Saddam Hussein once famously believed that the United States was a country whose people couldn’t handle 10,000 dead in a war. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen because no one has been able to inflict those kinds of losses on the U.S. since Vietnam. But we all know Saddam was a-okay with taking those kinds of losses.
Still, he really didn’t believe he would have to take those losses when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. He honestly believed the United States gave him the green light for the invasion.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Iraq was heavily indebted to the rest of the world after its disastrous war with Iran failed to achieve much of anything at all, let alone seizing Iranian oil production and revenues. But what it did leave Iraq with was the world’s fifth largest army – the means by which Saddam Hussein could pay his debts.
If you just failed to take another country’s oil fields, the solution must be to take another country’s oil fields, amirite?
(Kuwait News Agency)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Saddam wanted to increase oil revenues by getting OPEC member countries to reduce production and raise the price of oil. Kuwait didn’t even pay lip service to this idea, producing more than the OPEC quota and keeping the price lower than Iraq wanted. The two countries were in a border dispute at the time and Kuwait was using the oil price as leverage. This infuriated the Iraqi dictator, and his overtures toward raising the price of oil irked his American allies.
To make matters worse for Hussein, the dictator believed Saudi Arabia and Kuwait should forgive the billion Iraq owed them for the Iran-Iraq War because he believed Iraq was keeping Iranian Shia influence out of their countries and protecting their governments. The fact that they wouldn’t forgive the debt further flamed tensions.
President George H. W. Bush continued many of his predecessor’s policies toward Iraq and the Middle East. His ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein halfway between Bush’s term in office. She stressed to the dictator that the United States had no interest in a trade war with Iraq.
“Guys, I just got a great idea. Hear me out…”
In the same meeting between Glaspie and Hussein, the U.S. Ambassador told the Iraqi dictator that the United States had no opinion on its border dispute with Kuwait, and its chief interest in the matter was the price of oil.
“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.”
The situation between Iraq and Kuwait kept deteriorating, to the point that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attempted to step in to mediate the disagreement and prevent a war. When that failed, Saddam Hussein ordered his forces into Kuwait to settle the matter by force. The entire time, he emphasized that he wanted good relations with the United States and was genuinely surprised to find his actions condemned by the Bush Administration.
When prompted about the meeting in Congressional testimony, Glaspie simple explained, “we had no idea he would go that far.”
“I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and rolled over the Kuwaitis in just two days. Iraq then annexed Kuwait as its 19th province with Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka “Chemical Ali”) as governor. They were expelled by a U.S.-led multinational coalition after a 40-day air war and a 100-hour ground campaign.