This is FRONTLINE's old website. The content here may be outdated or no longer functioning.

Browse over 300 documentaries
on our current website.

Watch Now
the gulf war
homeoral historywar storiesweaponsmapsdiscussion

oral history: james baker

Photo of Baker

Interview with Secretary of State James Baker.
he knew that the politicians had dictated the war, that it was a limited war, the military had never been able to fight the war they thought they needed to fight it to win it and he was determined to let the military call the shots, let the military call the shots about how it was conducted, about when it was ended and all the rest and that's exactly what he did and he bent over backwards to give them everything in the world that they might need, so there really couldn't be any suggestion that the civilians were going to try and run the war. General Powell, particularly, believed that if you were going to use force, you've got to use it dramatically and overwhelmingly and substantially and the President provided that kind of a force and we, of course, also did something that has never been done before and that is fought a war which the United States did not itself have to totally pay for. This war was financed not just by the United States but by all of our coalition allies as well.

Q: Why did you need the `by all necessary means' UN resolution?

Baker: We wanted to make certain that since we were operating under United Nations authority, we had sufficient authority from the Security Council to use force. Originally what I had in mind was language to effect generally of all necessary means including the use of force, something like that and, having explored that language with Shevardnahze on a couple of occasions and perhaps with others, I came to the conclusion that we were not going to be able to get a resolution that specifically authorised the use of military force. So I asked Bob Kinnet who was the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and a very close member of my team and a very good lawyer to have the legal office of the State Department research whether or not the phrase just `All necessary means' would, under international law and law applicable to the United Nations, give us sufficient authority to wage war. And he came back with the answer that it would.

Q: Why did Edvard Shevardnahze prefer that formulation?

Baker: Well because I think that it was a little bit ambiguous. It didn't mention the word force, it didn't mention the word military. It was pretty hard for the Soviet Union in the aftermath of Afghanistan particularly to vote in the Security Council for a resolution that would permit basically the United States of America to use military force in the Persian Gulf and particularly to use military force against a client state of the Soviet Union.

Q: Why was there a deadline built into this resolution?

Baker: Because it was important that we be able to demonstrate that we had been reasonable in giving enough time to withdraw. We used to make the case, I recall, that he went in in two days or whatever it is, a certain number of hours. And it wasn't too much to expect him to leave in 2 months or 3 months whatever the deadline, I can't remember what it was, but whatever the deadline amounted to. It also helped us get the Soviets on board, it helped us bring other nations into the coalition because it was an imminently reasonable period of time and it helped us particularly with domestic political opinion in the United States. Which was at the beginning of all of this very, very much opposed to the idea of going to war in the Persian Gulf.

Q: Did you think that this UN vote--this is a moment of history?

Baker: I thought it was. I think it was a historic vote. It was one of few times frankly that the Security Council had met at the Foreign Minister level for one thing and it was really one of the very few times that the Security Council had authorised through a Security Council resolution, the use of military force multi means. Maybe the only other time being in the case of the Korean war. I'm not certain about that.

Q: How did you feel as an individual?

Baker: I felt good about the fact that we were able to bring the international community on board for what was right. We had really been able to cobble together a rather unprecedented international coalition. I had the feeling that the United Nations was working that day in the way in which the founders had intended. In terms of its security functions which had not been utilized because of the East-West conflict which led to a situation where if the Soviet Union wanted something we'd veto it and if we wanted something the Soviet Union would veto it. So I think a lot of people saw it as a rather historic day.

Q: How much did President Bush want it, that resolution?

Baker: Oh very much. It was after all the President's decision to go multi-laterally. That was not an easy decision. There were voices suggesting that we should do this under article 51. We knew we could do it under article 51. We had no problem with that. We knew legally we had the authority to do it under article 51. But we also recognised the importance of doing this in a way that it was not seen to be America and the West against the Arab world and that it was not seen to be a cowboy operation. That it was done in a way that would be supported particularly by the American people. And when the crisis first erupted and particularly in the aftermath of the Presidents decision to augment our forces back in early November, there was very little public support in the United States for the idea of going to war in the Persian Gulf. In fact, it was overwhelmingly opposed and one way in which we'd built domestic political suppor was to bring together an unprecedented international coalition. So the President it was an important vote as far as he was concerned because it proved the wisdom of this approach. It proved that the United States was leading the international community and doing something that was right and that was unprecedented.

Q: Whose initiative was it to suggest the talks with Baghdad?

Baker: That was something that the President had in mind for some time during the weeks leading up to our being able to obtain the necessary support for the use of force resolution. When I called him from the United Nations, following that vote, he said 'I've got an idea that I'd like to talk to you about' and we had briefly touched upon this possibility in an earlier conversation. And the next morning I met with him and Brent Scowcroft just the three of us, and the President suggested the idea of some sort of face to face meeting with Saddam Hussein that would permit us to be seen in the judgement of history as not having left any stone unturned in the pursuit of peace. He felt, and I strongly shared this view, that unless we could show that we'd done everything we could diplomatically and politically to achieve Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait we could be criticised maybe for going to war precipitously and that sort of thing. Obviously President Bush was not going to go to Baghdad and obviously it was not appropriate for us to suggest Saddam Hussein come to the United States. So he suggested that Tariq Aziz come to Washington and that I go to Baghdad and that was the genesis of that proposal.

Q: A lot of your colleagues, even talking to them now, regarded this as a James Baker plot to avoid the war?

Baker: Well that's really not correct, this was certainly not a plot on my part to avoid the war but I'd strongly supported the President's inclination to do this in terms of its impact on the judgement of history and I think it was the right thing to do as it turned out. I'll tell you this, the meeting with Tariq Aziz in Geneva permitted us to achieve congressional support for something that the President was determined to do in any event, but how much better that he could do it with the support of the peoples' elected representatives in Congress and really with the support of the American people rather than just, having to go off and do it. And I think Senator Sam Nunn who was opposed to the idea of using forces as early as we used it in the Gulf would tell you that congressional opposition to the use of force pretty well collapsed in the aftermath of my meeting with Tariq Aziz so it was clearly the right thing to do at the time, and probably the right thing to do I think when looked at in retrospect.

Q: But a gamble?

Baker: No because there was nothing we could lose - so what could we lose by doing it? Why was it a gamble?

Q: Saddam Hussein could have given you half a loaf, he could have said 'I'll go half way up the road to the border or...'

Baker: Well that would have made our job more difficult but I was going with absolutely no intention or willingness to negotiate down from the UN resolutions. Absolutely not and I felt extraordinarily strongly about that, so did President Bush. We could not -- having gone into the Security Council and obtained Security Council resolutions -- then ourselves negotiate down from those resolutions. That was just never a possibility. Now if he had said, 'Well we'll get out, it'll take, you know we'll pull out 50% or we'll do this', that could have made it a little more difficult for us but the President was determined to enforce that resolution and we were determined not to do any negotiating down from it. So, a gamble, no it really wasn't a gamble in my view. It was all upside. The only downside to it was that it caused some of our Allies to question our resolve briefly, briefly, only during the period of time that the meeting was being arranged and that sort of thing. In retrospect I think they would tell you it was the right thing to do.

