from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


The Gulf War of early 1991 didn't change much. Our old buddy, the despotic Emir of Kuwait, is back on his throne. Our former buddy, Saddam Hussein, while knocked down a peg or two, is still in power and as brutal as ever. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, hundreds of US veterans are suffering from a mysterious disease, and the Persian Gulf has been ravaged by the largest oil spill in history. The question naturally arises, could any of this have been avoided?

The whole dispute started because Kuwait was slant-drilling. Using equipment bought from National Security Council chief Brent Scowcroft's old company, Kuwait was pumping out some $14-billion worth of oil from underneath Iraqi territory. Even the territory they were drilling from had originally been Iraq's. Slant-drilling is enough to get you shot in Texas, and it's certainly enough to start a war in the Mideast.

Even so, this dispute could have been negotiated. But it's hard to avoid a war when what you're actually doing is trying to provoke a war.

The most famous example of that is the meeting between Saddam and the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, five days before Iraq invaded Kuwait. As CIA satellite photos showed an Iraqi invasion force massing on the Kuwaiti border, Glaspie told Hussein that "the US takes no position" on Iraq's dispute with Kuwait.

A few days later, during last-minute negotiations, Kuwait's foreign minister said: "We are not going to respond to [Iraq]....If they don't like it, let them occupy our territory....We are going to bring in the Americans." The US reportedly encouraged Kuwait's attitude.

Pitting the two countries against each other was nothing new. Back in 1989, CIA Director William Webster advised Kuwait's security chief to "take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq to put pressure on Iraq.'' At the same time, a CIA-linked think tank was advising Saddam to put pressure on the Kuwaitis.

A month earlier, the Bush administration issued a secret directive that called for greater economic cooperation with Iraq. This ultimately resulted in billions of dollars of illegal arms sales to Saddam.

The Gulf War further destabilized the region and made Kuwait more dependent on us. US oil companies can now exert more control over oil prices (and thus boost their profits). The US military got an excuse to build more bases in the region (which Saudi Arabia, for one, didn't want) and the war also helped justify the "need" to continue exorbitant levels of military spending. Finally, it sent a message to Third World leaders about what they could expect if they dared to step out of line.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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