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By anyone's reckoning, James Baker's years as Secretary of State contained some of the most pivotal events of the second half of the 20th century, and few men played as crucial a role in so many of them as did Baker. This candid, revealing account offers readers a unique perspective on such world-shaking events as the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, and the birth of freedom in South Africa. Photos.
THE DAY THE COLD WAR ENDED
When the two of us meet, there should be results. We can't be silent in the face of such events.
—Eduard Shevardnadze, August 3, 1990
On January 29, 1981, I walked with Ronald Reagan from the White House across West Executive Avenue to the Old Executive Office Building, a marvelous, massive gray battleship of a structure on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventeenth Street. It was the new President's first press conference, and I was his Chief of Staff.
President Reagan had been in office only ten days, but he took that opportunity to lay down a marker—one that came to epitomize his cold-eyed view of the Soviet Union, which he and most Americans had correctly viewed with suspicion for most of their lives.
The Soviets, he said, "have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that.... When you do business with them, even as a detente, you keep that in mind."
They were hard-edged words, like the shock of cold water, but right on the mark, and almost a decade later, on August 3, 1990, and now as Secretary of State, I couldn't help remembering those words with a sense of irony. For on that day, I stood side by side with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in the lobby of Vnukovo II Airport outside Moscow, and listened as he explained to reporters why his country had agreed to the unprecedented act of joining with the United States to condemn Iraq's invasion ofKuwait.
"Let me tell you that it was a rather difficult decision for us ... because of the long-standing relations that we have with Iraq," he said. "But despite all this . . . we are being forced to take these steps . . . because . . . this aggression is inconsistent with the principles of new political thinking and, in fact, with the civilized relations between nations."
The implications of Shevardnadze's soliloquy were breathtaking. The Soviets had gone along with the dismantlement of their empire in Eastern Europe, and the Kremlin had acquiesced in the collapse of the Honecker government in East Germany, which had made the fall of the Berlin Wall inevitable. But these had been essentially passive reactions to an inexorable tide of events. Now, for the first time, the Soviet Union was actively engaged in joining the United States in condemning one of its staunchest allies.
Nine days earlier, on July 25, I had left Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to begin a trip to Asia and the Soviet Union, little realizing that by the time I returned home, the world as I had known it for my entire adult life would no longer exist. As the British had discovered at Yorktown two centuries before, the world had just turned upside down—and our new world was laden with hope and opportunity, as well as peril and uncertainty, for American diplomacy.
Saddam Hussein is a man of many defects, and fortunately for America and the rest of the civilized world, an atrocious sense of timing is one of them.
A more prudent despot would surely have chosen a moment other than August 2, 1990, to launch his invasion of a helpless neighbor. On that very day, the President of the United States was preparing to meet with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, an iron lady not known for counseling half measures in time of challenge. The American Secretary of State was in Siberia for talks with his Soviet counterpart. Senior diplomats from both countries were finalizing preparations for two days of long-scheduled joint policy-planning talks in Moscow.
Confronting tyrants is never easy work, but this fundamental tactical miscalculation by Saddam had enormous strategic ramifications. It gave us a critical running start in shaping our response to the crisis. Without this fortuitous advantage, we might never have been able to mobilize the will, both international and domestic, to counter his blatant aggression. If Saddam had been clever enough to have waited three weeks, until most governments and their leaders were scattered around the globe on vacation, the course of events could well have been otherwise.
As the world now knows, it was a disaster for Saddam, a triumph for American diplomacy and military might, and a centerpiece of George Bush's legacy. Saddam's megalomaniacal fantasies sent tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers to their death, cost the lives of close to four hundred brave Americans, and inflicted horrible and needless suffering on the innocent citizens of his own country, misery which endures to this day.
But in one critical respect, the entire planet is in this madman's debt. His brutal invasion of Kuwait provided the unexpected opportunity to write an end to fifty years of Cold War conflict with resounding finality.
That was the last thing on my mind, however, as I flew from Singapore via Hong Kong on July 31 to meet with Eduard Shevardnadze in Irkutsk, a Siberian city of 500,000 people. Our agenda would include issues such as nuclear arms control, conventional force reductions in Europe, and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Cambodia, as well as preparations for an upcoming summit between President Bush and President Mikhail Gorbachev. Shevardnadze had planned this meeting to reciprocate for our discussions amid the Grand Tetons the previous September in Wyoming. I had believed that moving our talks from the bureaucratic environment of Washington to the rugged grandeur of the American West might help forge a new spirit of cooperation, openness, and mutual trust between us and our staffs. That had proved to be the case, and the result was several important breakthroughs on nuclear arms control and chemical weapons. Shevardnadze was anxious to build on the spirit of Jackson Hole by hosting similar discussions in the scenic Lake Baikal region of Siberia. Afterward I was scheduled to fly to Mongolia for talks to encourage the fledgling reform government that was breaking away from seventy years of Communist rule. I was also still feeling the effects of the worst case of intestinal flu of my life, contracted during the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore.
At the time, Saddam's newly bellicose rhetoric was a source of concern, but not alarm. Most U.S. government officials considered it a bully's premeditated attempt to intimidate Kuwait into buying off aggression and helping to pay down Iraq's huge foreign debt. Some thought Saddam was seeking concessions over his protracted border dispute with Kuwait—a dispute that included the lucrative Rumaila oil field. Our friends in the region—President Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, even the Israelis—told us Saddam was maneuvering for diplomatic advantage, not preparing for war. Take it easy, don't worry, they all said. We know him; he won't do anything crazy. The worst-case scenario assumed that Saddam might grab the disputed oil field in northern Kuwait, but anything more dramatic was considered illogical—even for Saddam.
When I arrived in Irkutsk at 2:20 A.M. on August 1, U.S. intelligence had detected more troubling omens: several Iraqi divisions had moved out of their bases and were deployed near the Kuwaiti border. Their classical offensive formation led our military analysts to an inescapable conclusion: Saddam was poised to attack.
Later that morning, Shevardnadze and I began a full day of activities with a two-hour meeting. That was followed by lunch and a hydrofoil cruise of Lake Baikal, the largest body of fresh water in the world, fed by more than 100 rivers. As with everything else in Siberia, Lake Baikal is larger than life. We had another meeting in a beautiful old fisherman's lodge we were told had been built for a visit by President Eisenhower which had been canceled after the collapse of his 1960 Paris summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Then we broke for ninety minutes of fishing on the Angara River, where Shevardnadze and I each caught one fish. When we returned to the dock, Shevardnadze reached over and graciously grabbed my smaller fish just before the ritual picture-taking for photographers. We then returned to the lodge for another bilateral meeting, which lasted two and a half hours longer than scheduled, forcing an elaborate eight-course dinner to be served in one hour. In more than eight hours of formal meetings, we discussed Iraq, but not at length. While the situation appeared more ominous, the consensus—in Moscow, Washington, and the capitals in the Middle East—was still that Saddam was just playing a game of intimidation.
It wasn't until midnight that I returned to my Intourist hotel room in Irkutsk. Just before going to bed, I got a call from Bob Kimmitt, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs at State, who was monitoring the Iraq situation back in Washington. It was noontime in Washington, thirteen hours behind Irkutsk. Kimmitt reported that the situation appeared to be worsening; at a meeting of the Deputies' Committee (DC), the interagency crisis-management group, the Central Intelligence Agency had concluded that the odds were shifting toward an invasion. Kimmitt also said that the DC had recommended that President Bush consider telephoning Saddam Hussein directly in hopes of averting an attack. The President was literally discussing that option with aides when he received word of the Iraqi invasion.
At 7:45 the next morning, Kimmitt called back with another update. Taking no chances, he spoke elliptically, even though we were talking on a secure satellite communications link. (Although our security services routinely swept for bugs, we always assumed someone was listening in on our conversations when we traveled.) "Do you recall the subject we talked about before?" Kimmitt asked. "Yes," I replied. "Well, Dick Kerr's people now think it's more likely than not the country we spoke about is going to move." (Dick Kerr was the deputy director of the CIA.) I told him, "That's important to know, because I'm just heading off to see my friend here."
It was my hope that the agency's assessment was too apocalyptic. In the intelligence business, it's bureaucratically safer to be wrong predicting the worst than to underreact and miss the call. I wanted to know what the Soviets knew; they had close ties to Saddam, and far better intelligence assets on the ground. A little more than an hour later, at the start of our first meeting, I told Shevardnadze we had evidence the Iraqis were massing forces at the border and asked him to check with his own intelligence sources. "It looks bad," I told him. "We hope you can restrain them." I also told him that I was troubled by reports the Soviets were considering major new arms sales to Iraq. "That's about the last thing iraq or the region needs right now," I suggested.
He completely dismissed the notion that Saddam was preparing to move; it would be irrational for Saddam to do anything of the sort, he said several times. "I can't believe that. What could he possibly gain?" It made no sense to him. Besides, he chided me, if something this momentous were in the works, he would know about it. But he ordered Sergei Tarasenko, his chief policy aide, to check with Soviet intelligence. By the end of the meeting, Tarasenko had reported back that "we don't have any reports of anything." Shevardnadze was satisfied. "Don't worry," he remarked. "Nothing's going to happen." I later learned that he had nevertheless cabled the Foreign Ministry with instructions to lean on the Iraqis to stand down in case the American rumors proved correct.