Q: As you walked into that room to meet Tariz Aziz, were you thinking this is history, the next couple of hours really matter?

Baker: I really didn't, I mean I didn't feel it as being as much a part of history as for instance the vote in the Security Council that day. Although I felt that it was an extraordinarily important meeting, I didn't go in to that meeting thinking we were going to achieve a peaceful resolution of the dispute because I was unwilling, and I made this very, very clear from the very beginning of the meeting, I was unwilling to do any negotiating down from those UN resolutions. We just weren't going to do that.

Q: What did you say to him as you handed the letter and what did he do?

Baker: I said I have a letter from the President of the United States for President Saddam Hussein and I'd like to begin the meeting by giving you this letter. He said 'Do you have a copy of it that I can read' and I said 'Yes, I do' and I had the letter in an envelope addressed to President Saddam Hussein from President Bush and he took the copy and he read it. It took him maybe 10 minutes or so to read the letter and he said 'I cannot accept this letter, it's not written in the language that is appropriate for communications between heads of state.' He said, 'You may publish it in your media' and I said 'All right I'm sorry that you choose not to take the letter' I said but, I think I said, 'But we may not publish it in our media and it seems to me Minister that you're taking a rather large burden on your shoulders because you're the only person on your side of the table...' and it was at that point that several of my aides there in the meeting said they seemed to see his hands tremble a little bit. You know Aziz was under a fairly close watch at that meeting. He had Saddam Hussein's brother-in- law, Barzan, who was Iraq's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva sitting on his right and Saddam's personal interpreter there on his left. I'm sure that there was no chance whatsoever that he was going to in any way stray from his instructions.

Q: Did he understand the force that he was going to encounter?

Baker: During the course of the meeting, I made an effort to to point out to him that as President Bush's letter to President Saddam Hussein pointed out, we were deadly serious about this, that there was no given in opposition. That this was now a matter of the credibility of the United Nations, it was a matter of a resolution supported by the overwhelming majority of the international community. And that they had to leave Kuwait unconditionally and, if not, overwhelmingly superior force would be used against them. I said that they should not make the mistake of assuming that they would control the terms of the battle, as perhaps they might have assumed in their war with Iran. That this would be a totally different situation that our technological superiority was overwhelming and would be brought to bear in and he took all that in. He didn't buy it. He said something like - you haven't fought in the desert before. Your Arab allies will turn and run, they will not fight their brothers. You will be surprised at the strength and the determination and the force and the courage of the Iraqi military. Things like that. And it was not a particularly productive debate. I think as it turned out our assessments of what our overwhelmingly superior military forces could do were correct.

Q: How did you wrap the meeting up?

Baker: We'd been going about six and a half hours ..., at one point I said 'Minister I don't want to cut this off prematurely' I said, but 'I have said everything that I think is important to say, but I don't want to cut this off and if you don't have anything further to offer, then I'll stay here as long as you want to stay'. And he finally said 'No I don't have anything further to say' and so we adjourned the meeting and I had the feeling that he was sort of resigned to what was going to happen -- that his view was this is the way it has to be. And we shook hands at the end, in fact I think most of each delegation shook hands and I was certain at the time that we would be going to war and going to war very, very soon.

Q: How important was the Geneva meeting in winning the Congressional vote?

Baker: We would not have won the vote without Geneva. We simply wouldn't. We won the vote 52 to 48 and those people who were most aggressively opposing the use of force have themselves said that in the aftermath of the Geneva meeting opposition to our use of force eroded. So it was an idea that germinated with the President. It was the right idea. It worked, exactly the way it should have worked.

Q: Did the President discuss with you, what he would do if he lost the vote?

Baker: Oh, I think we would have gone ahead anyway, I think that even if we had lost the vote. I think as Commander in Chief with his constitutional responsibilities he would have gone forward. The risk in going to the Congress though for a vote frankly was greater than the risk of trying to pull together an international coalition for a use of force resolution in the Security Council because our strategy was that we never would have actually brought it to a vote in the Security Council unless we knew we had it won. And if you go back and look at the record of my trips around to try and build support for the use of force resolution you will never see, in all of those trips and visits and public statements and press conferences, any acknowledgement that we actually were going to submit a resolution for a vote until we knew we had the votes. With the Congress it was a little bit different situation.

Q: What was the difference in approach between General Scowocroft and yourself?

Baker: Well I think that Brent might have been a little bit more willing to dispense with any face to face meeting. I don't think that he liked the idea when the President first suggested it of Aziz coming to Washington and Baker going to Baghdad because he saw possible complications in that. And I think also he was of the view that we didn't need to go to the Congress that we should just go ahead and do what we had to do under the Commander in Chief clause of the constitution. That was not the President's view, the President's view was 'I do not want history to judge that I had acted precipitously or impetuously I want people to see that we've left no stone unturned in a search for a peaceful resolution of this, albeit an unconditional withdrawal.' Not give anything but at least make the effort diplomatically and politically and I would like to have the support of the congress and American people although I don't acknowledge that I have to have congressional approval.

Q: I'm told that everywhere you went you had a big list of Senators and Congressmen to call.

Baker: I really was not as active in the lobbying effort as I would have been had I been in Washington but I was making calls from the road even though I was out there on the road. Once the President had made the decision to go to the Congress then we really turned loose and did everything we could to get the votes and we were fortunately successful. But, the Geneva meeting was what was really , key to that success.

The day of the deadline the President called me at some point during the day, and asked me if I could come over for lunch and I said 'Sure'. And I went over and just the two of us had lunch in the residence, and we ate in the family dining room up on the, I guess it's the second floor of the residence. And he was reflective, he was convinced that he was doing the right thing. Obviously he had a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders and I'm sure he felt that. After all he and he alone had to make the decision about committing all of these forces to the war. We had 550,000 Americans in the Gulf by that time, we had people particularly who were opposed to the use of force suggesting casualty estimates in the thousands and it was a very heavy burden of responsibility that he bore and I think he was quite aware of that.

Q: What carried him through that? What was his sense of the nature of this conflict?

Baker: He knew was doing the right thing. He felt it literally, I remember at one point he said the military had told me over and over and over how it's going to turn out and they cannot be that wrong. We have provided everything that they have asked for. There's not anything that they've asked that we haven't provided. Having,said all those things though and having recognised all those things, he still was committing the nation to war and that's a heavy, heavy responsibility. He was convinced, as I was, that he had done the right thing. Absolutely convinced that we'd gone about it in the right way, that we really had left no stone unturned. That we had the entire international community behind us. That not only was this in the national interest of the United States and its allies but it was the right thing to do and it was the right thing to do morally, politically and in the national interests. It was what the United States should do as leader of the free world. The diplomatic and political and military decisions that had been made leading up to it had been handled in the right way and he was very much at peace with his decision but recognised the awesome responsibility that he had.

Q: Did President Bush ever intimate to you when he thought war became inevitable?

Baker: No, I never really had a discussion with him about that but I think he was probably of that view before the rest of us. He certainly was quite ready to move with the augmentation decision in November. I think he had concluded by then that economic sanctions weren't gonna cut it.

Q: The deadline has passed, the target list has been approved, you start calling around. One of the most important calls you make is the Soviet Foreign Minister, could you describe that call?

Baker: I recall calling the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, at the time having replaced Shevardnahze, to tell him that the air war was going to begin. I think I called him about an hour before the air war was due to begin and he called me back within 10 or 15 minutes with a personal request from Gorbachev to President Bush to please delay it to give him time to make one last appeal to Baghdad. And my recollection is I said something like 'Well there's too much that's been put in train, Sasha, we can't call this off now, and I'm sorry but we won't be able to accommodate that request' and at that point we were only about 20 to 25 minutes away and the aircraft I'm sure were already on their way.

Q: What do you remember of that evening when the air war began--were you watching t.v.?

Baker: I was watching CNN at my office at the State Department and I remember thinking this is the only time that I will probably ever watch a war begin on television in which I had played a significant part. And also I remember one of the correspondents coming on the air and saying nothing's happening here, there's nothing going on, I think may be there was an air raid siren going off, but nothing is happening at all. And all of a sudden things started happening outside the window there. The anti aircraft started going off and bombs started falling. My recollection is, and I'm not sure about this, but I think that it started a little early. I remember thinking to myself golly they're 10, 15, 20 minutes early from the time that had been agreed upon.

Q: The next night the first scuds are fired at Israel. Did keeping Israel out of the war matter?

Baker: Yes, I think it mattered. I'd been very careful to get firm commitments from all our Arab allies that if, Iraq attacked Israel and Israel had to retaliate they would stay with us. And they said they would but it was very hard to get those commitments from them, they didn't like making those commitments because they were worried about public opinion in their countries and everybody really was worried about Saddam Hussein's ability to turn this from an international community war against Iraq to get him out of Kuwait to a war between Iraq and Israel on the behalf of the Arab world kind of thing. So it was important that Israel exercise restraint and she exercised great restraint and the international community was extraordinarily appreciative and grateful for that. It was not easy for Israel to demonstrate that restraint and it wouldn't have happened frankly had it not been for Yitzak Shamir, the Prime Minister who was under great pressure to respond and retaliate, particularly from people like Misha Adams, his Defence Minister and others.

Q: What was the - the closest, do you think that they came to moving into action?

Baker: I think they came fairly close to moving in to action but we would never agree to give them the codes that were necessary for them to be able to identify friendly aircraft, that is US aircraft. And because of that there was always the risk that if they had retaliated they might have shot down an American aircraft or an American aircraft might have shot down an Israeli aircraft which would have been a tragic circumstance and I think that's one of the reasons that they did not retaliate. But another reason I think was you know the full force of the international community and the full force of the United States dealing with one of the greatest threats to Israel's security in the form of Iraq.

Q: Throughout the war what was the message you were giving to Mr. Shamir?

Baker: The message to Prime Minister Shamir and the Israeli Government was that we were dealing with the greatest threat to the security of Israel, Iraq, Israel's implacable foe and that it would complicate that task if Israel felt the need to herself become involved in the war. It would make it a lot more difficult to convince the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Syrians, and others to remain passive.

Q: What was the mood like that night...

Baker: We were very concerned about what Israeli intervention in the war might mean to our effort to keep the coalition together, there's no doubt about that. And we exerted significant efforts to convince the Israelis that their best interests lay in not retaliating and we were successful. And I think everyone in the coalition, including the Arab members of the coalition appreciated the restraint that Israel had showed 'cos it was a first time really in her history I think that she had not retaliated when attacked.

Q: Moshe Arens in February came and visited the Oval Office for what by all accounts was a rather unpleasant meeting. He said the Patriots weren't working, he said you guys weren't getting it together. Can you recall that meeting at all?

Baker: I have a vague recollection of that meeting with Arens. Well Arens was just really of the view that I think he felt that his Prime Minister had made the wrong decision in not retaliating. But he was the Defence Minister and his political base required that he argued for retaliation and he was making the case as I think a Defence Minister probably should. But the Prime Minister was the person who made the decision and I think it was the right decision and the coalition--including the Arab countries--felt it was the right decision.

Q: What was Primakov up to? Was he a traditional Soviet -- `We don't want America in the Middle East?'

Baker: Primakov was I think one of the leading Arabists in the Soviet Union. He personally knew Saddam Hussein. He had come over to see us with at least one proposal before and I think that he had quite a bit of influence on Gorbachev as we drew closer to a land war. His idea was we should not help America in the Persian Gulf, that America is on a track here to establish a permanent military presence, this is against our interests. This is a Soviet client state it's always been a friend of ours and we ought to do whatever we can to avoid a ground war here. The Arabists in the Soviet Foreign Ministry were all coming up all the time with proposals to get Iraq out of Kuwait but to give Saddam some face saving gesture not to get out unconditionally as the UN resolution required. So they kept coming at us with these proposals and we kept turning them down.

Q: Why didn't Gorbachev just send Primakov packing, saying 'No , no, not interested?'

Baker: Well I think that Gorbachev was at the time becoming weaker and weaker. He was under attack by the conservatives, one of the things they were attacking him for was the fact that they had sided with the United States against their client state Iraq. And I think he was having to tack a little bit towards the right. He was having to listen to the military. He was having to listen to those people who were essentially opposed to his reform efforts. And one of the main issues that they kept harping on was the alliance with the United States against Iraq.

Q: Could you describe the call that Gorbachev made?

Baker: Well Gorbachev called the President, I don't remember the exact date, to try and convince the President that he had gotten Saddam Hussein to commit to withdrawal. And we had a long conversation with Gorbachev, I don't know how long it lasted but quite a while. During which he proposed this scheme whereby Saddam Hussein would state an intention to withdraw and then there would be some conditions that would apply to it and one of the things I remember distinctly was that the other 8 or 9 resolutions in addition to the 660 and 678, the first one condemning the invasion and the use of force resolutions--yhat those resolutions would be eliminated and Iraq would not be subject to the penalties that the Security Council had ordered by way of resolution.

So we basically told Gorbachev that this was not an acceptable approach. It would not result in an unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. I think Gorbachev was basically saying 'Look I've worked this out whereby we can get Saddam out of Kuwait without a war.' And we were saying back to Gorbachev 'Well that's fine but there are so many conditions attached to it here that it is not an unconditional withdrawal which is what the United Nations Security Council resolution requires and therefore it's not acceptable'.

Q: Was Gorbachev really trying ?

Baker: I think he was really trying. Yes. He was under a fair amount of pressure I think internally. But I also think he was motivated by a desire to, if possible, adopt a statesmanlike approach and come up with some sort of solution that would avoid war. But our problem with his solution was it would have rewarded aggression.

Q: That evening, after that phone call you all gathered in the Oval office because George Bush just wanted to have a final talk. Dick Cheney was saying he thought it was time, I think the phrase was, just to "stiff" Gorbachev. How anxious were you though to keep Gorbachev on your side?

Baker: Well I think it was important to keep the coalition together throughout the air war, throughout the ground war. Because of the issues that would arise in the aftermath of Iraq's ejection from Kuwait. And as it turned out I think it was important to keep them on board, we did keep them on board, and we basically did stiff Gorbachev, we kept coming back to him and saying 'No, you are continually are suggesting approaches which do not require an unconditional withdrawal' and we were never, never, never, never going to accept a negotiating down from the UN resolutions. We weren't going to accept it in Geneva, we weren't going to accept it in bilateral diplomacy, diplomatic efforts from the Soviet Union or anybody else.

Q: And just as the land war was about to happen, Gorbachev called again......?

Baker: Yes my recollection is he called the President at Camp David -- I was up there with him that weekend. And we were in the gym as a matter of fact and the President took the call in the locker room. And at that point I think Gorbachev had a proposal for withdrawal but it would have, in effect, cancelled all of the UN resolutions providing for reparations, providing for destruction of nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities and all those collateral UN resolutions, it would have required that they simply be eliminated and therefore was not acceptable. And his message was 'I appreciate your sincere efforts at trying to bring about a peaceful resolution of this dispute but we will not accept anything other than an unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.'

Q: What warnings were sent to the Iraqis about using chemical weapons?

Baker: The President's letter to Saddam Hussein which Tariq Aziz read in Geneva, made it very clear that if Iraq used weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, against United States forces that the American people would demand vengeance and that we had the means to achieve it. I also reinforced that message in my presentation with Tariq Aziz at Geneva and we made it clear that in addition to ejecting Iraq from Kuwait, if they used those types of weapons against our forces we would in addition to throwing them out of Kuwait, we would adopt as a goal the elimination of the regime in Baghdad.

And we never did that, we never expanded our war aims or our political aims to include that -- we never went beyond the scope of the United Nations Security Council resolutions but we made it very clear to them that if they used weapons of mass destruction on our forces that would be one thing we would consider doing and further that we had the means to obtain vengeance.

Q: We've talked to a lot of the Air Force people, special forces people. It's quite clear that during the war great efforts were made to kill Saddam Hussein...bombing the bunkers...Did you hope that Saddam Hussein would be killed during the war?

Baker: Well, that's a question you should direct to the military. We were very careful to observe the executive order which prevents action leading to the assassination of foreign leaders. On the other hand I think the legal experts had told the military that it would be perfectly legal and within our laws and regulations in the context of war, to kill anyone involved in the command and control establishment of Iraq. And since he was the Commander in Chief of the Iraqi armed forces if he were killed in combat that would not violate the executive order.

Q: Would you have shed any tears if a bomber had happened to hit him?

Baker: I think we've said on a number of occasions that we would not shed any tears if the Iraqi people replaced Saddam Hussein. We would not shed any tears if he were eliminated as the leader of Iraq. We would have been happy to see him replaced yes, politically replaced by someone else or overthrown by his army or his rule ended there. At the same time we were very careful not to do something that would result in the fragmentation of Iraq because we didn't think that would be in our national interests.

Q: Could you describe what was the process that led to the war being ended.

Baker: The President was advised by his military advisers that we had achieved our war aims. It was the view of the political advisers that we had achieved our political aims. Iraq was out of Kuwait. The Iraqis were taking rather massive casualties on the Highway of Death. There was a feeling I think on the part of some that what was happening there was sort of un-American, the military particularly felt that we had accomplished our goals and the President after talking to General Powell and after talking to Secretary Cheney and Norman Schwarzkopf concluded it was time to wrap it up. And I think said, 'Well when we reach 100 hours' I think that was what he said, which was several hours yet, maybe half a day into the future,then we ought to end it. And that it was a decision that as best I can recall there was absolutely no dissent from on the part of any of the Presidents' advisers.

Q: What were the key factors that led you all to think 'Hey, it's time to finish this.'

Baker: The key factors were that we had ejected Iraq from Kuwait which is what was required by the uh UN Security Council resolution. That if we kept going a whole lot longer we would be acting beyond the resolution. The war aims had been achieved. The political aims had been achieved. A lot of people trying to flee were being killed literally thousands and the military advised the President that it was time to wrap it up in terms of our war aims and I think the President's decision was absolutely the right one. All the second guessing about going to Baghdad and all of that, people that make those kinds of suggestions are not taking into consideration a whole host of factors. How many more American lives would have been lost? How far beyond our authority from the UN would we have been acting if we had prolonged the war further, if we had occupied Southern Iraq, if we had gone to Baghdad? How long would we have to fight a guerrilla war in Iraq if we'd occupied any of the territory? A whole host of factors. People also forget that it was never a war aim or a political aim of the United States to eliminate the Saddam Hussein regime.

Was it something we would like to see happen? Was it something that most of us felt probably would happen in the aftermath of such a significant defeat? Yes. But it was never something that was authorised that we'd do by the United Nations Security Council. We would have lost our coalition. The Arab elements I think would have left for sure. There would be no peace process in the Middle East today. So people don't focus on those things.

Q: When I talk to the Army commanders on the ground they wanted another 12-24 hours.....

Baker: Well, first of all I didn't hear the phone conversation between the President and General Schwarzkopf, because I was in the room and the President was on the line, I didn't hear General Schwarzkopf's side of the conversation but I'm not aware that General Schwarzkopf said 'No, we want another 12 or 24 hours Mr President' I think if the military had made that request to the President he would have gone along with it just as he went along with almost every request that the military made. But the military were recommending to the President that it was time to end it from General Powell on down.

Q: The military guys would assume it was you and Bob Gates and so on saying 'Hey,100 hours has a nice ring to it, let's end it at 100 hours.'

Baker: Well, I don't remember one person saying to the President 'Don't end it now, it's prematurely ended' nobody said that. Nobody in the political adviser group, nobody in the military adviser group. Now what some general down the line out there on the ground might have thought or felt or said I don't know, I can't speak for that.

Q: Could you recall the advice you gave the President, in that meeting?

Baker: Well I don't recall any specific language that I used in that meeting but my sense was that we had achieved our war aims we'd achieved our objectives, of course the military told us we had, General Powell had said we were killing literally thousands of people. Based on the President's conversation with General Schwarzkopf it was time to end the war. That was enough for me as a political adviser. I think I've already spoken to the fact that I think if we had gone on much longer we would have lost the coalition. The Arab coalition partners particularly I remember, the Saudis, wanted us to leave as promptly as possible-- get our forces out of there after the end of the war--when there was a question of whether we should occupy some of southern Iraq. There was a clear chance that if we overdid it, that we would lose the coalition or that cracks would begin to develop within the coalition and there was no reason to consider continuing when the military were telling the President 'It's time to end it.'

