George Bush Sr. took no actions to deter Saddam Hussein
from invading neighboring Kuwait on August 2nd, 1990.
Did his inaction proceed from a failure of the CIA and
other agencies to collect and transmit intelligence of
the impending attack or from a judgment failure of President
Bush, Sr. and his National Security apparatus?
It was a risk assessment failure
on the part of President Bush and his national security
apparatus, which included Brent Scowcroft, his national
security advisor, Secretary of State James Baker, Secretary
of Defense Richard Cheney and Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.
In early July 1990, Saddam threatened Kuwait for conspiring
to destroy Iraq economy and stealing Iraqi oil by cross-drilling.
Then on July 17th, two weeks prior to the invasion,
a US KH-11 satellite passing over the previously empty
desert area between Iraq and Kuwait spotted Iraqi troops
assembling on the Iraqi side of the border.
When the National Reconnaissance Office focused other
satellite imaging devices on the area, it identified
over the next week a formidable Iraqi force that included
300 of Saddam Hussein's most modern T-72 tanks, an elite
Republican Guard division, and about 35,000 Iraqi troops
poised in a coil formation on Kuwait's northern border.
Even more ominous, a long line of fuel trucks had joined
the tail of the coil, indicating the force was prepared
to move an extended distance.
Those examining the imagery included Colonel Walter P.
Lang of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Charles
Eugene Allen, the national intelligence officer for warning.
They had little doubt that this was an invasion force
preparing to attack Kuwait. By July 23 the DIA was conducting
twice-a-day briefings on the Iraqi deployments. On August
1, Allen (correctly) warned the National Security Council's
staff that Iraq would invade Kuwait with 24 hours.
The Bush White House had no reason to doubt Saddam's hostile
intent towards Kuwait. On July 25th, the State Department
instructed Ambassador April Glaspie to directly ask Saddam
why his troops were massed close to Kuwait's borders.
According to the State Department transcript, Saddam
answered: "As you know, for years now I have made every
effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait.
There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to
give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause)
When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see
there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are
unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that
Iraq will not accept death."
He therefore made it clear
that if Kuwait failed to acquiesce to his demands by
July 27th, he intended to take other actions against
Kuwait, and he made no effort to conceal the continued
military build up from US satellites.
So there was no lack of solid intelligence. By July
27th, the National Security staff in the White House
knew the precise order of battle of Saddam's invasion
force, and, from the fuel tankers, that its range extended
to Kuwait City. It also knew from Glaspie's meeting
that not only had Saddam not renounced the use of force,
but stated that he planned to take action against Kuwait.
The issue for Bush was assessing the risk of an invasion
against the cost of taking action, such as moving US
jets planes to the region or issuing a warning.
Bush had many scenarios to choose from: 1) Saddam was
bluffing and would not invade an Arab country (As Egyptian
President Mubarak had suggested), 2) Iraq would move
into the Rumayla oilfield, where it accused Kuwait of
drilling into an adjacent Iraqi field 3) Iraq would
take the disputed islands of Warba and Bubiyan (as Soviet
Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze suggested) or 4)
Saddam intended to occupy all of Kuwait.
Bush, as President, made a judgment call: not to act.
In doing so, he mistook intelligence from his agencies
(satellite imagery) for disinformation (bluffing) and
mistook misinformation from foreign sources (Shevardnadze,
Mubarak) for intelligence.