Who Lost Kuwait?

September 20, 1990

Before Democrats escalate the above question into a partisan issue, they had better search their collective historical memory. For it was a right-wing Republican battle cry -- "Who lost China?" -- that gave rise to McCarthyism 40 years ago. And it was the charge that Washington utterly misjudged North Korea's designs South Korea that left the Truman administration open to GOP attack even when that ugly war was going on.

Now we are hearing Democratic legislators assail "the apologist crowd" in Jim Baker's State Department for miscalculating Saddam Hussein's intentions toward Kuwait. Sound familiar? During and after the Korean War, Republicans accused Secretary of State Dean Acheson of giving the Korean Communists a "green light" to attack by describing a U.S. "defensive perimeter" that did not include South Korea. Such charges grew out of earlier McCarthyite assertions that the State Department was riddled with Communists, some of whom were eager to cede China to Communist "agrarian reformers."

There were indeed officials in the Marshall-Acheson State Department who calculated U.S. interests would be better served -- as Richard Nixon discovered more than two decades later -- by seeking an accommodation with the Mao regime. And there were any number of high-rankers in the Truman administration and in the military (Douglas MacArthur included) who failed to anticipate the North Korean attack on South Korea.

Scapegoats were available then, as they are today, because it is not easy to look inside the brain of an arbitrary dictator. Our hapless ambassador, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein a week before the invasion and in response to outrageous threats merely said the United States had no official position on "Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Was this an Acheson-style "green light?" John H. Kelly, an assistant secretary of State, repeatedly rebuffed congressional attempts -- before the invasion -- to impose severe economic sanctions on the Iraqi regime for its deplorable human rights record.

This newspaper does not condone Ambassador Glaspie's performance; we believe Saddam Hussein should have received tougher response. Nor did we ever accept Secretary Kelly's rationale for a soft approach toward Baghdad. During the Iranian hostage crisis a decade ago, we warned that a tilt toward Iraq would be contrary U.S. strategic interests. "The United States should be prepared to use its influence and leverage to prevent the disintegration of Iran," we stated. When Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear weapons site, we applauded.

So in urging Democrats to avoid the "Who Lost . . .?" syndrome, we do not do so out of any misconceptions about Iraq or any defense of Bush pre-invasion policies. Rather, we do so because we want this country united as war threatens.

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