The President nor any of us thought, at that time, that Saddam would continue in power. Having suffered such a resounding defeat there were some suggestions I think at the time and later about having him acknowledge defeat in some way. About having him come down to Safwan and maybe you know you could say in retrospect it would have been better to do that. I don't know whether that would have made a lot of difference in terms of his ability to continue in power in Iraq. I think the uprisings in the South and in the North gave Saddam a cause around which he could rally support from his military. If he were going to be deposed the most likely scenario was that he would be deposed by his military. When the Shia in the South and the Kurds in the North started their uprisings, it gave him a pretty solid basis to argue to his army 'stick with me or we'll all be out.' I mean I think that may unfortunately be the way that worked.

Q: What was the goal in the final UN ceasefire?

Baker: Well the goal in the final UN ceasefire was to make sure that we had a means and mechanism for enforcing the other UN resolutions. The destruction of their weapons of mass destruction program, inspections, reparations, a whole host of other UN resolutions and we wanted in the cease-fire agreement to make sure that Iraq acknowledge her responsibility with respect to those resolutions and I think we obtained that.

Q: So in the end when people quibble about a bit of armor left at the end of the war they're missing the point..?

Baker: Absolutely. I mean the war achieved a really significant reduction in Saddam's aggressive posture, military power, it achieved an elimination of his weapons of mass destruction program. It eliminated him really as a significant threat to the West's economic lifeline, it knocked this dictator who was sitting astride the West's economic lifeline off of it. So the war accomplished a whole host of things that are very beneficial to this day.

Q: The helicopter trip, what do you remember about that?

Baker: We took helicopters from this little town and flew to a little mountain village in the southeastern mountains of Turkey and as we were flying along over this really rugged terrain we all of a sudden saw streams of people filing out of Iraq or filing into the northeastern corner of Iraq there out of some of the villages and a whole sea of people camped on the mountains. And this was early Spring when it was really quite cold and we landed there at Kucherka and then we took four wheel drive vehicles up the mountain and went right to where most of the people were collected.

I thought that we had the potential for a humanitarian nightmare in the making here. I was not able to stay right there with the group too long because once they learned that there was a high level American official and it wasn't just Turkish security people the crowd began to move sort of like tidal wave actually there were there were 50-75,000 people in this little valley and the mountainside was just covered and every little piece of ground had a little tent or a makeshift shelter on it and they'd cut down all the trees for firewood and they were hanging their clothes on on what was left of any tree and they were drinking out of these mountain streams and some were bare footed and it was really a very alarming scene. To someone like myself who knows something about the mountain because I've spent time in them, and how cold it can get in the in the evenings at 85-100 feet in the spring and it moved me significantly.

When I got back down to my airplane at Jabiquer I had a press conference there I think I can't remember who with but, and I said that there's a humanitarian nightmare here, a potential for it and the international community really has to do something and I called the President as we flew off to Tel Aviv and drove up to Jerusalem and told him I'd never seen anything like this and that a lot of people were going to die if we didn't do something and do something quickly and that he needed to - to uh to really break whatever china was required in order to get it done. And then when I got to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem I remember calling Dick Cheney who is a friend of mine and with whom I've worked for a long time and because I'd heard that there was some resistance from the Department of Defence to undertaking this humanitarian mission and I told Dick the same thing that I had told the President. And they really turned too and that was the genesis of Provide Comfort, Operation Provide Comfort in the north there. Then I flew off a day or so later to Geneva and met with the UN peopland the UN agencies also turned to very rapidly.

Q: And John Major, he'd been pushing his plans for safe havens --was that a plan you were just having to pick up or didn't it register.

Baker: Well, what really happened was we ended up going with the safe haven. The United States did not want to take on the responsibility for having to create a safe haven there-if it was going to be enforced it wasn't going to be enforced by others it was going to have to be enforced by Uncle Whiskers and we really didn't want to do it but when you saw the magnitude of that humanitarian nightmare building there, we really ended up providing a safe haven and it's still there to this day.

Q: Sum up for me why you felt able to put US troops into Kurdistan but it hadn't been possible to put troops into the Shi'a areas to the South.

Baker: Well I think there was a clear humanitarian problem in the North that really did not exist to the same extent and degree in the South. In the South you had Saddam burning the marshes or doing whatever he could to eliminate the Shi'a in the South. There was not as much sentiment for a humanitarian operation there although we did some things. And during a period of time that we occupied a portion of southern Iraq there we saw to it that a lot of Shia refugees were admitted to Saudi Arabia if I'm not mistaken or at least they were given safe haven so we did some things in the South as well. It's just that you didn't have the concentration of humanity the way you did up in the North and I think very much on the minds of a lot of people were the way Saddam had, in the past, used poisoned gas against the Kurds and so forth.

Q: If you had to play that end game again is there anything that you'd do differently?

Baker: Well, I can't think of anything. I've already said to you that I think that the President made absolutely the right decision in ending the war when he did. You can quibble about whether or not we should have permitted helicopters, that's a valid I think debate, but you have to remember, and you can quibble about whether or not we should have maintained a buffer zone in the South or occupied some little part or some parts of Southern Iraq, but we didn't, that was never a war aim that was never a political aim of ours to eliminate Saddam Hussein's leadership. It was never and it was disclaimed from the very beginning by the President that we had any intention of occupying Iraq or any portion of Iraq and creating a permanent American presence in Iraq. All of these things we had said no to. The military had done a great job and they were ready to go home and the President was ready to bring them home so I don't think that with all the 20/20 hindsight in the world it's really valid to uto make those suggestions. We never adopted as a war aim or a political aim the elimination of Saddam Hussein's leadership and if you weren't focusing on that as an aim, for what purpose would you occupy? If we had stayed there as an occupying power in Southern Iraq, if we had somehow decided we were going to get in to the business of emitting Saddam from power I'm not at all sure that the potential for Middle East peace would have remained alive.

Q: Your colleagues say that in the Summer of 1990 you were still busily trying to appease the monster you'd created, is that true?

Baker: I don't think that's true at all. Our policy had begun to change toward Saddam after his speech about fire eating up Israel. We had been embarked upon a policy of trying to moderate his behaviour, trying to engage with him, trying to engage politically and economically and in effect bring Iraq into the community of responsible nations. That policy was giving every indication of not working in February or March of 1990 when his rhetoric became quite .....and we began to change our policy. At that time we got considerably tougher with him in terms of what we were willing to do and not willing to do toward the end, before his invasion we ended up putting foreign policy sanctions on Iraq. There were a whole host of things we suspended--our grain credits program and so I think the idea that somehow we were not changing this policy of trying to moderate Iraq's behaviour is simply wrong. Even more patently wrong and this has been proven now by investigations that have been concluded, is that we were somehow secretly arming Iraq. I mean that that was a total fabrication . We weren't doing anything of the kind. We did have a policy of trying to improve our commercial relations but even that policy was beginning to change in the Spring of 1990.

Q: ...Spring of 1990, how did you regard Saddam Hussein and what were you trying to do about it?

Baker: Well, we had concluded that his behaviour was becoming fairly abhorrent, that he was making these ..... threats and challenges and we began to have internal debates about modulating our policy of trying to moderate Iraq. And we took some steps that began to change that policy.

