American diplomat Stephen Thibeault watched as an airplane departed Iraq in 1990, carrying Rev. Jesse Jackson and American hostages liberated in the tense days following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait — and before the U.S. launched Operation Desert Storm, the United Nations campaign that ultimately routed Saddam Hussein’s forces. Thibeault was tempted to fly away with the hostages, but chose to remain and help other Americans in danger. “It was the equivalent of being in a fire,” Thibeault recalled in his ADST oral history. “You can quit the fire department when the fire is over; you can quit the Foreign Service when the crisis is over.”
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, quickly defeating that country’s military forces. Iraq then annexed Kuwait, claiming that it was a part of Iraq. The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned Iraq’s actions and demanded an immediate and unconditional withdrawal. The Council also imposed tough sanctions and other measures, prompting Iraq to detain and hold hostage large numbers of U.S. and western citizens working in the country. Officers at the U.S. Embassy struggled to keep pace with unfolding events, helping U.S. citizens and others avoid becoming hostages and find ways out of the country. Stephen Thibeault played an important role in those efforts — and in briefing an international press corps hungry for information.
After Iraq, Stephen Thibeault served as public affairs officer in Thailand and information officer in Jordan. He also worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the Media Reaction Office.