Foggy Bottom Smokescreen


March 26, 1991|By GARRY WILLS

CHICAGO. — The Glaspie affair was murkier after April Glaspie's congressional appearance than before.

For seven months, Congress had waited to find out from our ambassador to Iraq what went wrong before the invasion of Kuwait. The State Department had kept her under wraps during that time. Secretary of State James Baker distanced himself from her with the comment that the instructions she was following, whatever they were, were just part of a heavy cable load for him.

It looked as if there were something to hide. But now Madam Ambassador and her suddenly supportive State Department say there was something to proclaim. Then why did they not proclaim it? Ms. Glaspie, we are now asked to believe, was very forthright and tough with Saddam Hussein, but he lied about what she had told him. He released a false report of the conversation.

Then why was this not said earlier? The State Department claims it did not want to distract from the coalition-building effort that went into our preparation for war. But publishing Ms. Glaspie's claim (that is all that has been done even now -- no documents have been released) would have helped prepare the way for war.

Congress was balking, on the eve of war, noting how friendly the administration had been to Mr. Hussein just before then, and the Glaspie report was the prize item in its catalog of reasons for going slow. If our government had not in fact been ''soft'' on Mr. Hussein at the last moment, then his defiance of the world was all the more striking, the reasons for fearing and resisting him more perspicuous to other nations as well as to ourselves.

Leaks from the State Department to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times hint that Ms. Glaspie, though perhaps not as soft as Mr. Hussein made her out to be, was not as tough as she would like to suggest at this point.

Why not release the relevant documents, so Congress can decide? The State Department suggests it does not want to break ''diplomatic confidentiality,'' though that has been done on far less provocation, in the past, than Mr. Hussein's unilateral (and allegedly false) publication of his side of the story. If no other way can be found for Congress to discover what went on, it should be given access to the documents in executive session.

The story, as so far revealed, makes no sense. Perhaps the documents reveal more than the State Department wants known about such sensitive matters as the pro-Israeli attacks on ''Arabists'' in the State Department. Trying to do business with the Arabs -- which is the business of those on the Arab desk in the department -- is considered wrong-headed by those who find all rights in the Middle East represented by Israel.

Whatever the State Department's reason for hiding information from the only body authorized to declare war and to demand accountability for the conduct of war, this problem should be addressed more forthrightly and effectively than in the fumbling gestures the committee members came up with when they questioned Ambassador Glaspie.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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