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

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George H.W. Bush.George H.W. Bush. [Source: George Herbert Walker Bush.net]CIA Director William Casey meets with Vice President George Bush (himself a former CIA director). Casey is a hardline conservative, nominally at odds with the more traditional, moneyed conservatism of Bush, but Casey has learned to trust Bush’s abilities. “Casey knew there was nobody in government who could keep a secret better,” a former CIA official will observe. “He knew that Bush was someone who could keep his confidence and be trusted. Bush had the same capacity as Casey to receive a briefing and give no hint that he was in the know.” Casey wants Bush to run a secret errand to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, as part of a scheme Casey has concocted to force the hand of Iran (see July 23, 1986). Specifically, Casey wants Bush to have Hussein step up his bombing of Iranian territory. Bush is already going to the Middle East to, as Bush told reporters, “advance the peace process.” Casey’s idea is to force Iran’s hand by having Hussein escalate his air strikes into the heart of that nation; in return, Iran would have to turn to the US for missiles and other air defense weapons. That would give the US leverage in negotiating with Iran for the release of the US hostages it holds. Two Reagan administration officials later say that Casey is also playing two rival policy factions within the administration (see January 14, 1984). Bush complies with Casey’s request; in doing so, Bush, as reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger will write in 1992, puts himself “directly in the center of action—in a role at the very point where a series of covert initiatives with Iraq and Iran converge[s].” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 pdf file; Windrem 8/18/2002)

The US State Department refuses to tighten export licenses for Iraq, even though officials know that Iraq is diverting dual-use technology and equipment for its nuclear-weapons program (see September 1989). (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)

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

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

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.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)

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)

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

April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein.April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein. [Source: Wilson's Almanac]The US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, goes to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to meet with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, to deliver a statement made earlier in the week by State Department spokesperson Margaret Tutwiler. The statement is equivocal about Iraq’s belligerent pose towards Kuwait (see July 22, 1990), noting that although the US has no mutual defense pact with Kuwait, “Iraq and others know there is no place for coercion and intimidation in the civilized world.” Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson will later describe Glaspie as having “a keen mind and a profound understanding of the issues.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 98)
One-on-One with Saddam Hussein - Shortly after her meeting with Aziz, she is summoned back to the Foreign Ministry and driven from there to a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Wilson will write: “This was unprecedented. During the two years she had been ambassador, Saddam had never held a private meeting with her, delegating all contact to Aziz or other underlings.” During the meeting, Glaspie promises Hussein that President Bush wants “better and deeper relations.” She tells Hussein that Bush is an “intelligent man,” and adds, “He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.” (Dobbs 12/30/2002; arsenal 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; Marshall 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).

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.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)

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)

Iraqi tanks poised to roll into Kuwait.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. (Frantz and Waas 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)

The US military’s ‘Desert Shield’ logo.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)

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

Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie is confronted with transcripts of her July meeting with Saddam Hussein, where she told Hussein that the US had “no position” on Iraq’s dispute with Kuwait, a statement that Hussein apparently took as tacit US permission to invade its neighbor (see July 25, 1990). A British reporter asks Glaspie, “You encouraged this aggression—his invasion. What were you thinking?” Glaspie replies, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait,” to which the astounded journalist asks, “You thought he was just going to take some of it? But how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed, he would give up his Iran [Shatt al Arab] goal for the ‘whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be.’ You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as an historic part of their country!” When Glaspie refuses to answer, the journalist continues, “America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay—that the US would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumalya oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands—territories claimed by Iraq?” Again, Glaspie refuses to respond, and is driven away in a limousine before she can refuse to answer further questions. (Lando 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.” (Lando 2/23/2007)

George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney.George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney. [Source: Representational Pictures]President Bush, reeling from the Republican defeat in the midterm elections two days before, announces the deployment of 200,000 more troops around the Persian Gulf to augment the 250,000 already in place. Bush announces the deployment without consulting or advising Congress, a brush-off that angers many legislators who feel that Bush kept this from Congress in order to make sure it did not become an election issue. Bush is also weighing the advice of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who argues that the president does not need the authorization of Congress to wage war. (Dean 2007, pp. 90)

Admiral William Crowe.Admiral William Crowe. [Source: Associated Press]Admiral William Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, breaks with the Bush administration to come out for the continuation of US sanctions (see August 6, 1990) and against the proposed war against Iraq (see November 29, 1990). Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Crowe says: “[W]e should give sanctions a fair chance before we discard them.… If, in fact, the sanctions will work in twelve to eighteen months instead of six months, a trade-off of avoiding war, with its attendant sacrifices and uncertainties, would in my estimation be more than worth it.” Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, is dismayed at Crowe’s stance. The embassy had sent a report to Washington weeks before stating the opinion of the embassy diplomats and staff that sanctions were not having the desired effect; though they were eroding Saddam Hussein’s military structure, Wilson and his staff concluded, they would not in and of themselves force Hussein out of Kuwait any time soon. Economic sanctions would take years, perhaps a decade or more, to have the effect the US wants. “By that time,” Wilson will later write, “he would have looted the Kuwait treasury, found ways around the sanctions, and repopulated Kuwait with Iraqis so as to rig any vote on the future of the country. Sanctions would make the war easier, we believed, but not unnecessary, as long as our goal was to liberate Kuwait.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 161-162)

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

With Iraqi forces occupying much of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that predicts, wrongly, that Iraq will withdraw from Kuwait rather than face a US invasion (see January 16, 1991 and After). (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003) This is a follow-up to the consensus among US intelligence agencies that Iraq would not invade Kuwait (see Mid-1990).

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

One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm.One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” (US Navy 9/17/1997)
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” (US Navy 9/17/1997; NationMaster 12/23/2007) Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 141)

In the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, UN inspectors uncover evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program far more advanced than the US intelligence community had predicted. Disgusted by this and other intelligence failures (see Mid-1990 and Late December 1990), Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and his cadre of neoconservatives and hardliners in the Pentagon (see Late March 1989 and After) come to consider the intelligence community, and particularly the CIA, as, in the words of reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman, “not only inept but lazy, unimaginative, and arrogant—‘a high priesthood’ in their derisive terminology.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)

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

While the Bush White House publicly denies any desire for war with Iraq, and says it is committed to working with the United Nations to find a diplomatic course of action, behind the scenes the administration’s lawyers are working on a legal justification for war. White House counsel Timothy Flanigan develops a legal position that argues the president needs no Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Flanigan’s superior, chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, presents Flanigan’s legal rationale to President Bush. Flanigan’s chief argument is that the president’s “inherent power as commander in chief” (see 1901-1909 and June 2, 1952) gives him the right to unilaterally take the country to war. Flanigan’s backup position is invoking the 1991 Congressional authorization for the Persian Gulf War (see January 9-13, 1991), and the UN Security Council’s resolutions from that time period (see November 29, 1990). Nevertheless, the White House will demand an authorization for war from Congress (see October 11, 2002)—an authorization White House officials say Bush has no intention of using except as a means of bringing diplomatic pressure against Iraq. (Savage 2007, pp. 156)


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