it ceased to exist (see September 24, 2001).
Hamid Gul, Nawaz Sharif, and Osama bin Laden conspire to assassinate Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Husein Haqqani, a Pakistani journalist who claims to have been involved in the plot, will later say that ISI Director Hamid Gul contacted Osama bin Laden, who was then known to provide financial support to Afghan mujaheddin, to pay for a coup/assassination of Bhutto. Gul also brings Nawaz Sharif, then the governor of Punjab province and a rival of Bhutto, into the plot. Bin Laden agrees to provide $10 million on the condition that Sharif transforms Pakistan into a strict Islamic state, which Sharif accepts. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 193-194] Bhutto is not assassinated at this time, but bin Laden allegedly helps Sharif replace Bhutto one year later (see October 1990).
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]
Secretary of State James Baker tells President Bush that Israel has to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks later, Baker urges Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel must, he says, “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of the greater Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, is furious (see April 6, 1989). [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]
Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US Military
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tells an audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that he would refuse to comply with the Bush administration’s request to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Trading land for peace—i.e. returning the Palestinian lands Israel conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War in return for political recognition and a promise of peace—“is a deception,” Shamir says. “If we leave, there will almost certainly be war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 123-125]
Entity Tags: Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, Iraqi National Congress, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Saddam Hussein, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
President George H. W. Bush nominates his former foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg, to become the US Ambassador to South Korea. Gregg is one of the architects of the Contra funding and supply program (see March 17, 1983). Gregg faces some difficulty in his Senate confirmation hearings stemming from his linchpin role in Iran-Contra, with Senator Alan Cranston (R-WY) telling him: “You told the Iran-Contra committee that you and Bush never discussed the Contras, had no expertise on the issue, no responsibility for it, and the details of Watergate-sized scandal involving NSC staff and the Edwin Wilson gang [a group of ‘rogue’ CIA agents operating in apparent conjunction with Bush] was not vice presidential. Your testimony on that point is demonstrably false. There are at least six memos from Don Gregg to George Bush regarding detailed Contra issues.” But Cranston is the only member of the committee to vote against Gregg’s confirmation. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]
President Bush signs National Security Directive (NSD) 26, which asserts: “Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to US national security. The United States remains committed to defend its vital interests in the region, if necessary and appropriate through the use of US military force, against the Soviet Union or any other regional power with interests inimical to our own. The United States also remains committed to support the individual and collective self-defense of friendly countries in the area to enable them to play a more active role in their own defense and thereby reduce the necessity for unilateral US military intervention.”
Policy on Iraq, Iran - NSD 26 is intended to promote the US’s outreach to Iraq as a counterweight to the “inimical” Gulf nation of Iran. The directive states, “Normal relations between the US and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. The United States government should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and to increase our influence with Iraq.” The directive also warns that Iraq would face “economic and political sanctions” if it continued to pursue biological and chemical weapons, and “[a]ny breach by Iraq of IAEA safeguards in its nuclear program will result in a similar response.”
Human Rights - The directive advocates making “[h]uman rights considerations” an “important element in our policy towards Iraq,” and states that Iraq should be steered away from “its meddling in external affairs, such as in Lebanon, and be encouraged to play a constructive role in negotiating a settlement with Iran and cooperating in the Middle East peace process.” The directive takes a much harder line on Iran, noting that before it can expect normalized relations with the US, it must “cease its support for international terrorism… help obtain the release of all American hostages… hal[t] its subversive activities…,” seek peaceful co-existence with Iraq, and “improv[e] its human rights practices.” [National Security Directive 26, 10/2/1989 ; Wilson, 2004, pp. 81-82]
CIA Director William Webster meets with Kuwait’s head of security, Brigadier Fahd Ahmed al-Fahd. Iraq will claim after its invasion and occupation of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) that it had located a Kuwaiti memorandum summarizing their conversation, a memo both the CIA and Kuwaiti government officials will claim is a forgery, though both sides will admit the meeting actually took place. Iraq will accuse the CIA and Kuwait of collaborating to destabilize Iraq’s economy and government (see Late August, 1990). The memo reads in part: “We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
Kuwait’s Director General of State Security sends a memo to the Minister of the Interior summarizing a meeting with CIA Director William Webster. He writes: “We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.” When Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), Iraqi officials find this memo and confront the Kuwaiti foreign minister with it during an Arab summit meeting in mid-August 1990. Upon seeing the memo, the Kuwaiti official reportedly faints. [Ahmed, 10/2/2001] The US claims the memo is a forgery. [Office of Global Communications, 1/21/2003 ]
West and East Germans come together as the Berlin Wall is torn down. [Source: FreedomAgenda (.com)]The Berlin Wall, the fortified network of guarded walls and fences that separates East and West Berlin, is officially breached. East Germany’s communist government gives reluctant permission for gates along the Wall to be opened after hundreds of protesters in the East, and thousands in the West, converged on crossing points and demanded that the Wall be opened. When the gates open, hundred of East Berliners surge through to be welcomed by their Western fellows; shortly thereafter, crowds of people clamber atop the Wall and begin tearing it apart, chunk by chunk. The 28-mile Wall has stood since 1961, and has served as a symbol of the so-called “Iron Curtain” forcibly separating the communist East from the democratic West. The Wall became symbolically breached days before when a new and more liberal regime in Hungary opened its border and allowed its citizens to flee into West Germany. Czechoslovakia followed suit shortly thereafter. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl calls the decision to open the Wall “historic.” [BBC, 11/9/1989; Chronik Der Mauer, 2/9/2008]
Symbolic End to Cold War - Many reporters and historians will mark the “Fall of the Wall” as the date, symbolic or real, when the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union officially ended. [US News and World Report, 11/13/2008]
American conservatives, recently contemptuous of former President Ronald Reagan (see 1988), use the fall of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) to resurrect the image of Reagan as the victorious Cold Warrior who triumphed over world communism.
Historical Revisionism - In doing so, they drastically revise history. In the revised version of events, Reagan was a staunch, never-wavering, ideologically hardline conservative who saw the Cold War as an ultimate battle between good (Western democracy) and evil (Soviet communism). As author J. Peter Scoblic will describe the revision, it was Reagan’s implacable resolve and conservative principles—and the policies that emanated from those principles—that “forced the Soviet Union to implode.” Conservatives point to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” of backing anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985) and to National Security Decision Directive 75, accepting nuclear war as a viable policy option (see January 17, 1983), as evidence of their assertions. But to achieve this revision, they must leave out, among other elements, Reagan’s long-stated goal of nuclear disarmament (see April 1981 and After, March-April 1982, November 20, 1983, and Late November 1983), and his five-year history of working with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms between the two nations (see December 1983 and After, November 16-19, 1985, January 1986, October 11-12, 1986, and December 7-8, 1987).
USSR Caused Its Own Demise - And, Scoblic will note, such revisionism does not account for the fact that it was the USSR which collapsed of its own weight, and not the US which overwhelmed the Soviets with an onslaught of democracy. The Soviet economy had been in dire straits since the late 1960s, and there had been huge shortages of food staples such as grain by the 1980s. Soviet military spending remained, in Scoblic’s words, “enormous, devouring 15 percent to 20 percent of [the USSR’s gross national product] throughout the Cold War (meaning that it imposed three times the economic burden of the US defense budget, on an economy that was one-sixth the size).” Reagan did dramatically increase US military spending during his eight years in office (see Early 1981 and After), and ushered new and potentially devastating military programs into existence (see 1981 and March 23, 1983). Conservatives will assert that Reagan’s military spending drove the USSR into implicit surrender, sending them back to the arms negotiation table with a newfound willingness to negotiate the drawdown of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see Early 1985). Scoblic will characterize the conservatives’ arguments: “Whereas [former President] Carter was left playing defense, the Gipper [Reagan] took the ball the final 10 yards against the Reds, spending them into the ground and leading the United States into the end zone.” Scoblic calls this a “superficially… plausible argument,” but notes that Carter, not Reagan, began the tremendous military spending increase (see Late 1979-1980), and more importantly, the USSR made no effort to match Reagan’s defense spending. “Its defense budget remained essentially static during the 1980s,” he will write. “In short, the Soviet Union suffered no economic distress as a result of the Reagan buildup.” Scoblic will also note that conservatives had long insisted that the USSR could actually outspend the US militarily (see November 1976), and never predicted that increasing US military spending could drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-149]
In response to a US company’s concern that their product might be used by Iraq to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the US Department of Commerce asks Iraq’s government to provide a written guarantee that the company’s product will be used for civilian purposes only. The Commerce Department tells the company that a license and review is unnecessary, and that there is no reason why the product in question should not be exported to Iraq. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 110]
Conservative defense analyst Frank Gaffney calls for a second round of “Team B” competitive intelligence exercises (see November 1976), writing, “[N]ow is the time for a new Team B and a clear-eyed assessment of the abiding Soviet (and other) challenges that dictate a continued, robust US defense posture.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
The cover of ‘Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf.’ [Source: Laurie Mylroie (.com)]Neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie and New York Times reporter Judith Miller—“a dear friend” of neoconservative Richard Perle, as Perle later says—collaborate on a so-called “instant” book, Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf. The book is designed to hit bookstores concurrent with the escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf (see April 1990 and August 2, 1990). It also reflects Mylroie’s beliefs that Hussein is responsible for virtually all Islamist terrorism (see October 2000 and July 9, 2003), and advocates the US overthrow of Hussein. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]
Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, already forging ties with the CIA and positioning himself to take over from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (see May 1991 and 1992-1996), is also strengthening his position with the Iranian government. A CIA case officer later says that while he cannot be sure exactly when Chalabi began reaching out to Iran, he “was given safe houses and cars in [Kurdish-controlled] northern Iraq, and was letting them be used by agents from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security [VEVAK], and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.” [Salon, 5/5/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125-126]
In connection with the Iran-Contra scandal, former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see March 16, 1988) is convicted of five felonies, including conspiring to obstruct official inquiries and proceedings, two counts of obstructing Congress, and two counts of lying to Congress. Poindexter is sentenced to six months in prison. Instead of serving his jail time, he will win a reversal in federal appeals court. [FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter, 8/4/1993] The New York Times will write during Poindexter’s sentencing hearing that, though Poindexter had a brilliant career before becoming Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, he should go to jail because he is not only clearly guilty of the felonies he is convicted of, but he has shown a total lack of remorse or contrition. “The admiral disagreed with [the] fundamental rule of law and apparently still does,” the Times will write, noting that Poindexter apparently feels that if he views the law as incorrect or overly constraining, he is well within his rights to break that law. [New York Times, 6/11/1990]
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]
The US Army presents a white paper to President Bush in which it describes Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq as the optimum contender “to replace the Warsaw Pact” and on that basis argues for the continuation of Cold War-level military spending. [Pilger, 1994; Clarke, 1994; Zepezauer, 2003]
Staff at the US embassies in India and Pakistan underestimate the seriousness of a crisis between the two countries (see January-May 1990), because they have been given manipulated intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear capability. As they think Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons, they assume the crisis will not escalate into war. The US has been aware that Pakistan does have a nuclear weapons program and a nuclear weapon for some time (see 1987-1989 and May 1990), but has been suppressing this knowledge so that it could continue to support anti-Soviet mujaheddin and sell fighters to Pakistan (see August-September 1989). An example of the way the seriousness of the crisis is not appreciated is that US ambassador to India William Clark learns that the Pakistani air force is practicing dropping nuclear bombs, but is wrongly told that this is not important because the intelligence suggests Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons. The CIA, State Department, Pentagon, and White House are actually aware that this is a serious warning sign (see May 1990), but the intelligence has been altered to indicate Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons. For example, a report to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney by Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow was completely rewritten and Barlow’s conclusions were reversed to say Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons (see Mid-1989). Barlow was later fired from his job due to his opposition to an arms deal (see August 4, 1989). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 209-210]
In repeated statements, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says that overproduction of oil by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is “economic warfare” against Iraq. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] Iraq is not merely issuing blustery allegations with no basis in fact. Iraq is virtually bankrupt and deeply in debt to both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which funded Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, as well as other nations such as the US and Japan. Hussein has spent billions rebuilding his military and distributing massive amounts of consumer goods to the populace in an attempt to persuade them that Iraq won the war against Iran and is now able to spend its “war dividends.” In 1999, Kuwait defied the quotas laid down by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and increased its oil production by 40%. The subsequent sharp drop in oil prices drove Iraq’s economy towards catastrophe. The situation is further aggravated by Iraqi suspicions that Kuwait is deliberately “slant-drilling” oil from Iraq’s Rumaylah oil field (see July 15-17, 1990). Hussein needs a massive infusion of revenue to maintain his large standing army and the fiction of economic growth, and he looks to Kuwait as the source of that revenue. Land issues also play a part: Iraq wants to swap some territory along the border for control of two Kuwaiti-held islands across from its port at Umm Qasr, but Kuwait is unwilling to make the trade. US diplomat Joseph Wilson, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, describes the Iraqi outlook on Kuwait as a nation “small, rich, and despised.” All in all, the US diplomatic entourage in Baghdad is alarmed at Iraq’s preparations for war. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 93-94; NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
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]
CENTCOM officials engage in ‘Internal Look’ wargaming in the command center in Doha, Qatar. [Source: GlobalSecurity (.org)]A large military, computer-based exercise called “Internal Look 90,” conducted by US Central Command (CENTCOM), anticipates the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. The exercise reflects the change in the threat perception by the US military. Since his appointment as commander of CENTCOM in November 1988, General Norman Schwarzkopf has been concerned that the main threat to the Gulf region is no longer a Soviet attack, but an attempt by Iraq to control the region’s energy resources using its large military following the end of the Iraq-Iran war. “With a huge, well-equipped military at loose ends, Schwarzkopf realized that the Iraqis had replaced the Soviets as the most serious threat to the Persian Gulf,” according to the official account of the war published as the book Certain Victory: The US Army in the Gulf War. [Scales, 1998, pp. 43-44] Therefore, CENTCOM’s main command post exercise, Internal Look, which is held every two years, is no longer focused on the Soviet Union, but on the possibility of an Iraqi invasion of the Arabian Peninsula. In July 1990, Internal Look 90 simulates an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia. This scenario will prove prescient: “As the exercise unfolded, the real-world movements of Iraq’s air and ground forces eerily paralleled the scripted scenario of the war game. So closely did actual intelligence reports resemble the fictional exercise messages, the latter had to be prominently stamped ‘Exercise Only,’” according to the website GlobalSecurity.org. [GlobalSecurity, 2008]
Iraq publicly accuses Kuwait of stealing oil by “slant drilling” from Iraq’s Rumaylah oil field on the Iraq-Kuwait border (see May 28-30, 1990). Iraqi government officials warn Kuwait that if the alleged theft of oil does not stop, Iraq will take military action. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein excoriates those Arab leaders whom he believes are collaborating with the US and Israel to obstruct Arab development. He accuses several unnamed Arab heads of state of being bought off with fancy houses and vehicles, and failing to stand up to Western attempts to stymie Arab ambitions. The real thrust of his criticisms is oil-based. He says that overproduction of oil and the resultant low oil prices are “a poisoned dagger” in Iraq’s back, delivered by the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990). Hussein intends to use his influence with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to drive the price of oil from $14 to $25 and thus raise a large amount of cash to help pay off his country’s staggering debts to Japan, the US, and several European countries. Hussein intends to stop Kuwait overproduction, and he is willing to use military force to do it. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 97-98]
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]
In the days preceding the Iraq invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the two nations’ Arab neighbors urge the US to use caution and moderation in trying to head off the invasion. They fear that overtly harsh tactics will provoke Iraq into the invasion they all wish to avoid. Saddam Hussein is bluffing (see July 25, 1990), several Arab leaders assert, and the problem can be handled with Arab-led diplomacy (see August 1, 1990). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) participates in a quick US-led joint military exercise, which they had requested, but criticize the US for making the exercise public, worried that it might provoke a reaction from Iraq. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 105]
In the first few days of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990 and August 2-4, 1990), Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the highest-ranking US diplomat in Baghdad (see July 31, 1990), takes an aggressive stance in handling the crisis. Wilson realizes that he may not hear anything concrete from Washington for days, if not weeks, and any advice from his superiors in Washington might be either useless or counterproductive. Wilson and his colleagues at the embassy know that securing their building is their first objective. He orders a thorough review of security procedures; the painting over of embassy windows to foil potential sniper attacks; the destruction of most classified files and documents, and the preparation for the remaining files to be destroyed at a moment’s notice; the preparation of evacuation plans; and for nonessential staff to make plans to leave Baghdad as quickly as possible. Wilson and his colleagues are concerned about the number of Americans detained in Kuwait, including a 12-year old California girl who had flown alone into the Kuwait City airport on her way to meet her parents in India; she had been taken into Iraqi custody straight off her airliner. Wilson successfully presses his friend, Iraq Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdun, to release the girl into his custody; he keeps her busy helping out around the embassy until he can get her on a flight out of Iraq, and will later remember her as “a real trouper.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 112-114]
Iraq and Kuwait meet to discuss their political differences in a diplomatic session arranged by Egypt’s ruler Hosni Mubarak (see July 25, 1990). According to US diplomat Joseph Wilson, the negotiations are a sham on Iraq’s part. The Iraqi diplomatic delegation is composed of, in Wilson’s words, “formidable thugs with nary a diplomatically inclined bone in their collective bodies. They were enforcers, pure and simple, and the Kuwaitis clearly had miscalculated when they assumed a negotiated settlement could be achieved. Though Mubarak had arranged the negotiations, and Saudi Arabia hosted them, representatives from no third countries are present.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 105]
The day before sending US troops into battle with Iraq (see August 2, 1990, the Bush administration approves the sale of $695,000 in advanced data transmission devices to that country. [Washington Post, 3/11/1991]
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]
The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 660 condemning Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990 and demanding that Iraq “withdraw immediately and unconditionally all its forces to the positions in which they were located on 1 August 1990.” [United Nations Security Council, 8/2/1990]
The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 678 authorizing “Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait… to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” [United Nations, 11/29/1990]
Iraqi tanks poised to roll into Kuwait. [Source: Kristina Greve]Iraq invades Kuwait. In response, the US suspends National Security Directive 26 (see October 2-6, 1989), which established closer ties with Baghdad and mandated $1 billion in agricultural loan guarantees to Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/1992] The secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, begins pressing President Bush to go to war with Iraq without securing Congressional approval. His rationale is two-fold: he doesn’t need Congressional authority, and he might not get it if he asks. Cheney moves the Pentagon onto a full war footing, even going so far as to create what author and former White House counsel John Dean calls “his own concocted high-risk plans of battle, which he tried but failed to sell at the White House.” Bush will juggle Cheney’s view with that of House Speaker Tom Foley, who will give the president a document signed by 81 Democratic members who insist that if Bush wants to go to war, he needs the authorization of Congress. Dean will write that Cheney’s arguments “are based on bogus legal and historical arguments that have been made before, but no one has pushed them longer or harder than he has.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 89-91] Bush decides not to follow Cheney’s advice. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will observe: “By urging Bush to ignore the War Powers Resolution on the eve of the first major overseas ground war since Congress enacted the law, Cheney was attempting to set a powerful precedent. Had Bush taken his advice and survived the political fallout, the Gulf War would have restored [former President] Truman’s claim that as president he had ‘inherent’ powers to send American troops to the Korean War on his own” (see June 30, 1950). [Savage, 2007, pp. 62]
Two days of intense fighting follow Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990); Kuwait’s small military is overrun by Iraq’s much larger ground forces. Many Kuwaiti military units flee to Saudi Arabia rather than fight the Iraqis. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007] The invasion is such a surprise to the Kuwaitis that the Emir and the royal family barely escape with their lives. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; Wilson, 2004, pp. 98]
After Iraq invades Kuwait (see November 8, 1990), Osama bin Laden, newly returned to Saudi Arabia, offers the Saudi government the use of his thousands of veteran fighters from the Afghan war to defend the country in case Iraq attacks it. The Saudi government turns him down, allowing 300,000 US soldiers on Saudi soil instead. Bin Laden is incensed and immediately goes from ally to enemy of the Saudis. [Coll, 2004, pp. 221-24, 270-71] After a slow buildup, the US invades Iraq in March 1991 and reestablishes Kuwait. [Posner, 2003, pp. 40-41] Bin Laden will soon leave Saudi Arabia ((see Summer 1991)).
Over 100 Americans are trapped in the US Embassy in Kuwait City. Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them. But, except for the release of a single American girl (see Early August, 1990), the Iraqis release no hostages. Embassy personnel succeed in rounding up around 100 Americans, mostly workers for the Bechtel Corporation, and housing them in the confines of the Embassy building. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 117-118, 126]
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, accompanied by senior aide Paul Wolfowitz and US CENTCOM commander-in-chief General Norman Schwarzkopf, visits Saudi Arabia just four days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). [School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University, 8/3/2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 100] Cheney secures permission from King Fahd for US forces to use Saudi territory as a staging ground for an attack on Iraq. Cheney is polite, but forceful; the US will not accept any limits on the number of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, and will not accept a fixed date of withdrawal (though they will withdraw if Fahd so requests). Cheney uses classified satellite intelligence to convince Fahd of Hussein’s belligerent intentions against not just Kuwait, but against Saudi Arabia as well. Fahd is convinced, saying that if there is a war between the US and Iraq, Saddam Hussein will “not get up again.” Fahd’s acceptance of Cheney’s proposal goes against the advice of Crown Prince Abdullah. [School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University, 8/3/2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 100-101] With Prince Bandar bin Sultan translating, Cheney tells Abdullah, “After the danger is over, our forces will go home.” Abdullah says under his breath, “I would hope so.” Bandar does not translate this. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 9/2002; History News Network, 1/13/2003] On the same trip, Cheney also visits Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who rejects Cheney’s request for US use of Egyptian military facilities. Mubarak tells Cheney that he opposes any foreign intervention against Iraq. [School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University, 8/3/2000] US forces will remain in Saudi Arabia for thirteen years (see April 30-August 26, 2003).
American journalists, with their camera and sound crews, begin pouring into Baghdad, causing an enormous strain on the US Embassy personnel. The embassy personnel quickly decide to house them in the US Information Service Cultural Center across the street from the embassy, where the journalists will not interfere with embassy’s operations but can still file their stories and images using the embassy’s direct telephone and satellite connections. By and large, the embassy staff, from Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson on down, welcome the media representatives, because, as Wilson will later write, “we thought it important that the story be covered as fully and openly as possible from Iraq.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 118]
Joseph Wilson and Saddam Hussein, during their August 6 meeting. [Source: Joseph Wilson / New York Times]Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad (see July 31, 1990 and August 1-2, 1990), is admitted to an unexpected and impromptu meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson, determined not to let Hussein get the better of him in front of the Iraqi photographers present at the meeting, refuses to do anything that could be construed as bowing to Hussein (an effect Hussein is known to strive to create with his “guests”) and is careful not to laugh for fear a picture could be taken out of context by Iraqi propagandists. As Wilson will later recall, “It dawned on me that the last thing in the world that I wanted to be beamed around the world was a picture of me yukking it up with Saddam Hussein.” Hussein proposes a solution to the Iraq-Kuwait conflict, involving the US giving its blessing to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait (see August 2-4, 1990) and in return promising to provide cheap oil to the US from Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields. He also promises not to strike against Saudi Arabia unless that country allows itself to be used as a launching pad for a strike against Iraq. If the US reacts militarily to the invasion, Hussein says, then the US will be responsible for the “spilling of the blood of ten thousand soldiers in the Arabian desert.” Wilson will later write, “There it was then, the carrot of cheap oil coupled with the stick of dead American soldiers.” Wilson, in turn, presses for Hussein to allow foreign citizens in general, and American citizens in particular, to leave Iraq immediately (see August 4, 1990). Hussein asks if such a request indicates that the US is planning to launch its own military response; Wilson responds that he knows nothing of any such plans, but that he intends “to be here so long as there is a role for diplomats to play in resolving this situation peacefully.” The meeting adjourns with nothing being agreed upon; Wilson has no power to negotiate on behalf of the US, Wilson does not trust Hussein to keep any such bargains, and most importantly, the US has not shown any indication of any willingness to allow Hussein to stay in Kuwait. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 118-123]
The US military’s ‘Desert Shield’ logo. [Source: Eagle Crest (.com)]The US officially begins “Operation Desert Shield” in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and Saudi Arabia’s request for US troops to defend it from possible Iraqi incursions. The first US forces, F-15 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, arrive in Saudi Arabia (see August 5, 1990 and After). [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; American Forces Press Service, 8/8/2000] The US opens a military response to the Iraq invasion as much to defend Saudi Arabia as to defend Kuwait. Both the US and Saudis fear that Iraq will occupy Saudi Arabia’s Hama oil field near the countries’ mutual border, one of its largest. Between its own oil fields and those of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which Iraq could feasibly control, Iraq would control the majority of the world’s oil reserves. Iraq would have difficulty in successfully occupying the Hama oil field, because of the large amount of inhospitable desert terrain it would have to cross to reach the field, and because of the likelihood of intense air strikes from the US-equipped Saudi Air Force. President Bush says the operation is “wholly defensive” in nature, a claim quickly abandoned. The US deploys two carrier groups and two battleship groups to the Persian Gulf, and deploys numerous Air Force units. Eventually, half a million American troops will join the other US forces. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson and the other US diplomats in Baghdad learn that the Iraqis have taken about 115 Americans as hostages (see August 4, 1990) and are placing them at strategic sites they consider most likely to be targeted by US air and ground strikes—in essence using the hostages as human shields. Two thousand Americans still remain trapped in Kuwait City, where Iraqis are, Wilson will write, “terrorizing the population.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 126]
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).
The US diplomats at the embassy in Baghdad, led by Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, hold a long and sobering discussion of the possibilities confronting them in the days and weeks to come. They are well aware of the grim fate meted out to several Americans during the 1958 revolution (see 1958), and realize that they, too, may be killed in the near future. As Wilson will later write, they ask themselves: “If, in all likelihood, we were going to die anyway, did we want to go meekly to our deaths delivering useless diplomatic notes to a brutal regime, or did we want to be defiant, treating the Iraqi actions as the outrages they were? We opted for the latter code of conduct. That decision—to stand up and confront Saddam [Hussein] at every opportunity—set the tone at the embassy from that moment on.” Wilson will add: “Months later, after I’d left Baghdad, a psychologist at the CIA told me that the only way to deal with a personality like Saddam’s is to stand up to him: to be defiant, antagonistic, and intimidating. We had not had the benefit of such CIA wisdom back in August, but our instincts were still on the mark.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 126-127]
The New York Times prints a long article based on a highly classified memo written about US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s meeting with Saddam Hussein two days before (see August 6, 1990). Neither Wilson nor anyone else at the US Embassy in Baghdad leaked the memo, Wilson will aver; he believes the memo was leaked by a senior government official in Washington. The Iraqis are understandably furious at the public revelation of the events of the Hussein-Wilson meeting. When the Iraqis demand to see the US response to Hussein’s proposals as advanced in the meeting, Wilson is instructed by a senior State Department official to tell the Iraqis to “turn on CNN” for the American reply. CNN is broadcasting footage of American C-5 transport planes filled with military equipment bound for Saudi Arabia; the US is beginning its deployment of troops to the region in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 7, 1990). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 124-125]
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein declares a “jihad,” or Islamic holy war, against the US. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] Hussein uses the language of the Afghani Islamist mujaheddin in issuing his jihad. Though he does not expand the jihad to cover Saudi Arabia (the US’s strongest ally in the region), he accuses Saudi Arabia of being the illegitimate guardian of two of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, charges long echoed by both the Islamist militants in Afghanistan as well as in Iran. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. [Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
A sketch of a 1990 US Army GPS system similar to that used by the Air Force. [Source: Department of the Army]Shortly after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a US Air Force official arrives at the Baghdad airport with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver in a briefcase. He is driven to the US Embassy. At the embassy, he takes a position in the courtyard and takes a single GPS reading. He then flies to the US, where he gives the GPS receiver to CIA officials in Langley, Virginia. The CIA determines the precise GPS location of the embassy from the Air Force officer’s reading. That set of grid coordinates will serve as the center of the large and sophisticated coordinate system used to designate military strike targets in and around Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm (see January 16, 1991 and After). [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US diplomat Joseph Wilson meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and asks what Iraq intends to do with the thousands of US citizens in Iraq and Kuwait if the US Embassy decides that most of its personnel should leave. Wilson wants to ensure that no more Americans will be captured and used as hostages (see August 4, 1990, August 8, 1990, and August 17-23, 1990). Wilson is particularly concerned about the 2,000 or so Americans in Kuwait. Aziz says that Iraq will honor its obligations under the Geneva and Vienna Conventions, which specify that innocent civilians must be allowed to leave a war zone and not be held against their will. Wilson informs his State Department superiors in Washington of Aziz’s promises and recommends that every American be moved out of Kuwait as soon as possible—if not out of the region entirely, then at least to Baghdad. Wilson has little confidence in Aziz’s assurances, calling the minister a “lying son of a b_tch” in his communique. Wilson later learns that the decision goes all the way to President Bush, who decides to follow Wilson’s recommendation and order all but the ambassador, Nat Howell, and a skeleton staff to abandon the Kuwait embassy. The US wants to keep the Kuwait embassy open to show that it does not accept Iraq’s claim that Kuwait is no longer a sovereign state and therefore does not warrant its own diplomatic representation from other countries. By August 24, around 120 Americans, many of them diplomats and staffers from the Kuwait embassy, and their families, arrive at the US Embassy in Baghdad. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 135-137]
Saddam Hussein inquires about the health of young British hostage Stuart Lockwood, a scene broadcast on Iraqi television and shown worldwide. [Source: BBC]Iraqi officials announce that their forces will hold the citizens from any country threatening Iraq as hostages until the threats are ended. According to US diplomat Joseph Wilson, currently holed up in the US Embassy in Baghdad with his fellow diplomats, staffers, and at least 100 Americans hoping for protection from Iraqi depredations, the Iraqi announcement ends the fiction that Iraq is holding these citizens as “guests” (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Still, Saddam Hussein tries to maintain the fiction for the press; in what Wilson will describe as “one notorious television appearance,” Hussein ruffles the hair of a seven-year old British boy, Stuart Lockwood, and asks if he had had his milk that day. Wilson will write, “The scared look on Stuart’s face, and his parents’ equally frightened expressions, chilled viewers worldwide.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 133-134; NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
President Bush authorizes the first call-up of US military reservists for service in Operation Desert Shield (see August 7, 1990). The first active duty tours are for 90 days, but will be extended to 180 days in November 1990. [American Forces Press Service, 8/8/2000]
Iraqi officials break their promise to allow the 120 or so Americans who have recently arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait (see August 17, 1990) to leave the country. Ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson is furious. He storms into the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and, failing to find Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, leaves a message for the minister calling him a liar (he substitutes the word “prevaricator” when the Iraqi protocol official suggests using a less inflammatory term). Wilson and his Baghdad embassy colleagues turn their attention to getting the Kuwaiti embassy staffers and their families out of the country, with first priority going to the women and children. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 138]
Iraq abruptly announces that foreign women and children are free to leave the country, effectively releasing them as hostages (see August 17-23, 1990). Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, believes the release was in part precipitated by a humiliating news report from CBS’s Dan Rather. The Egyptian ambassador to Iraq had met earlier with Wilson, and discussed the need for the international community to heighten its propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein. He noted that a statue of Hussein had recently been erected in Arab Knight Square in Baghdad, replacing a statue of an Arab warrior on horseback. At the same time, Iraqi police had forced businesses around the country calling themselves “Arab Knight” to change their names, telling them “there is only one Arab knight in Iraq and you are not it.” Since Hussein wants to be known as the Arab Knight, the Egyptian ambassador says, maybe the world should point out that true Arab knights do not hide behind the skirts of women or behind little children. Wilson liked the idea and passed it on to Rather, who filed a story containing the insult on August 22. On August 25, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accused Hussein of “hiding behind the skirts of women.” Wilson will later write, “While we could not confirm that our campaign to humiliate Saddam was responsible for this decision, we were sure that our general strategy of confrontation (see August 8-9, 1990) had contributed to it.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 134-135]
Iraqi officials claim to have found a memorandum summarizing the November 1989 meeting between CIA Director William Webster and Kuwaiti head of security Brigadier Fahd Ahmed Al-Fahd (see November 1989). According to a Washington Post article, when Kuwait’s foreign minister is confronted with the document at an Arab summit, the minister faints. Iraq cites this memorandum as evidence of a CIA-Kuwaiti plot to destabilize Iraq both politically and economically (see May 28-30, 1990). Both CIA and Kuwaiti officials call the meeting between Webster and al-Fahd “routine,” and claim the memorandum is a forgery. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
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]
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research logo. [Source: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research]A team from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research arrives in the Persian Gulf region to work with “Desert Shield” personnel in handling stress and other psychological issues. [Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, 1/17/2008]
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