At nine-thirty, we broke to make brief statements about our talks and take questions from the press. There was no mention of the looming crisis. We were to have spent another hour together while the press filed their stories. Just as we resumed our meeting, my chief spokesman Margaret Tutwiler handed me a one-page note: "AMBASSADOR HOWELL [our ambassador in Kuwait] reported to the Ops Center that Iraqi troops crossed into Kuwait and have taken some border crossing points. They are apparently moving toward the city of Um Qasr. He said there had been some shooting.
"The Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. called Asst. Sec. Kelly with similar information. The ambassador had the same information and described it as a limited penetration. He said they had gone into Kuwait 2 or 3 kilometers. He did not request U.S. assistance at this time."
"Gentlemen," I said, "the State Department communications center has received a report that Iraq has crossed the border of Kuwait.
"I don't know if it's a partial grab. I don't know if they're going for the entire country, or if they plan to go beyond Kuwait. But this is a very solid report that they have invaded."
Shevardnadze was thunderstruck, embarrassed for being misled by his own intelligence services and enraged by the lunacy of the deed itself. "This is just totally irrational," Shevardnadze repeated several times. "I know he's a thug, but I never thought he was irrational. It would be more like him to go in then withdraw."
Kimmitt's heads-up call had enabled me to leverage Shevardnadze's Georgian passion to the maximum advantage. Had I not been able to tell him we thought an invasion was likely, he might never have bothered to check it with his system. When they assured him I didn't know what I was talking about, his subsequent rage at being embarrassed made it easier for me to persuade him to take what was a profoundly difficult step. If you want someone to break with a client, it doesn't hurt to have him lied to by the client—or by the client's Arabist sympathizers in the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Shevardnadze's fury at being misled by Saddam worked to the advantage of American diplomacy throughout the entire crisis.
I pressed Shevardnadze to halt Soviet arms shipments to iraq and to join with the United States in condemning the invasion and demanding an immediate withdrawal. Tarasenko had checked with Moscow and confirmed that my information was correct. Shevardnadze agreed that a strong response of some sort was required but said he could make no assurances until after he had spoken with Gorbachev.
"I think you should get a message to Saddam right away," I suggested.
It was apparent that my trip to Ulan Bator would have to be truncated, but it was important not to cancel altogether. Mongolia was a small, ethnically homogeneous country of two million with an uncomplicated economy, that had been dominated for decades by its giant Communist neighbors, the Soviet Union and China. Yet it was newly independent and democratic, the first Communist nation in Asia to commit itself to reform. Only days before, Mongolia had completed its first multiparty elections in nearly seventy years, with a voter turnout of more than 90 percent. The revolution in Eastern Europe was slow in spreading across the Urals, but Mongolian democracy had a real chance to flourish, and I wanted to lend the moral encouragement of the United States to their efforts at self-determination.
By fortuitous circumstance, Dennis Ross and Bob Zoellick, my top policy advisers, had arranged to bypass the Mongolia trip and fly directly to Moscow for joint policy-planning sessions with Tarasenko. It was a worthy impulse, but Zoellick and Ross also harbored a secret agenda: by skipping Mongolia, they'd get back home to their families two days before the rest of us. I suppose history is filled with such examples of commonplace decisions that later prove critical to the course of great events. For their side trip facilitated what I believe was a sine qua non in successfully managing the Gulf crisis—it helped produce the active cooperation of the Soviets against their erstwhile ally Saddam.
They hitched a ride to Moscow on Shevardnadze's aircraft. I later learned that on the Soviet plane, they were treated to a marvelous feast of caviar, cheeses, and rich black bread. It was a small but telling sign of misplaced Soviet priorities; the average Soviet had to wait for hours in bread lines, while their diplomats lunched on caviar. During the flight, there was still very little talk about Kuwait. My aides and Tarasenko agreed that too much was still unknown about Saddam's intentions; at that point, the smart money still thought he would occupy the disputed territories for leverage in shaking down the Kuwaitis and Saudis for financial concessions.
Instead of adjourning to a dacha outside Moscow for three days of cerebral discussions with Tarasenko, Zoellick and Ross drove directly to the American embassy, where they were joined by Peter Hauslohner, an aide to Ross, who came up with the idea of pushing the Soviets for a joint statement condemning the Iraqis. "But Baker has to come here," Zoellick insisted. "They've got to stand up together and issue a statement, or it won't be effective."
The calculation was obvious. For the two superpowers to demonstrate their solidarity would isolate Iraq and influence others to join us in reversing Saddam's aggression. Such common ground was essential to avoiding a split in the Arab world; if Saddam's primary patron stayed on the sidelines, he'd be able to hide behind the Soviets' silence, and many of the rest of the Arabs would do likewise. But if the Soviets could be persuaded to break with their client, it would be far more difficult for others in the region to remain on the fence. A joint statement would constitute an important step toward building a coalition to reverse Saddam's aggression.
However, when Ross first surfaced the idea with me, I really did not believe that we could get a joint statement. The Soviets would be cautious; they'd want to talk to Baghdad, then wait and see. The Arabists in the Foreign Ministry would oppose a joint statement, citing the risk to 8,000 Soviet citizens living in Iraq. But I thought the rewards were worth the risk of possible failure, and authorized Ross to broach the idea with Tarasenko.
Shortly before leaving Siberia for Mongolia, I talked with Brent Scowcroft, the President's National Security Adviser, who was in Colorado for the President's meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Brent reported there was nothing new to be known; U.S. intelligence assets on the ground were virtually nonexistent, and it would take twelve hours for our spy satellite covering the region to make another pass. "We can't be sure he'll stop at Kuwait," Brent said, "and we won't know for several hours." It was an agonizing prospect; even if the Saudis allowed us to move U.S. troops and aircraft into the kingdom, the men and materiel couldn't arrive in sufficient time or numbers to block an Iraqi thrust down the Arabian peninsula. If Saddam had decided to move into Saudi Arabia, we were powerless to stop him.
Shortly after takeoff from Irkutsk, I reached Kimmitt, who told me it was how clear the Iraqis were moving on Kuwait City and had designs on occupying the entire country. Then the telephone lines to the aircraft inexplicably went down. The crew couldn't explain how their secure satellite lines had been lost. I later discovered that the communications satellite linking the plane to Washington had been diverted to provide more intelligence coverage of troop movements in Iraq and Kuwait.
Upon arriving in Ulan Bator, I was met by Ambassador Joe Lake, and we drove immediately to the Ikh-Tenghear compound, an austere, shopworn government guest complex nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. Once the residence of the Prime Minister, it had been converted into a game preserve where elk and deer roamed freely throughout the grounds. On my ranch in Wyoming, I've slogged through waist-deep snow for an entire day hunting for elk; here I was surrounded by dozens of them, tantalizingly off limits.
In rapid order, I had meetings with several Mongolian leaders, and afterward, the entire party drove several miles out of town to watch an abbreviated version of a nadam, a traditional demonstration of Mongol skills. There were wrestling matches, an archery competition, and a three-mile children's horse race, won by a five-year-old girl over more than a hundred other contestants. At the request of my hosts, I tried my hand at archery and presented awards to the winners, who like all the participants and spectators wore brightly colored native costumes. It was a spectacular event.
Toward the end of this Mongolian combination rodeo and wrestling match, Army Lt. Gen. Howard Graves, the Joint Chiefs of Staff representative on the trip, told me he had some updated information for me. After we had landed in Ulan Bator, Graves had broken off from the motorcade and gone to the American embassy, which consisted of three rooms on a stairwell in an apartment building. He'd commandeered the embassy's only secure line and reached the Operations Center at State, where he'd been updated on the situation by Dick Clarke, the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs. Back in my car, Graves told me the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Independence and its battle group were in Diego Garcia and would probably be moved to the northern Arabian Sea, and a cruiser and frigate from the U.S. Middle East force were available to go to the Persian Gulf. An attack "package" of F- 15 and F- 16 jets was on alert in Europe, and we were beginning discussions with the Saudis to see if they would allow us to move those planes to their desert bases. The Deputies' Committee was meeting through the night to propose options. The President would convene the National Security Council in four hours to consider those options, just before leaving for his meeting with Thatcher.
Before dinner I made the decision to cancel the balance of the visit to Mongolia, including a trip to the Gobi Desert. I then called the President and broached the idea of trying for a joint statement with the Soviets. I told him that I didn't know if we could get a statement, but he agreed with me that it was worth the effort to try. For the moment, we left open the decision on whether I would return to Washington or fly to Moscow, until we had a better sense of the Soviets' interest. I also told him that I was dispatching Dick Solomon, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs who was with me in Ulan Bator, to Beijing. As one of the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council, China's support for a resolution of condemnation and possible sanctions would be critical, and far from certain. At that moment, the Chinese were very unhappy because I had flown over their airspace from Siberia to Mongolia without adding at least a brief stop in China to my itinerary. (As it turned out, the easiest way for Solomon to travel to Beijing was via Moscow; in that part of the world, a straight line is oftentimes not the quickest route.
