April Glaspie

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April Catherine Glaspie
April Glaspie meets Saddam Hussein in 1990 (Sadoun al-Zubaydi center)
13th United States Ambassador to Iraq
In office
September 5, 1988 – July 30, 1990
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Preceded byDavid George Newton
Succeeded byJoseph C. Wilson
Personal details
Born (1942-04-26) April 26, 1942 (age 82)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Alma materJohns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

April Catherine Glaspie (born April 26, 1942) is an American former diplomat and senior member of the Foreign Service, best known for her role in the events leading up to the Gulf War.

Early life[edit]

Glaspie was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California, in 1963, and from Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 1965.

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 1988. 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.

Subsequently, Glaspie was posted to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City. She was later posted to South Africa as Consul general in Cape Town. She held this post until her retirement in 2002.


United States Ambassador to Iraq[edit]

Meetings with Saddam Hussein[edit]

Glaspie's appointment as U.S. ambassador to Iraq followed a period from 1980 to 1989[1] during which the United States had given covert support to Iraq during its war with Iran.

Glaspie had her first meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, on July 25, 1990. In her telegram from July 25, 1990, to the Department of State, Glaspie summarized the meeting as follows:

Saddam told the ambassador on July 25 that Mubarak has arranged for Kuwaiti and Iraqi delegations to meet in Riyadh, and then on July 28, 29 or 30, the Kuwaiti crown prince will come to Baghdad for serious negotiations. "Nothing serious will happen" before then, Saddam had promised Mubarak.[citation needed]

One version of the transcript has Glaspie saying:[citation needed]

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:[citation needed]

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.

Another version of the transcript (the one published in The New York Times on 23 September 1990) has Glaspie saying:

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 1960s. 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.[2][3] 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 September 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."[4]

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:[5]

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.[4] 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." Saddam, in turn, offered "warm greetings" to Bush and was "surely sincere" about not wanting war, the cable said.[6]

Glaspie herself for years remained silent on the subject of her actions in Iraq. But in March 2008 she gave an interview to the Lebanese newspaper Dar Al-Hayat.[7] In the interview, she said she has no regrets. "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 do, 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, prepared by Saddam's official English language translator, Sadoun al-Zubaydi, records Saddam saying that Mubarak called before he met with Glaspie. [8] [1]

Retrospective views[edit]

In 2002, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs published a new account of the Glaspie-Saddam meeting by Andrew Killgore, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar. Killgore summarized the meeting as follows:[9]

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.

James Akins, the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, offered a somewhat different perspective in a 2000 interview on PBS:[10]

[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."

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.[11]

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, writing in The New York Times on February 21, 2003, disagreed with the previously cited views of observers like Edward Mortimer. On Mortimer's stated belief that it was likely Saddam Hussein went ahead with the invasion because he drew as inference from his meeting with Glaspie that the US would react with nothing more than verbal condemnation, Pollack said:

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.

Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write in the January/February 2003 edition of Foreign Policy that Saddam approached the U.S. to find out how it would react to an invasion into Kuwait. Along with Glaspie's comment that "'[W]e have no opinion on the Arab–Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait', the U.S. State Department had earlier told Saddam that Washington had 'no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.' The United States may not have intended to give Iraq a green light, but that is effectively what it did."[12]

Following the US diplomatic cables leak and the January 2011 publication of Glaspie's July 1990 cable describing her discussion with Saddam, Juan Cole noted that Glaspie "pressed the dictator on the meaning of his troop build-up on the Kuwaiti border, letting him clearly know of American anxieties," and argued that "her infamous reference to the U.S. not getting involved in inter-Arab disputes referred to a limited issue, the exact border between Iraq and Kuwait, and could not possibly have been interpreted as permission to invade Kuwait!" Cole concluded: "Ms. Glaspie's detractors owe her an apology."[13][14]

In his 2024 book The Achilles Trap, Steve Coll argues that Glaspie became a convenient scapegoat for broader United States Government failures to recognize and respond to Saddam Hussein's intention to invade Kuwait. Coll suggests Glaspie was especially constrained by the positive attitudes toward Saddam of the Bush administration at that time:

[Glaspie] became a convenient distraction from the fact that her boss, President Bush, wrote several ingratiating letters to Saddam during 1990. Glaspie was in no position to threaten Saddam with America's military might, absent instructions; Bush was commander in chief.

Additionally, Coll points to Saddam's admission years later, and recent supporting evidence, that the meeting with Glaspie had little impact on his intention to invade, which at the time of the meeting was already decided.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

Glaspie was portrayed by Jacqueline King in the limited series House of Saddam.[16]


  1. ^ a b Bradsher, Keith (10 February 1994). "Senator Says U.S. Let Iraq Get Lethal Viruses". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  2. ^ Saddam's message of friendship to George Bush Sept 23, 1990
  3. ^ Excerpts From Iraqi Document on Meeting with U.S. Envoy Sept 23, 1990
  4. ^ a b Ex-Envoy Details Hussein Meeting washingtonpost.com
  5. ^ "US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #113". Archived from the original on 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
  6. ^ American Embassy in Iraq (July 25, 1990). "Saddam's Message of Friendship to President Bush" (PDF) – via The Washington Post.
  7. ^ Dar Al Hayat
  8. ^ Bradsher, Keith (1994-02-10). "Senator Says U.S. Let Iraq Get Lethal Viruses". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-01.
  9. ^ "Tales of the Foreign Service: In Defense of April Glaspie" Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2002
  10. ^ "Interviews - James Akins - The Survival Of Saddam - FRONTLINE - PBS". PBS.
  11. ^ "Interviews - Tariq Aziz - The Survival Of Saddam - FRONTLINE - PBS". PBS.
  12. ^ John Mearsheimer; Stephen Walt (Jan–Feb 2003). "An unnecessary war". Foreign Policy (134): 54.
  13. ^ Jeffery, Simon (2011-01-07). "WikiLeaks: the latest developments". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  14. ^ Cole, Juan (2011-01-03). "Glaspie Memo Vindicates Her, Shows Saddam's Thinking". Informed Comment. Retrieved 2017-10-12.
  15. ^ Coll, Steve (2024). The Achilles Trap: Saddam Hussein, the C.I.A., and the Origins of America's Invasion of Iraq. Penguin Press. pp. 169–170. ISBN 9780525562269.
  16. ^ "Jacqueline King". AHA. Retrieved 2020-01-01.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Iraq
Succeeded by
post abolished