Thursday, March 26, 2020

How Saddam’s View Of the US As A Threat Led To Kuwait Invasion

Many took US Amb to Iraq Glaspie's meeting with Saddam as the Bush Admin okaying his invasion of Kuwait but that proved wrong (The Diplomat)

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 many initially believed this was okayed by the Bush administration. That mainly arose from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie’s meeting with the Iraqi leader just before the conflict started. She told Saddam that the U.S. had no position on the Iraq-Kuwait border issue. That made headlines even though she also told him that the White House opposed the use of force to resolve the matter. Captured Iraqi documents found after 2003 revealed that not only did Saddam not take the conversation with Ambassador Glaspie as a kind of approval, but that he believed invading Kuwait was a way to stand up to what he saw as America’s plots against him.

Three factors shaped how Saddam Hussein viewed America. First, Baathist ideology promoted Arab nationalism and opposition to Western imperialism. That led Saddam to think that Iraq and the U.S. would always be on opposite sides as it wanted to dominate the Middle East while the Baath wanted to unite the Arabs against such powers. Second, the Iraqi leader came up during a period of coups and conspiracies in Iraq that made him paranoid that the United States was plotting against him. He believed Washington was involved in nearly everything that happened in the Middle East. Last, was America’s foreign policy such as backing Israel and Kurdish rebels in the 1970s, which were against Baghdad’s interests. These all shaped Iraq’s interactions with America and how Saddam interpreted its foreign policy.

The Baathist papers showed that Saddam was convinced the United States was anti-Iraq. For instance, he thought the U.S. was behind the 1979 Iranian Revolution and wanted to replace the Shah with someone more pro-American who would oppose Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq War he saw Washington’s hand at work when Israel sold weapons to Iran. While the Americans gave Iraq strategic intelligence on its opponent, Saddam thought the U.S. was spying on Iraq more. Many of Iraq’s major defeats during the war he blamed on U.S. aid to Tehran. The 1985 Iran-Contra scandal only confirmed his views. He later told Yasser Arafat that Iran-Contra was really meant to help Iran overthrow him. Towards the end of the war Baghdad launched the Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Congress criticized the use of poison gas against civilians, and Saddam took that as evidence that the U.S. was backing the Kurds. When coup rumors spread in Baghdad in 1988-1989 Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz told Secretary of State James Baker that the U.S was responsible. In 1989-90 America feared an Iranian attack on Kuwait and offered joint naval operations as a deterrent. Again, Saddam believed those maneuvers were actually aimed at him. Here you have the three factors mentioned above all working together. Saddam believed that America was imperialist and would always try to control Iraq. He also took almost every action by Washington and his neighbors to be a plot. Last, America’s own actions like Iran-Contra reinforced the Iraqi leader’s paranoia.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 therefore, it didn’t do that because it thought it had America’s okay, but rather because it saw Bush as the cause of Baghdad’s problems. Iraq emerged from the Iran-Iraq War with a huge debt it could not repay. Saddam came to focus not only on Kuwait but the United States once again as the reason behind this. In March 1990 Saddam said the U.S. was working with Kuwait to reduce oil prices, which was Iraq’s main source of revenue. In July Saddam told his advisers that Kuwait was a pawn of the U.S. Finally, in October 1990 after he invaded his neighbor the Iraqi leader said that Iraq had to confront the U.S.-Kuwait conspiracy vs Iraq. Saddam’s meeting with Ambassador Glaspie then was not taken as the Bush Administration approving of an attack upon Kuwait. In fact, Iraqi intelligence warned that the U.S. would support Kuwait and at a meeting Saddam pointed out that he considered a confrontation with President Bush before the invasion. Many misinterpreted what happened in 1990. Saddam thought he was facing economic warfare master minded by President Bush who wanted to destroy Iraq’s oil industry by telling Kuwait to over produce, drive down prices, which would in turn make it impossible for Baghdad to pay back its war debts. Those that believed the U.S. encouraged Iraq or tricked it into going to war were also wrong. Saddam felt like he was standing up to America with his decision. Last but not least, Bush’s policy was to improve relations with Iraq and make it a force for stability in the region after the Shah was deposed in Iran. Nothing the president did changed Saddam’s perception that the United States was an enemy opposed to Iraq’s ideology and position in the region. Invading Kuwait was Saddam’s second great blunder after the Iran-Iraq War. He made both because he didn’t understand what he was facing or the consequences of his actions, and it cost him dearly.


Brands, Hal, Palkki, David, “”Conspiring Bastards”: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic View of the United States* Diplomatic History, 4/24/12

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