Stephen M. Walt provides some much needed analysis on the 90BAGHDAD4237 cable, which casts new light on the long debated meeting between U.S. ambassador April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein in July 1990, a week before the outbreak of war between Iraq and Kuwait. Walt addresses arguments made after the release of the cable by Wikileaks to the effect that the cable exonerates Glaspie of the now 20 year old suspicion that she condoned a prospective war with Kuwait. His verdict: that the cable reveals that the U.S. diplomatic stance towards Iraq was insufficiently stern, and is in part responsible for the outbreak of the war.
[T]his incident seems to be a classic illustration of a country applying what IR theorists describe as a "spiral model" remedy to a "deterrence model" situation. (In the "spiral model," states are aggressive solely because they are insecure, and therefore reassuring them is the best way to avoid war. In the deterrence model, states are aggressive because they are simply greedy or ideologically driven, and the only way to avoid war is to pose a credible deterrent threat.) The Glaspie meeting reveals that U.S. leaders were concerned about about Saddam's intentions, and the U.S. government tried to reassure him that we were friendly so that he won't do something precipitous. What was needed, however, was a clear and explicit statement that an attack on Kuwait would be met with an American military response. Glaspie never uttered such a statement, and we all know what happened next.