How the heroine of 1985 took the rap for Gulf war

MISSING PERSONS. April Glaspie

Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher are women who have gone to war. A woman, in the person of Helen of Troy, has been the prize in a war. But April Glaspie, long and distinguished servant of the US State Department, has a probably unique distinction. She must be the only woman accused (quite unjustly) of bringing about a war by her own incompetence.

April Glaspie? Why should anyone be concerned with an unassuming, somewhat austere woman in her early fifties, who since January has been running operations of the UN's Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank? But four years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, it was quite otherwise.

The US-led coalition had routed Iraq, but burning questions remained - most notably whether Washington had inadvertently given President Saddam Hussein the green light to invade Kuwait. And for a week or two, culminating in her appearances before hearings that were a Capitol Hill version of the OJ Simpson trial, Ms Glaspie, the last US ambassador to Baghdad, was one of the most famous people in America.

All revolved around her meeting with President Saddam on 25 July 1990, when Iraqi armour was massing near the frontier with Kuwait. According to an Iraqi transcript, she told her host that Washington had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait". The US, it could be construed, wouldn't be too upset if Baghdad took matters into its own hands.

Now, that anyone should believe an Iraqi transcript of anything beggars the imagination. But some people, in their eagerness to prove the Bush administration had cozied up with Iraq before August 1990, were ready to swallow this one. Cool and dignified, Ms Glaspie performed impressively at the hearings, as she denounced the text as "a fabrication and disinformation". Even that, however, did not clear the air. After her trial by television was over, Ms Glaspie retreated to Californian obscurity, as ambassador- in-residence at a San Diego University. Only in 1993 did she return to active duty at State's Bureau of African Affairs. There she came in for more controversy as political adviser to Admiral Jonathan Howe, the American who largely ran the ill-fated UN humanitarian mission in Somalia. If she had ever been soft on Saddam, she most certainly was not so on the warlord Mohammed Aideed. In doing so, critics say, she helped provoke his hostility to the UN, with disastrous consequences.

In fact, April Glaspie is anything but a bungler. Among the State Department's leading Middle Eastern experts, she was the first woman to serve as US ambassador to an Arab country when she went to Baghdad in 1987. Earlier she was at the US mission in Damascus, where the Secretary of State, George Shultz, called her a "heroine" for her work in securing the release of 104 Americans held hostage on TWA flight 847 in 1985.

Her great mistake, made by so many others, was to believe that Saddam Hussein behaves rationally. Five days after that 25 July meeting, she went on holiday. On 2 August she was to learn that his tanks were in Kuwait. Today she is back in the Middle East. But she is understood to have no plans for a sentimental journey to Baghdad.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker