The First Bush War


Since so many of the people involved in preparations for the war against Iraq (Cheney, Powell, and Wolfowitz being the most prominent) worked in the first Bush administration and had a hand in crafting Desert Storm in 1991, there is renewed speculation as to whether that war was a put-up job by Bush senior.

Among the stated reasons for Desert Storm was the need to repulse Iraqi troops massed along the Saudi border, ready to invade our ally and chief source of oil. Suspicions go back to an investigation by the St. Petersburg Times, which obtained two Soviet commercial satellite images from that time period that show no Iraqi troops massed along the Saudi border.

And before and during that war there was considerable interest in reports of a meeting between Saddam and U.S. ambassador April Glaspie in which she purportedly told him, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts such as your dispute with Kuwait” and “Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction . . . that Kuwait is not associated with America.” This view seems to have been supported by congressional testimony from Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who claimed that Bush was not taking sides between Iraq and Kuwait. The U.S. government insisted the troop buildup would be confirmed by satellite photos, which were classified and have never been released. As The Christian Science Monitor summarizes the story, after the war a House Armed Services Committee report found that Iraq had massed only 183,000 troops, not the nearly half a million often mentioned by the government. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was quoted on Frontline as saying, “The Iraqis may not have been as strong as we thought they were . . . but that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me. We put in place a force that would deal with it—whether they were 300,000 or 500,000.”

And there were the little things, like the heart-wrenching account by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl volunteering in a hospital who said she watched as Iraqi soldiers barged in and stole incubators, leaving some 300 babies to die on the floor. Bush senior referred to these “ghastly atrocities” on several occasions. It turned out, as we now know, that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. and had no connection to any hospital in Kuwait. She had been prepped by Hill & Knowlton, the public relations firm, along with others who were brought on to “corroborate” her story.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John, Alicia Ng, and Ashley Glacel