Dinner was even more of a spectacle than the nadam. There were nine prodigious courses, including ground goat, mutton and noodles, beef tongue, mare's milk, and the traditional Mongolian hot pot. This was followed by wave upon wave of regional musicians, including a "throat singer," who made unusual guttural sounds while playing an instrument of horsehair strings. During the dinner I confided to the Foreign Minister that our trip would have to end the next day, and I announced the unhappy news in my toast.
The dinner went on for more than three hours, finally ending after midnight. Just before it concluded, I received an urgent message that Shevardnadze wanted me to meet with the Soviet ambassador to Mongolia immediately after dinner. Peter Afanasenko, our Russian interpreter, who had taken a sleeping pill, had to be roused from a deep sleep. The ambassador gave me a copy of the public statement the Soviets had released condemning Saddam's invasion, but his message was less heartening than the official reaction: Shevardnadze wanted me to know that it might be difficult to reach agreement on a joint statement.
The Mongolians couldn't have been more hospitable, but communications from there were a nightmare. In the entire country, there were only nine international phone lines, one of which they had made available for the exclusive use of me and my entourage. As a result, by the time I went to bed, shortly after 1:00 a.m., we still didn't know much more than we had upon our arrival twelve hours earlier. Coincidentally, Ross reached Tutwiler in Ulan Bator at about the same time and told her that Shevardnadze was willing to meet me at the airport in Moscow to talk about the joint statement. She woke me up, gave me a quick briefing, and added firmly, "If you want this to happen, you've got to call the President."
When I reached him at 1:45 a.m. Mongolian time, the President had already spoken with President Mubarak, King Hussein, and President Saleh of Yemen, and had calls pending with several other world leaders. With Shevardnadze willing to meet, he agreed it made sense to exploit our geographical advantage by having me fly to Moscow and work to negotiate the unprecedented joint statement with the Soviets. As a former United Nations ambassador, George Bush understood the value of diplomatic consensus in times of crisis.
I knew that flying to Moscow was a risky proposition. Shevardnadze had just warned me that a meaningful joint statement would be a tougher sell than he had realized. The danger was that I would show up in Moscow and not be able to reach an agreement, which would be disastrous to hopes of assembling a strong coalition against Saddam. Yet by going there, I could lay American prestige on the line—and given my relationship with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev, and the esteem in which they held President Bush, it might be possible to pull it off. I knew this much: if I didn't go to Moscow, there was no chance of getting a statement.
The President and I agreed that work should be started immediately on a U.N. draft resolution that could ultimately become the basis for economic sanctions against Iraq. He also mentioned that we should think about the possibility of organizing a naval blockade to enforce those sanctions.
Meanwhile, Tarasenko had picked up his American counterparts and chauffeured them to the Foreign Ministry for consultations. "Let's find out the latest information," he suggested. Ross assumed he would summon a subordinate for an intelligence briefing. instead, he turned on CNN. For all their massive presence in Iraq, the Soviets were more in the dark than we were. Ross pushed Tarasenko hard for a joint statement. "It's time to demonstrate that we can be partners," he argued. "We've talked about an evolution from competitors to cooperation. Now we have to talk about partnership. If we've really entered a new era, nothing is going to demonstrate it more than our being together, and nothing is going to demonstrate more clearly that we haven't entered a new era if we can't be together.
"Saddam will take advantage of any distance between us and advantage of your silence. It won't do for you to be silent publicly and critical privately."
"I agree with you," Tarasenko said without hesitation. He telephoned Shevardnadze, who concurred and said he would contact Gorbachev. Andrew Carpendale, a Ross aide, set out in search of a typewriter and found an English-language model somewhere in the bowels of the building.
The first draft of the proposed statement was 135 words. It called the invasion "brutal and illegal ... senseless, vicious." It demanded an immediate withdrawal from Kuwait, and urged all nations to join in an embargo on all arms shipments to Iraq. "Governments that engage in blatant aggression must know that the international community cannot and will not acquiesce in nor facilitate that aggression," it concluded.
Back at Spaso House, the U.S. Ambassador's residence, Ross telephoned me at 4:00 a.m. in Mongolia to read me the statement. It was pithy and unequivocal, precisely what we needed. I directed Ross to run it past Scowcroft, who was airborne with the President returning from Colorado.
When I awoke in Ulan Bator, Graves told me the Iraqis had more than 100,000 troops in Kuwait and were consolidating their occupation. However, the President's personal diplomacy had already paid off; Britain and France had joined us in freezing Kuwaiti assets to keep them away from the puppet government being set up by the invaders, and we had frozen Iraqi assets in the United States.