Q: Throughout this period he's making all these noises the CIA, the DIA are watching a huge military build up, why wasn't an explicit signal sent saying 'Hey don't do this, don't do it.'

Baker: Well, you're talking now about the days immediately prior to the invasion. I would argue that when our Ambassador tells him that we should resolve things through peaceful means that that is sending a signal.....The problem with it was that everyone of the allies in the region were saying that this was simply being done as a matter of bluffing Kuwait, to get Kuwait to make some economic concession. President Mubharak personally told us that and he was told that by Saddam Hussein himself just a week or ten days before he invaded. King Hussein was giving us the same advice. Everyone felt initially that this was a big bluff. And in fact our Arab allies in the region were saying 'Don't over react, don't push him, if you push him then you're likely to encourage him to do something'. I remember we even conducted some military exercises with the United Arab Emirates which was a pretty darn good signal to him I mean I think you'd have to acknowledge that was a fairly a clear signal. He certainly responded to it, he didn't like it a bit. And frankly some of our Arab allies suggested to us that we were doing too much by conducting those exercises.

Q: How high on your agenda was it? Did it seem as Mubharak put it, 'a solemn cloud that had gone away?'

Baker: We were told that it was a bluff, purely and simply a bluff. And I think we accepted that characterisation of it probably for too long, we accepted it right up until the two or three days before when it became really quite evident that the build-up on the border was for a specific purpose. I remember I was in Irkuzk in Siberia meeting with Shevardnahze when we began to get the intelligence reports that indicated that he really might be likely to be planning to invade and I arranged it with Shevardnahze and he came back and he said 'No that's impossible, he wouldn't be that foolish' but he said I'll have it checked with our intelligence people and the very next afternoon or later that afternoon or early the next day , I can't remember which, he came back and said, 'We've checked it, there's nothing to it, he's using it as a bluff to try and achieve some economic concession from Kuwait'.

Q: The one thing that still puzzles me --You get this huge build-up on the border and you've got Saddam Hussein who is unpredictable, you've got the Kuwaitis sort of burying their heads in the sand, trying to pretend it's not happening, why was it no sort of really explicit message was sent. Why do you think no-one said 'Hey he's going to do it.'

Baker: Well no-one said 'Hey he's going to do it' because the entire world didn't think he was going to do it. Everyone thought he was bluffing and all of our allies were advising us of that, our Arab allies particularly. They were saying 'You shouldn't overreact to this, the exercises you're conducting or have conducted with the UAE it's the wrong approach, he's very unpredictable you shouldn't take that approach'. So I think everybody got it wrong. Everybody got it wrong.

Q: How did you hear Saddam Hussein had moved into Kuwait?

Baker: I think I got a call from Bob Kinnet telling me that they had invaded. The assessment in Washington was that that it was a limited invasion, the initial assessment. That he didn't look like he was going to go all the way and then it became apparent fairly quickly that he was going to occupy the whole country. But initially I think people felt like he might just take the oil fields or a little portion of the northern part of the country.

Q: What was the significance of that joint statement with the Soviets about the invasion?

Baker: I think that joint statement was extraordinarily significant because without the Soviet Union on board we never would have been able to marshal the international coalition that we were able to build up. It just gave a completely different dynamic to the whole effort instead of being an effort let's say by the United States and the United Kingdom to eject Iraq from Kuwait, it was an effort by the entire international community. And that would not have been possible without that joint statement. It would not have been possible for us to take military action in the Persian Gulf of this magnitude without running the risk of an East-West confrontation without that statement and that set the basis for much of what followed.

Q: In strategic terms, why did the Soviets play the game?

Baker: I think they did it because they were anxious to be seen to be cooperating with rather than confronting the United States. It was all a part of the dynamics at the time of peristroika and glasnost and the very courageous personal and political decision that Gorbachev and Shevardnahze had made to change the way things were done in the Soviet Union.They both honestly believed that what had happened was wrong. They were embarrassed I think by a number of things. The fact that their intelligence services had been so wrong about it, the fact that a client state with Soviet military had, in an unprovoked way aggressively moved against a small neighbour like this. They were genuinely embarrassed and I think they felt what we were doing was the right thing to do.

Q: If there is a new world order, was that the first manifestation of it?

Baker: Let me explain what the new world order means 'cos everybody gets it wrong because we did not do a particularly good job of explaining what we meant by the new world order. What we meant by the new world order was not that there would not be disorder and regional conflict and wars. What we meant was that everybody around the world was moving in the direction of the principals and values that we in the West had always held dear. That we in America and in the United Kingdom and elsewhere had held dear. Freedom, democracy, individual rights and so forth. That's what we meant by the new world order. This was as good an indication as I can think of that the Soviet Union wanted to become a part of the new world order, they wanted to show that they were embracing the principals and values that we in the West held dear. And we had this wonderful exchange -- this is a little bit off the mark on the Persian Gulf war but at the summit in Malta, the first summit that President Bush had with Gorbachev we were talking about Western values. And he objected and he said 'Wait a minute we're using the same values now that we subscribe to and that we believe in, don't call them Western values.' So we had a little back and forth about that for a while and I suggested that we call them democratic values, he said 'Fine, democratic values, 'cos we subscribe to those'. That's what we meant by the new world order.

Q: When the President decided the troops were going to be going to Saudi Arabia you rang Edward Shevardnahze.... I thought this was remarkable because it would have provoked the Third World War once.

Baker: Well, that was the significance, frankly, of the joint statement in Moscow, they were now on board, they were with us. And one of the assurances I had to give Shevardnahze in our meeting in Moscow before he signed on to that joint statement was that we were not just using this as an excuse for a permanent American military presence in the Gulf. I qualified it to say, of course, that if anything happened to our hostages and by that time Saddam I think had taken Americans hostage, that all bets were off. But then when we decided to send the first installment of forces to Saudi Arabia I thought it was important to let the Soviets know about it. They after all were in this with us and and we did so, and at the time he was not pleased to hear the news ....

Q: What happened when you telephoned Shevardnahze?

Baker: Well when I telephoned Shevardnahze to tell him that we were sending forces to Saudi Arabia initially he was not very pleased, he said 'Is this a consultation or notification' he said 'This is notification and if you've already done it, if the President's already issued the order why do you feel it necessary to call me?' And we were subsequently able to overcome that little difficulty and the Soviets stayed with us throughout the crisis.

Q: Could you recount for me your conversations with the President on the night of the invasion?

Baker: On that night I talked to the President from Ulan Bator in Mongolia. I had done from Irkutzk in Siberia where I was meeting with Shevardnahze and I remember staying up most all of the night. I got practically no sleep. I talked to the President a couple of times, I talked to Brent I think several times. I talked to Dennis Ross in Moscow because they had gone straight from Irkutzk back to Moscow on Shevardnahze's plane to talk with his people about some mischiefs involving the US and Soviet Union. And the President and I both agreed on the importance of trying to get a condemnation resolution out of the Security Council as soon as possible and that was resolution 660 and, of course, that was done rather immediately. We then talked about whether or not I should go, try and come back to the States through Moscow if I thought I could get some sort of a co-operative joint statement from the Soviets and he said 'By all means, if you think you can get it you ought to try and you ought to try and do it'. So I concluded that we would make the effort. I then talked to Ross a couple of times. Before I went to Moscow the next morning I did not know whether we were going to get a statement . It wasn't an open and shut thing because the Arabists in the Soviet Foreign Ministry were very much opposed to it.

Q: What were you telling to the President about the significance of the invasion? Did you see it as significant? What were you saying to him?

Baker: Well, you didn't have to say anything about the significance. It was damned significant by that time they'd occupied all of Kuwait. By the time they'd occupied all of Kuwait no one was really certain whether they would continue on down through the Arabian peninsular or not, but there was nothing standing in their way. If Saddam had wanted to at that time he could have just continued right on down the Arabian peninsular.

Q: But some people have used the posthumous line 'Hey it was just a gas station, and the gas station had changed hands.' You didn't see it like that?

Baker: No, we did not see it that way, absolutely not. No. Let me say the reason we didn't see it as a case of the gas station just changing hands is because it has been a policy in the United States for a long time that we had a vital national interest at stake in preserving free access to the oil of the Persian Gulf. I think everybody in the United States-- I'm not aware of anybody in our government [who] has said 'This is just a gas station changing hands.'

Q: How real did you think the threat was to Saudi Arabia?

Baker: Well, we really were not certain but we knew that he had the capability of moving on through the Arabian peninsular if he concluded that that's what he should do, that that's what he wanted to do and we were quite concerned about it and I know I remember being particularly concerned when the first elements of US forces were going to Saudi Arabia because at that time we had very few people there and they were all at risk. Until we built up to a certain level, a certain defensive posture, our people were very much at risk there.

Q: There was this problem with the tankers -- I think they were Iraqi tankers ... Thatcher, Brent Scowcroft, they just wanted them sunk but you'd been talking with Eduard Shevardnadze ... what were you advising the President to do?

Baker: This incident with the tankers took place while I was at my cabin in Wyoming, the President was at Kennybunkport and we had just seen the Security Council I think enact an embargo of Iraqi oil as a part of the succession of UN resolutions. Most of the President's advisers, including I think Scowcroft and Cheney and Powell, as well as Mrs. Thatcher, felt that those ships containing Iraqi oil that were sailing in the Persian Gulf I think toward Yemen should be sunk and should be sunk very quickly because our credibility was-- you couldn't have a resolution like this or an embargo and not be seen to be taking action if it was valid. My view was different, because I wanted to make sure we kept the Soviets on board and Shevardnadze through conversations I was having with him from my cabin in Wyoming was telling me that if we could give them four to five days, he thought that he could have the tankers turned around, they could talk to Baghdad, they couldhave some developments occur which would be satisfactory but they just wanted a little time before we took military action, this would have been the first military action.

Q: And so, what were you saying to the President?

Baker: What I was saying to the President was, there's a lot more at stake here than two tankers, we really should try and keep the Soviets involved as a part of the coalition, it will pay big dividends in the future and the President went along with me and in the aftermath he said that was the right advice and the right decision and we didn't take the tankers out and we kept the Soviets on board. We didn't give the Soviets as long as they wanted, we didn't give 'em four or five days. They went to the Iraqis,t hey got a back of the hand from the Iraqis which further alienated the Soviets and further wrapped them into the coalition.

Q: What was the message ... I think it was the day after the tanker debate, what was the message Eduard Shevardnadze sent to you?

Baker: Shevardnadze's message back to me was that the Iraqi response was disappointing and not worth commenting on.

Q: Mrs. Thatcher still feels -- too much emphasis on the UN and you're worrying about the UN, worrying about the Soviets, we should be cracking on ...

Baker: I think militarily we could have done it, I think the United States and the United Kingdom together could have done the job militarily, I think we might have paid a political price, I'm not at all sure we would have a peace process in the Middle East if we'd gone at it under Article 51 - we were quite prepared to go on 51 if we couldn't do it multilaterally the way we did, but I happen to think that this was a textbook case of using the United Nations in the way in which the founders intended. And no one can deny I don't think that the operation was a success, almost a textbook success politically, diplomatically and militarily.

Q: Sanctions--were they given enough time, I've heard a lot of people say you were concerned they weren't being given a fair shot.

Baker: No, I was not concerned that they weren't being given a fair shot, I think they were given a fair shot and I concluded fairly early on that Saddam would starve everybody in Iraq before he would back down and that we weren't going to be able to do it through economic sanctions. That's not to say I didn't defend the policy because of using economic sanctions because I think it was an appropriate policy to put in place before we resorted to force.

Q: The President seems to have been determined to give the military everything they wanted, why was that?

Baker: I think the President was aware of the experience of Vietnam consistently throughout this episode, he knew that the politicians had dictated the war, that it was a limited war, the military had never been able to fight the war they thought they needed to fight it to win it and he was determined to let the military call the shots, let the military call the shots about how it was conducted, about when it was ended and all the rest and that's exactly what he did and he bent over backwards to give them everything in the world that they might need, so there really couldn't be any suggestion that the civilians were going to try and run the war. General Powell, particularly, believed that if you were going to use force, you've got to use it dramatically and overwhelmingly and substantially and the President provided that kind of a force and we, of course, also did something that has never been done before and that is fought a war which the United States did not itself have to totally pay for. This war was financed not just by the United States but by all of our coalition allies as well.

Q: The augmentation meeting, as you call it, when it was announced that the number of troops were going to be doubled, what did you feel at the time was the significance of that meeting?

Baker: Well I thought that the augmentation decision was an extraordinarily significant decision because we could not send that large a force to the Gulf and expect to keep them there, sitting there while we waited months and months for sanctions to work, so I think we all full well understood the significance of it.

Q: Once that announcement was made, it was made on November the 9th, public support ebbed very fast and there seemed to be a series of contradictory messages coming out--you talked about jobs, you talked about oil, could you sum up, first of all why did you think this was going to be a war worth fighting?

Baker: I think we handled the announcement very poorly, we did not brief the Congress on it, we decided to withhold the formal announcement until after the elections so as not to get that issue involved in the mid-term election, which I think was an appropriate thing to do. But then we just announced it without any prior consultation with the Congress and without doing our homework and without properly preparing the ground for the announcement. That caused a lot of the people up on the Hill who saw the augmentation decision for what it was to decide to hold hearings against it . The drumbeat began then that this was an irrevocable step on the road to war and it gave us a setback for a short period of time there.

Q: You're Secretary of State, what were you telling the President you had to do?

Baker: Well I was on the road at the time and I was really surprised that we had just dumped it out publicly without doing any Congressional notification or consultation and I made my views known with respect to that. And we then had to dig out of a hole, we were in quite a hole and we should have done our home work better.

Q: How did you dig yourself out of the hole?

Baker: We began an active program of consultations with the Congress, we went up and testified. I went up and testified several times. Cheney and I briefed the Congress, and we began to do what we should have done before announcing the augmentation decision and that is give them all the background and the information.

Q: What for you was the fundamental reason for fighting the war?

