by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
The Context of the document. The letter below was published under the headline: "Bush Letter Warns Saddam of Stakes: War 'Choice is Yours to Make,' President says in rejected message," Washington Post (Jan. 13, 1991): A20.
The letter is an historic document of some importance. It was displayed throughout a day-long meeting in Geneva, Jan. 5, 1991, involving U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and others on the U.S. side, and Tariq Aziz, Iraqi Foreign Minister, and others on the Iraq side. Aziz read the copy of the letter that was clipped outside the sealed envelope containing the original, but refused to take it or the original for delivery to Saddam Hussein.
Associated Press reported that the White House delayed release of the letter from Jan. 5, 1991 until Jan 12, 1991.
Some writers (e.g. Mangold and Goldberg: 290-291) have interpreted the letter to have been a threat to Iraq, saying that the message sent to the Iraqi leader was that "if Iraq used chemical or biological weapons, the US would retaliate in 'the strongest possible way', and Iraq would pay a terrible price'. Although the word 'nuclear' was never used openly, neither side had any difficulty understanding the sub-text of the message."
The entire text of the Washington Post article is reproduced below. Emphasis has been added by Prof. Bowen to draw attention to the section concerning the threat:
"Following is the text of the letter that President Bush wrote to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Jan. 5 and that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz refused to deliver:
"We stand today at the brink of war between Iraq and the world. This is a war that began with your invasion of Kuwait; this is a war that can be ended only by Iraq's full and unconditional compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 678.
"I am writing you now, directly, because what is at stake demands that no opportunity be lost to avoid what would be a certain calamity for the people of Iraq. I am writing, as well, because it is said by some that you do not understand just how isolated Iraq is and what Iraq faces as a result.
"I am not in a position to judge whether this impression is correct; what I can do, though, is try in this letter to reinforce what Secretary of State Baker told your Foreign Minister and eliminate any uncertainty or ambiguity that might exist in your mind about where we stand and what we are prepared to do.
"The international community is united in its call for Iraq to leave all of Kuwait without condition and without further delay. This is not simply the policy of the United States; it is the position of the world community as expressed in no less than 12 Security Council resolutions.
"We prefer a peaceful outcome. However, anything less than full compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 678 and its predecessors is unacceptable.
"There can be no reward for aggression. Nor will there be any negotiation. Principle cannot be compromised. However, by its full compliance, Iraq will gain the opportunity to rejoin the international community.
"More immediately, the Iraqi military establishment will escape destruction. But unless you withdraw from Kuwait completely and without condition, you will lose more than Kuwait.
"What is at issue here is not the future of Kuwait - it will be free, its government will be restored - but rather the future of Iraq. This choice is yours to make.
"The United States will not be separated from its coalition partners. Twelve Security Council resolutions, 28 countries providing military units to enforce them, more than 100 governments complying with sanctions - all highlight the fact that it is not Iraq against the United States, but Iraq against the world.
"That most Arab and Muslim countries are arrayed against you as well should reinforce what I am saying. Iraq cannot and will not be able to hold on to Kuwait or exact a price for leaving.
"You may be tempted to find solace in the diversity or opinion that is American democracy. You should resist any such temptation. Diversity ought not to be confused with division. Nor should you underestimate, as others have before you, America's will.
"Iraq is already feeling the effects of the sanctions mandated by the United Nations. Should war come, it will be a far greater tragedy for your and your country.
"Let me state, too, that the United States will not tolerate the use of chemical or biological weapons or the destruction of Kuwait's oil fields and installations. Further, you will be held directly responsible for terrorist actions against any member of the coalition.
"The American people would demand the strongest possible response. You and your country will pay a terrible price if you order unconscionable acts of this sort.
"I write this letter not to threaten, but to inform. I do so with no sense of satisfaction, for the people of the United States have no quarrel with the people of Iraq.
"Mr. President, U.N. Security Council Resolution 678 establishes the period before Jan. 15 of this year as a 'pause of good will' so that this crisis may end without further violence.
"Whether this pause is used as intended, or merely becomes a prelude to further violence, is in your hands, and yours alone. I hope you weigh your choice carefully and choose wisely, for much will depend upon it."
additional source cited:
Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999): 283-351.
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