I felt that building and maintaining a broad international coalition against Iraq was critical and would be a monumental task, so I began the process immediately by asking the Mongolian Foreign Minister to join with us in condemning the invasion. "Our position is that being a small country ourselves, one should not use force," he said. "We really condemn this." His big fish-little fish analogy was a rationale I would use over and over in the next three months as we sought to enlist the help of smaller nations in our coalition.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, a sheepish Tarasenko turned up at Spaso House at 10:00 a.m. with a radically different version of the proposed joint statement. "I had a tough time with the ministry," he said. It was an understatement. our language had been emasculated by the bureaucrats.
Their text eliminated our references to joint action and additional steps to deal with the crisis. Even worse, the call for an arms embargo had disappeared, replaced by a weasel-worded reference to "Iraq's needs." Saddam might as well have drafted it himself.
"Sergei," Ross complained, "this is not a counterdraft. This is a counterrevolution! It's absolutely unacceptable. This becomes an argument not to do a statement at all. If this is all you can do, I'm going to call Baker and recommend that he not come."
It was leverage Ross didn't have. In Mongolia, Tutwiler had already awakened the reporters traveling with us in the middle of the night to alert them I would be shortening the Mongolian visit and flying to Moscow. I knew that my going to Moscow would increase expectations and put more pressure on Shevardnadze and Gorbachev to do the right thing. But Tarasenko didn't know that my spokesman had publicly committed me to flying to Moscow. In fact, Ross didn't know it, either. Luckily the brinkmanship seemed to work.
"Relax," Tarasenko suggested. "Write it the way you want it, and we'll keep working." Ross retrieved the tougher language of the original draft. Tarasenko agreed to everything except a sentence saying both countries "are prepared to consider further actions" if Iraq refused to withdraw. Ross deleted the language; Tarasenko promised to stare down the ministry and said he'd be in touch shortly.
Four hours later, Ross hadn't heard back. Worried that Tarasenko wouldn't be able to deliver on the bargain, he actually tried to wave me off from leaving for Moscow, but I was already airborne. After hours of trying to get a call through, he finally reached me as my plane was about to land for a refueling stop back in Irkutsk. There was no time to talk, and since the Irkutsk airport was nestled in a valley, we wouldn't be able to link up with a communications satellite from the ground. I said I'd call him once we were airborne.
On landing, however, the plane blew a tire. Changing it proved to be a Rube Goldberg operation. First, the belly of the plane was completely off-loaded to retrieve the spare. Then it turned out the Soviets' antiquated jack wasn't strong enough to handle our Air Force jet, so a series of makeshift shims had to be improvised to budge the plane off the ground. The local governor saw an opening, and opportunistically laid on an impromptu driving tour of Irkutsk to pass the time.
Back in Moscow, Tarasenko finally produced a draft statement, much improved from his original but still unacceptable. The bureaucrats were insisting that a sterner statement would endanger the lives of the 8,000 Soviet citizens in Iraq.
"Look, I'm being told we're going to be responsible for Russian blood on our hands," he protested. "We can't do this; it goes too far. We have too many people there. We're singing to the American tune, and we can't do this. It's taken a major effort to get them [the bureaucracy] to come this far."
"Sergei, if I can reach Baker, I'm going to tell him to turn around," Ross threatened. "This is worse than not putting out a statement at all."
"All right," Tarasenko wearily capitulated, "tell me what you have in mind and let's go through this again line by line."
Ross and Tarasenko collaborated on one final compromise. Tarasenko left for the ministry, promising to be back in ten minutes; three hours later there was still no answer.
Unable to reach me by telephone, and with Tarasenko incommunicado as well, a frustrated Ross and his colleagues could do nothing, so they decided to take advantage of an uncharacteristically beautiful summer day in Moscow. To pass the time, they sat outside in the backyard of Spaso House, fearing the worst. "I think we're screwed," Ross admitted at one point.
Finally, Tarasenko reported back. The Arabists had been bludgeoned into submission, with a critical exception. "The statement is accepted," Tarasenko said, "except for the arms embargo." In the time-honored tradition of negotiations, the disputed language had been set in brackets. "We've got to have that," Ross protested. "Otherwise, there's no meat to the statement, no action."
When I landed at Vnukovo II Airport at 7:30 p.m., Ross and Zoellick came onto the plane to brief me while Shevardnadze waited nearby in a holding room. Despite Tarasenko's latest round of assurances, Ross was still plenty worried the Soviets would find yet another reason to walk back from the statement. Tarasenko's credibility was now suspect; his optimism had repeatedly been overruled by the hard-liners. "I'm not sure we can get this done," he said anxiously. "I don't know if Sergei can deliver."
"Well, we're here," I said. "It doesn't do any good to worry. We have got to go through with it."
"I think there's a chance," he said, "but you're really going to have to hit him hard, because it's for his audience. He's going to use your reaction to explain why he's taking out the brackets."
Shevardnadze met me on the steps of the terminal, and as reporters shouted questions at us, we went directly to an austere second-floor conference room. The meeting lasted ninety minutes. We sat side by side on a sofa in the corner of the room.
Shevardnadze began by conceding that he had been wrong about the Iraqis. "Of course, we were shocked by what has happened," he said. "I remember your question in Irkutsk, and I answered we did not expect this kind of development. To say nothing of the fact that this action by its nature should be condemned. I see no logic in this; they've just ended ten years of warfare." He added that Gorbachev had sent Saddam a tough letter urging an immediate withdrawal; no formal response had arrived yet, but Iraqi diplomats were passing word not to expect a long stay in Kuwait. I suspected Shevardnadze was as skeptical of such reports as I.
A joint statement was "right and correct," Shevardnadze said, and Gorbachev agreed. But two aspects worried him: a statement might put the 8,000 Soviet citizens in Iraq and an additional 900 in Kuwait at risk, and might also anger other Soviet clients in the Arab world. It wasn't easy to turn one's back on a relationship of such cooperation and friendship over the last decade, he mused. However, on balance, he had concluded it was necessary. The invasion "is just simply not civilized behavior, and we can't remain aloof from this, even if they have been our friends."
I began my response by saying that we too had citizens at risk in Iraq but that the joint statement needed to be substantive, not cosmetic, which was why the disputed language about an arms embargo was so critical. "I've come here because I thought it important to demonstrate that we can and will act as partners in facing new challenges to international security," I said. "While it is easy to talk about partnership, taking the unusual step of issuing a joint call for an international cutoff of arms would send a signal to the world and to the Iraqis that U.S.-Soviet partnership is real. It would also send a signal that together we have entered a new era and would demonstrate that when a crisis develops, we're prepared to act swiftly and affirmatively in a meaningful way.
"If we can't do this, what the press and the international community are going to say is, well, the United States and the Soviets got together and issued a statement that reaffirmed what each has already done. What's the point?"
His concerns about Soviet nationals in iraq were understandable; more than 4,000 American citizens were also living in Kuwait and Iraq. "Nevertheless, it's important we not be deterred. It won't undo any of the courageous unilateral actions you have already taken. And with a dictator like Saddam, the appetite comes with the eating; we should not embolden him by backing off from an appropriate statement." Publicly calling for an arms cutoff would reinforce our seriousness of purpose; without it, I said, we would be left with "an empty declaration," thus raising questions about whether our countries could engage in a real partnership.
"The test comes down to this—can we act together in real partnership and ask others to do what we've already done, or only repeat jointly what each of us has said unilaterally?" I was consciously playing to genetic Soviet insecurities by offering Shevardnadze the opportunity to join us center stage in an appeal to the world.
"Well, what of the French?" Shevardnadze asked. France was Baghdad's biggest trading partner. An arms embargo would be pointless if Paris refused to join. I assured Shevardnadze that I would be talking soon with Roland Dumas, the French Foreign Minister. But if the two of us called for an embargo, I predicted, the French would be hard-pressed not to join us. "It would put them in a very difficult position."
If Shevardnadze resisted, I was prepared to say that our failure to agree on a worthwhile statement would be a painful reminder that the relationship between our nations wasn't what I had thought, and that I would have no choice but to relay that sobering conclusion to the President. It wasn't necessary. "Horasho," Shevardnadze said. "Okay, I can see it's important to you. We'll take out the brackets on the one sentence. I believe this is an impressive statement."
I was relieved; I knew this had been difficult for Shevardnadze. Eduard was a courageous man, but he had been under enormous pressure from his Arabists, and I could tell he was still uneasy about being too exposed if other nations rejected our joint call for the arms embargo.(*) Seeking to reassure him, I told him that I was sending an envoy to Beijing to urge China, a major supplier of missile technology to the Iraqis, to join us.
Shevardnadze still wasn't sure how the Arabs would react. The attitude of Syria was critical, as well as that of Egypt, which he described as the key to forging Arab solidarity. I knew that Hosni Mubarak would be with us, and that we would need Israel's full cooperation. If the Israelis took too high a profile, Saddam might then be able to split the other Arabs by framing the issue as an Arab-Israeli dispute. I said the United States would try to persuade Israel to remain silent "so they don't become an issue in place of what really should be the focus of this concern."
"The less noise coming out of Israel, the better." Shevardnadze said. "That can only irritate the Arabs and make the issue more ambiguous." I assured Shevardnadze we'd already made that point to the Israelis.
In the space of a few minutes of dialogue, Shevardnadze and I had essentially sketched out the parameters of the diplomatic coalition that would have to be assembled against Saddam in the weeks ahead to persuade him to withdraw from his ill-gotten conquest.
Toward the end of the conversation, Shevardnadze voiced another concern that he would repeat with me constantly, often with great passion, over the next six months. "There are rumors," he said, "the U. S. intends to make military strikes against Baghdad." I assured him that it wasn't true. "I know that; otherwise, this meeting wouldn't be taking place," he said. But he wanted a commitment that "the U.S. is not going to take immediate military action and we're not going to be faced with something that is unexpected." Shevardnadze was shrewdly playing to the skeptics in his bureaucracy.
"I can tell you we're not," I said. "But I can also tell you this, and you need to know it in good faith. If they do anything to our citizens, all bets are off, and I would assume the same would be true for you. I'm not going to tie our hands."
"Well, that's understandable," he agreed.
As we finished, I wanted to remind Shevardnadze of just how far we had come. "You know, Eduard, if this was five years ago, maybe even three years ago, this whole crisis would have been put in the context of an East-West competition and confrontation. Then this would have been far more dangerous. That's a measure of what we've accomplished."
Shevardnadze agreed, but suggested that as this crisis played out, the future might well hold challenges just as daunting as those we had maneuvered through in the past. "Let's focus on the results," he said. "It's important to make this thing work."
We then came downstairs to address a huge throng of reporters in the main area of the building. Before each of us read the joint statement, Shevardnadze began with his remarkable preamble, which would have been unthinkable from a Soviet Foreign Minister a year earlier. There was no mistaking the fact that we had just journeyed light-years from that wintry day in January of 1981, at President Reagan's first press conference. Ten year later, what he had termed the Evil Empire had joined with its most implacable adversary in a remarkable alliance against what Shevardnadze and I jointly denounced as "this blatant transgression of basic norms of civilized conduct" by a Soviet client state. After decades of Soviet mischief in places such as Central America, Afghanistan, and Angola, it was a historic demonstration of superpower solidarity.
I bade Shevardnadze farewell and left Vnukovo II for Andrews Air Force Base, arriving home at 2:21 a.m. Five hours later, I would be on a helicopter to Camp David for a meeting of the National Security Council. I knew that months of uncertainty lay ahead, but en route back to the States, we were all too exhausted to reflect much on the magnitude of the challenge confronting American diplomacy. Nevertheless, my whole team and I were certainly aware that something monumentally important had just occurred at Vnukovo.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, Ross introduced Peter Hauslohner to me as the originator of the joint-statement proposal. I congratulated him for a damn good idea.
"Mr. Secretary," he said, "this is a dramatic day. It's the end of the Cold War. You really closed a chapter today and started writing a new one." In fact, he was right. That August night, a half-century after it began in mutual suspicion and ideological fervor, the Cold War breathed its last at an airport terminal on the outskirts of Moscow.
|1. The Day the Cold War Ended||1|
|2. Three Decades of Friendship||17|
|3. The World on the Eve of a Revolution||37|
|4. Rebuilding Bipartisanship: Lancing the Central American Boil||47|
|5||The Soviet Union: Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, and the "New Thinking"61|
|6. A "Europe Whole and Free"||84|
|7. China: A Great Leap Backward||97|
|8. The Middle East: First Encounters with the Quagmire||115|
|9. The Spirit of Jackson Hole||133|
|10. The Fall of the Wall||153|
|11. Panama: The Day of the Dictator Is Over||177|
|12. The Arithmetic of Unification||195|
|13. Africa: The End of Apartheid||217|
|14||Spring of Tumult: German Unification, Lithuanian Independence,|
|and Soviet Upheaval||230|
|15. Prelude to an Invasion||260|
|16. Building the Coalition||275|
|17. All Necessary Means||300|
|18. Forging Consensus at Home||329|
|19. The Last, Best Chance forPeace||345|
|20. The Shield Becomes a Sword||366|
|21. Passing the Brink||382|
|22. Gorbachev's Gambit||396|
|23. A Postwar Vision for the Mideast||411|
|24. Saddam Stays in Power||430|
|25. Prelude to a Mideast Conference: The Dead Cat on the Doorstep||443|
|26. From Berlin to the Balkans||470|
|27. Breakthrough for Peace||487|
|28. The Empire Shaken||514|
|29. Settlements, Loan Guarantees, and the Politics of Peace||540|
|30. Into the Dustbin—With a Whimper, Not a Bang||558|
|31. Entering a New Era||587|
|32. Supporting Freedom in the New Independent States||614|
|33. "Humanitarian Nightmare" in Bosnia||634|
|34. From Cold War to Democratic Peace||652|
Posted March 7, 2001
An incredibly insightful work into the backstage of George Bush Sr.'s Presidency. Very informative and interesting, although it is obviously biased (Bush can do no wrong), and the author probably takes a little more credit than he deserves.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.