Baker: The fundamental reason was that this was very much in the vital national interest of the United States. It had been seen to be in the vital national interests of the United States through both Republican and Democratic administrations going all the way back to Roosevelt. That is secure access to the energy resources of the Persian Gulf. That, plus the fact that we had here an outrageous case of unprovoked aggression by a large country against it's small neighbour. We had the potential of a dictator who was in the process of developing nuclear weapons or trying to develop nuclear weapons, sitting astride the economic lifeline of the West. We had a situation where if he had been successful it would have adversely impacted the economies of all of the West. It would have impacted jobs in the United States. All of those reasons were valid reasons for fighting this war. My suggestion that it boiled down to jobs got a lot of attention and flack but the fact of the matter is it would have boiled down to jobs if Saddam Hussein had been able to control the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf or to, by controlling his own oil and Kuwaiti's oil act in a way to influence prices.

Q: Did you feel by this stage, November, December that war was inevitable? Or did you think that Saddam might get back out?

Baker: Well our policy, of course, of diplomacy in my view had some chance of working or we wouldn't have been pursuing it. I thought that he might come to his senses. I think it was really only after Geneva that I was pretty well convinced we were gonna go to war. I don't know that I could put a percentage on it for you, what were the odds that he would back down, what were the odds that we would have to go to war. I know this, once the President made the augmentation decision there was no chance that we were going to bring those troops home without ejecting him from Kuwait unless he left Kuwait unconditionally.

Q: How much did Saddam Hussein help you through his actions?

Baker: Saddam Hussein helped us considerably throughout all of this by his own actions. The taking of hostages, the way in which he approached so much of this. The way in which he went in initially. The atrocities that were committed there. He didn't help himself in many respects. Just like he hasn't helped himself since by moving some forces here several months ago just at the time that Russia and France and other countries were becoming very sympathetic to the lifting of sanctions.

Q: How much did the Kuwaitis help you in terms of turning public opinion?

Baker: I think that the Kuwaiti efforts were a part of turning public opinion. I think the report of Amnesty International helped us turn public opinion and that was a report that no one really could attack. That made it clear that there were significant atrocities being committed in Kuwait.

Q: What was the message do you think that changed the public opinion -- because by Christmas it was climbing back up - you'd dug out of the hole - what was the message do you think you managed to get across.

Baker: I think all of the arguments that we really could not sit by and see unprovoked aggression by a large country against a smaller one. That we didn't do anything in the 30's when Hitler started, that this guy had a lot of the same tendencies. At the very least he wanted to be a regional hegemonist, he sought that. That many atrocities had taken place. That it was going to adversely impact our own economy here. That we had a vital national interest at stake. I think all of those things played in to it.

Q: Mrs Thatcher sat where you're sitting and said -- `George Bush is no longer President, I'm no longer Prime Minister, Saddam Hussein is still Present - who won?'

Baker: Oh I would suggest that we won and we won big. He no longer has the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction, he no longer represents the threat to his neighbours that he did before. He's continuing to have a difficult time in Iraq. Yes he is still in power, and yes Margaret Thatcher is out of power and George Bush is out of power but that may be the difference between democracies and totalitarian regimes. But I don't think that's the standard by which we judge whether or not we set a good example for the world. Whether or not we did it convincingly and cleanly and in the right way. I think we did. And the mere fact that he's still in power doesn't mean that we were not successful in my view. You might have had a successor --everything as bad if not worse. You might have had a balkanization of Iraq and who's to say whether that would be worse so I would tend to disagree with that.

Q: Would this war have been fought if George Bush wasn't President? How important was his contribution in all this?

Baker: Well it was President Bush who set the standard, who said from day one 'This will not stand'. Who had the resolve and the determination and the leadership qualities that made all of this possible. Without a President like that it would not have been possible. If we had had a President who would have attacked and compromised and adjusted and said 'Well may be if we just get him out, we won't have any casualties, we'll get him out and we offer him a little face saver here and there' that would have been a terrible mistake. But George Bush didn't do that. He was a strong leader and this demonstrated -- I think this really showed the leadership qualities of George Bush and it showed what a really remarkable President he was.

Q: When people look back at the Gulf war will they see it as the first of the wars that changed the world, a new type of war?

Baker: I think that when people look back at this they will see it as a textbook example of the way in which the world community can react to unprovoked aggression in a case where, particularly the United States is willing to offer the leadership required to do so. I think they will look back and see it as an instance where the United Nations....

Q: How much was Vietnam in your minds as you planned, conducted this enormous operation of diplomacy in the war?

Baker: Well Vietnam was very much in our minds throughout, both diplomatically and militarily, the President was determined to let the military run the war, he was determined to give the military everything they needed and everything they wanted, we were determined politically and diplomatically to make certain that there was no backing and filling in our position, that there was no suggestion that we would walk down from or negotiate down from UN resolutions which we had promoted, we wanted to make certainthat in building this unprecedented international Coalition that everyone understood that the word of the United States was good and that we weren't going to be adopting a wavering policy approach and I think we were successful both diplomatically and politically and militarily.

Q: And was this one of the reasons you were so concerned about bringing the American people with you?

Baker: Well it's important to bring the American people with you if you're going to fight a major war, but this was one of the reasons because we'd seen what happened in efforts to fight a war when you don't have the support of your domestic population and particularly when you're trying to fight a war where you're hobbling the military and you're running the bombing missions from the Oval Office.

Q: Your diplomats in Bagdad--were you worried there was another Teheran in the making?

Baker: We were very worried about the diplomats, I used to talk to our mission by phone, they never did cut the phone lines, they had dug a well in the back yard if you remember to get water and they were planting vegetables and they were a very courageous and heroic group of outstanding public servants that represented us there in Baghdad and one of the agreements that I was able to obtain from Tariq Aziz in Geneva was that they would release our diplomats and let them go and they lived up to that promise.

Q: A lot of people I've spoken to see a spectrum in the administration, they see Dick Cheney and Scowcroft at one end - I'm not sure where they put the President - they see Colin Powell way out at the other end and they see you more towards the Colin Powell end, would it be fair to say that you were more willing to give diplomacy a chance than Brent Scowcroft or Dick Cheney?

Baker: Well my view that diplomacy was important was grounded every bit as much in the view that if we were going to fight a war we had to do so with the support of the American people, if possible with the support of the American Congress, but that if we were going to send people, Americans off to die in the Persian Gulf, we had to be able to survive the judgments of history that we didn't do so precipitously, we didn't do so cavalierly, we didn't do so in a cowboy approach and that we exhausted whatever possibilities there were of obtaining a peaceful resolution without sacrificing principle and that's exactly what we did and we were far more successful because we were willing to engage in the diplomatic undertakings that we .. that we engaged in than we would have been otherwise and I would suggest to you that I was probably very close to the President's position in my view on that because these are decisions that he made and he alone could make, he alone was the decision maker, and they were decisions that he made that I think turned out very very well for us.

home · oral history · war stories · weapons · maps · chronology
tapes & transcripts 
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation