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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor