It was a classic turning point in history. Two people meet in a room for two hours. Afterward, a war is launched.
A half-million Americans go to battle, billions are spent, tens of thousands of people die.
So what happened in that room? What really happened in that two-hour meeting last year between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and American Ambassador April Glaspie?
We are just now finding out the truth of it. Secret cables have been released. Charges are flying. Defenses are being readied.
We know that Glaspie, a 25-year veteran of the Foreign Service, was summoned to the Presidential Palace in Baghdad July 25, 1990. It was to be the first private meeting she had with Saddam, even though she had been in the country for two years.
She is alone. Saddam is in uniform, wearing a sidearm. Glaspie asks him to take the gun off. He does, handing it to an aide. The meeting begins.
Critics of the Bush administration characterize what follows as a tragic bungle: Glaspie acts as an appeaser who fails to warn Saddam that an invasion of Kuwait will not be tolerated by the United States.
Glaspie denies this. She claims she was tough toward Saddam, repeatedly warning him against taking military action.
Seven days after the meeting, Glaspie, her mother and her dog leave Baghdad so that she can attend a week of briefings in Washington. Stopping off in London, she turns on the TV in her hotel room to find that Saddam has just invaded Kuwait.
Later, Iraq releases a transcript of the Saddam-Glaspie meeting that shows Glaspie had delivered no strong warnings to Saddam.
Later, Glaspie tells Congress that the Iraqi transcript is a "fabrication" and that she had delivered repeated warnings.
Last week, however, David Hoffman of The Washington Post obtained Glaspie's own cables back to Washington reporting on the fateful meeting. These cables indicate that Glaspie delivered no strong warning to Saddam and that the Iraqi transcript may be closer to the truth than Glaspie's account to Congress.
One senator has already charged Glaspie with deliberately misleading Congress and the nation. Others are saying the Bush administration mistakenly gave Saddam a green light to invade Kuwait.
Did the gulf war really originate out of a botched meeting? Is April Glaspie being made a scapegoat for the Bush administration's prewar policy toward Saddam? Would Saddam have listened to U.S. warnings anyway?
And just who were these two people who met for these two critical hours, facing off before history?
I have gone through the profiles, the wire service reports, the newspaper accounts and the transcripts to match up these two contenders. Here is the tale of the tape:
On one side we have Saddam Hussein, a 53-year-old ex-intelligence officer and former street-gang member given to wearing elegant suits and military uniforms.
On the other side, we have April Glaspie, 48, a Canadian-born California girl given to conservative clothing, "simple gold earrings, little makeup and short, unpolished nails."
Saddam is a vain man, who likes to hand out expensive Rolex watches with his picture on them.
Glaspie's one vanity, according to a newspaper account, "is her hair: long and flowing." Another accountrefers to it as "graying auburn." (In no account could I find a description of Saddam's hair.)
Words used to describe April Glaspie: warm, blunt, funny, brilliant, stubborn and unyielding.
Words used to describe Saddam Hussein: evil, mad, paranoid, Hitlerian, stubborn and unyielding.
Saddam, born into poverty, is prevented by a cruel stepfather from going to school. At 20, Saddam becomes an assassin for the Baath Party. His first victim is a Communist activist who happens to be hisbrother-in-law.
Glaspie, an only child, attends Mills College and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She enters the Foreign Service and is posted to Amman, Jordan; Kuwait; Stockholm; Beirut, Lebanon; Cairo, Egypt; London; New York; and Damascus, Syria.
Wounded in a shootout, Saddam carves the bullet out of his leg without an anesthetic.
As the ranking American envoy in Damascus in 1985, Glaspie helps negotiate a hostage release and is called a "genuine heroine."
Saddam becomes president ofIraq following bloody coups. Under his rule, anyone suspected of disloyalty -- this includes the accidental spilling of coffee on his newspaper photo -- is subject to arrest, torture and execution. Entire towns have their populations killed and the buildings bulldozed. Poison gas is used against the Kurdish minority in Iraq. Saddam begins a "supergun" artillery program, and a nuclear and chemical weapons program.
April Glaspie becomes the first woman to head an embassy in the Middle East.
Saddam distrusts reporters. Before they interview him, their pens are taken apart to check for explosives, and they must dip their hands in a blue chemical solution in case they are trying to kill him with contact poison delivered by handshake.