In 1966 Glaspie entered the United States foreign service, where she became an expert on the Middle East. After postings in Kuwait, Syria, and Egypt, Glaspie was appointed ambassador to Iraq in 1989. She was the first woman to be appointed an American ambassador to an Arab country. She had a reputation as a respected Arabist, and her instructions were to broaden cultural and commercial contacts with the Iraqi regime in hopes of "civilizing" it.
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. She held this post until her retirement in 2002.
Glaspie's appointment as U.S. ambassador to Iraq followed a period from 1980 to 1988 during which the United States had given covert support to Iraq during its war with Iran. Although the full extent of U.S. assistance to Iraq during the period remains unknown, it was purportedly substantial; the Soviet Union and France also supplied aid to Iraq.
It was in this context that Glaspie had her first meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, on July 25, 1990. At least two transcripts of the meeting have been published. The State Department has not confirmed the accuracy of these transcripts, but Glaspie's cable has been released at the Bush Library and placed online by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
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."
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 (Chedli 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 tacit approval for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which took place on August 2, 1990. It was 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 free rein to handle his disputes with Kuwait as he saw fit. It was also argued that Saddam would not have invaded Kuwait had he been given an explicit warning that such an invasion would be met with force by the United States. Journalist 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.
In Septemer, 1990, a pair of British journalists confronted Glaspie with the transcript of her meeting with Saddam Hussein, to which she replied that "Obviously, I didn't think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.".
In April 1991 Glaspie testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 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 State Department spokesperson Richard 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 no longer classified. The cables suggest that she was largely carrying out a policy that was pushed by State at the time: Seeking to improve relations with Iraq. Glaspie's cable on her meeting with Saddam reports that President George H.W. Bush "had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq." Hussein, in turn, offered "warm greetings" to Bush and was "surely sincere" about not wanting war, the cable said.
Glaspie herself for years remained silent on the subject of her actions in Iraq, allowing herself to be made a scapegoat for the supposed failure of the Bush administration to foresee or prevent the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But in March 2008 she gave an interview to the Lebanese newspaper Dar al-Hayat. In the interview, she said she has no regrets about what happened to her. "It is over," Glaspie said. "Nobody wants to take the blame. I am quite happy to take the blame. Perhaps I was not able to make Saddam Hussein believe that we would do what we said we would so, but in all honesty, I don't think anybody in the world could have persuaded him."
In the interview, Glaspie recalled that her meeting with Saddam was interrupted when the Iraqi president received a phone call from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Saddam told her he had assured Mubarak that he would try to settle the dispute, she said. Her cable backs up this version of events; the Iraqi transcript has Saddam saying that Mubarak called before he met with Glaspie.
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 referenced in the second and third paragraphs do not appear in the purported transcripts of the Glaspie-Saddam meeting that 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 declassifies Glaspie's cables about the meeting, a different assessment might be reached on her performance.
[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.
Joseph C. Wilson, Glaspie's Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, referred to her meeting with Saddam Hussein in a May 14, 2004 interview on Democracy Now!: 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, Wilson also cited a letter signed by President George H. W. Bush that was sent to Iraq a couple of days afterwards, which he described as having a conciliatory tone.
Wilson's and Akins' views on this question are in line with those of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who stated in a 1996 interview with Frontline that, prior to the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq "had no illusions" about the likelihood of U.S. military intervention. Similarly, in a 2000 Frontline interview, Aziz declared, "There were no mixed signals", and further elaborated:
...it was a routine meeting. ... She didn't say anything extraordinary beyond what any professional diplomat would say without previous instructions from his government. She did not ask for an audience with the president [Saddam]. She was summoned by the president. ... She was not prepared.... People in Washington were asleep, so she needed a half-hour to contact anybody in Washington and seek instructions. So, what she said were routine, classical comments on what the president was asking her to convey to President Bush.
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.
The Silence of the Diplomat;Now That the War Is Over, Will April Glaspie Go Public on Her Meeting With Saddam?
Mar 15, 1991; April Glaspie is getting a crash course on the ironies of Washington: While her boss, Secretary of State James Baker, enjoys an...