April Catherine Glaspie (born April 26, 1942), American diplomat, is best-known for her role in the events leading up to the Gulf War of 1991. Glaspie was born in Vancouver, Canada, and graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1963 and from Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 1965. In 1966 she entered the United States diplomatic service, where she became an expert on the Middle East....
...Glaspie had her first meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on July 25, 1990. What was said at that meeting has been the subject of much speculation. At least two transcripts of the meeting have been published. The State Department has not confirmed the accuracy of these transcripts.
One version of the transcript has Glaspie saying: "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 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?"
Later the transcript has Glaspie saying: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America."
Another version of the transcript (the one published in the New York Times on 23 September 1990) has Glaspie saying: "But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late '60s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi [Chadli Klibi, Secretary General of the Arab League ] or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly."
When these purported transcripts were made public, Glaspie was accused of having given approval for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which took place on August 2, 1990. The transcript, however, does not show any explicit statement of approval of, acceptance of, or foreknowledge of the invasion. Indeed Glaspie's opening question ("Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait's borders?") would suggest that Glaspie (and presumably therefore also the State Department) were unsure of the purpose of the troop concentrations and was concerned about them.
The transcript also shows clearly that when Glaspie expressed the hope that the Iraq-Kuwait dispute would be "solved quickly," she meant "solved by diplomatic means." The references to solving this problem "using any suitable methods via Klibi or via Mubarak" make this clear.
Many have argued that Glaspie's statements that "We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts" and that "the Kuwait issue is not associated with America" were interpreted by Saddam as giving tacit acquiescence to his annexation of Kuwait, while others say that nothing Glaspie says in the published versions of the transcript can be fairly interpreted as implying U.S. approval of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Given that the Iraqi regime sought to arouse international sympathy in order to weaken support for the economic sanctions that had been imposed by the United Nations after the invasion of Kuwait, it is somewhat surprising that Iraqi spokespersons did not attempt to exploit the controversy further, other than by releasing the transcripts. Indeed Tariq Aziz in a 2000 interview for PBS claimed that "There were no mixed signals. We should not forget that the whole period before August 2 witnessed a negative American policy towards Iraq. So it would be quite foolish to think that, if we go to Kuwait, then America would like that." He characterized the meeting with Glaspie as "nothing extraordinary" and said that Saddam "wanted her to carry a message to George Bush--not to receive a message through her from Washington."
Some have argued that Saddam would not likely have invaded Kuwait had he been given an explicit warning that such an invasion would be met with force by the United States. Some argue that Glaspie could only be criticised for not giving such a warning if it can be established that she knew that Saddam was planning an invasion. Glaspie later testified that she had given Saddam such a warning, but no mention of this appears in the published transcripts. This is hardly surprising since these transcripts were released to further Iraq's ends. However, neither has the State Department offered a credible, comprehensive differing account that could convincingly refute Iraq's claims.
Edward Mortimer wrote in the New York Review of Books in November 1990: "It seems far more likely that Saddam Hussein went ahead with the invasion because he believed the US would not react with anything more than verbal condemnation. That was an inference he could well have drawn from his meeting with US Ambassador April Glaspie on July 25, and from statements by State Department officials in Washington at the same time publicly disavowing any US security commitments to Kuwait, but also from the success of both the Reagan and the Bush administrations in heading off attempts by the US Senate to impose sanctions on Iraq for previous breaches of international law."
Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, writing in the New York Times on September 21, 2003, disagrees with this analysis: "In fact, all the evidence indicates the opposite: Saddam Hussein believed it was highly likely that the United States would try to liberate Kuwait, but convinced himself that we would send only lightly armed, rapidly deployable forces that would be quickly destroyed by his 120,000-man Republican Guard. After this, he assumed, Washington would acquiesce to his conquest." Consistent with this line of thought, Tariq Aziz claimed in a 1996 PBS interview that Iraq "had no illusions" prior to the invasion of Kuwait about the likelihood of U.S. military intervention.
James Akins, the American Saudi Ambassador at the time, offered a slightly different perspective, in a 2000 PBS interview: "[Glaspie] took the straight American line, which is we do not take positions on border disputes between friendly countries. That's standard. That's what you always say. You would not have said, "Mr. President, if you really are considering invading Kuwait, by God, we'll bring down the wrath of God on your palaces, and on your country, and you'll all be destroyed." She wouldn't say that, nor would I. Neither would any diplomat."
In April 1991 Glaspie testified before the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate. She said that at the July 25 meeting she had "repeatedly warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein against using force to settle his dispute with Kuwait." She also said that Saddam had lied to her by denying he would invade Kuwait. Asked to explain how Saddam could have interpreted her comments as implying U.S. approval for the invasion of Kuwait, she replied: "We foolishly did not realize he [Saddam] was stupid."
In July 1991 the State Department's spokesperson Rick Boucher said at a press briefing: "We have faith in Ambassador Glaspie's reporting. She sent us cables on her meetings based on notes that were made after the meeting. She also provided five hours or more of testimony in front of the Committee about the series of meetings that she had, including this meeting with Saddam Hussein." The cables that Glaspie sent from Iraq about her meeting with Saddam are apparently still classified.
Subsequently Glaspie was posted to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. She was later posted to South Africa as Consul-General in Cape Town - a perfectly respectable posting but one that must be seen as a "sidelining" for a diplomat who had made her career in the Middle East. She held this post until her retirement in 2002.
Glaspie has remained silent on the subject of her actions in Iraq, apparently allowing herself to be made a scapegoat for the supposed failure of the Bush administration to forsee or prevent the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
In August 2002 the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs published a new account of the Glaspie-Saddam meeting. The author, Andrew I. Kilgore (a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar), summarised the meeting as follows:
- "At their meeting, the American ambassador explained to Saddam that the United States did not take a stand on Arab-Arab conflicts such as Iraq’s border disagreement with Kuwait. She made clear, however, that differences should be settled by peaceful means.
- "Glaspie’s concerns were greatly eased when Saddam told her that the forthcoming Iraq-Kuwait meeting in Jeddah was for protocol purposes, to be followed by substantive discussions to be held in Baghdad.
- "In response to the ambassador’s question, Saddam named a date when Kuwaiti Crown Prince Shaikh Sa’ad Abdallah would be arriving in Baghdad for those substantive discussions. (This appears in retrospect to have been Saddam’s real deception.)"
The points contained in the second and third paragraphs do not appear in the purported transcripts of the Glaspie-Saddam meeting, which were released by Iraq, and on which most of the subsequent criticism of Glaspie is based. If there is a full transcript of the meeting in existence, or if the State Department declassified Glaspie's cables about the meeting, history might reach a different verdict on her performance.
Kilgore concluded his account: "April [Glaspie] has recently retired from the State Department. She does not know these words are being written. But she needs someone to speak out for her. Her loyalty to the system is notable. She has never spoken a word against the Department of State or against Secretary of States James Baker, who might have said — but did not — "We all misjudged Saddam Hussein, and ‘we’ includes me."
Joseph C. Wilson, Glaspie's successor as ambassador to Iraq, referred to her meeting with Saddam Hussein in a Democracy Now interview on May 14, 2004: an "Iraqi participant in the meeting [...] said to me very clearly that Saddam did not misunderstand, did not think he was getting a green or yellow light." However, he does cite a letter signed by President George H. W. Bush that was sent to Iraq a couple of days afterwards, that he describes as having a conciliatory tone.[More....]