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The 1991 Iraq War — The Battle at the UN

As an after-effect of the Iraq-Iran War which raged from 1980 to 1988, Baghdad found itself crippled by debts to neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and felt its debts should be forgiven. It pressured both countries to let it off the hook; the Saudis and Kuwaitis were not interested, however. Iraq, which considered Kuwait to be Iraqi territory, then accused Kuwait of exceeding oil production quotas set by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreements. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, seizing complete control of the country in less than 24 hours.

The UN Security Council responded just hours after the invasion and passed UNSC Resolution 660, which condemned the invasion and demanded a total withdrawal of Iraqi forces; Resolution 661 imposed tough sanctions on Iraq. Not surprisingly, the negotiations proved to be quite complicated. Read more

Indira Gandhi’s Assassination and the Anti-Sikh Riots, October 1984

Indira Gandhi was one of the most powerful women of the 20th Century, whose initial rise to power in 1966 was supported by those who labored under the mistaken belief that she would be a timid leader who could be easily manipulated. Quite the contrary, her tenure was marked by ruthless politics and the centralization of government power.

During her time as Prime Minister, militant members of the Sikh population, led by the extremist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, began pushing for special status for their majority Sikh region of Punjab. The situation became volatile and many were killed in incidents across the Punjab region. As a result, in June 1984 Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star to flush out the Sikh militants and remove Bhindranwale. The army stormed the holy Sikh temple complex, Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, in Punjab where he was taking refuge. In the following days, nearly 500 were killed by the Indian army, including Bhindranwale; the army suffered over 300 casualties. Read more

A Tale of Two Countries — and One Bizarre Hostage Situation

If you think your relationships are complex, consider the convoluted ties among Ghana, Guinea, and the United States in the mid-1960s. The friendship between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, and Guinea’s first President, Ahmed Sékou Touré, proved problematic for the United States, and even led to the first U.S. diplomatic hostage situation, years before Iran.

Nkrumah and Touré were both anti-Western presidents of recently independent countries. In 1966 after Nkrumah was deposed while on a trip to China, Touré welcomed Nkrumah to Guinea, and named him Co-President of Guinea. Washington, which was glad to see Nkrumah go, had little desire to deal with him now in Guinea. However, the new Ghanaian government then kidnapped the Guinean Foreign Minister and said it would not release him until they got Nkrumah. On October 29, in an odd counter move, Guinea then detained American diplomats until their Foreign Minister was released. Read more

The U-2 Spy Plane Incident

On May 1, 1960, an America U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace, causing great embarrassment to the United States, which had tried to conceal its surveillance efforts from the USSR. In 1957, the U.S. had established a secret intelligence facility in Pakistan in order to send U-2 spy planes into Soviet airspace and secretly sent the spy plane into Soviet territory.

Upon release of the news, the United States initially covered up the story by claiming the U-2 was a NASA aircraft that had gone missing north of Turkey. However, President Eisenhower had to eventually admit the mistake after the Soviets produced the missing U-2, the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, and pictures of Soviet bases that the spy plane had captured. Read more

The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 14-28, 1962

The early years of the Kennedy Administration proved to be a tense time in relations with the Soviet Union. Kennedy had decided to go ahead with the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion (which had initially been authorized by his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower) and then was severely tested during the 1961 Berlin Crisis, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev threatened to cut off allies’ access and make Berlin a “free city.”

Just a year later, the United States noticed a large influx of weapons being transported from the Soviet Union to Cuba. Based on aerial surveillance, Washington realized these were nuclear missiles, capable of reaching much of U.S. territory. President Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22 as the world feared it was on the brink of a nuclear war. Read more

The Making of a Martyr – The Murder of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko

Polish opposition to Soviet-backed Communist rule gathered steam with the growing popularity of Solidarity. Founded in 1980 by future Polish President Lech Walesa, Solidarity was a movement and trade union that sought to effect social change and support workers’ rights in Poland. Owing to its growing influence and anti-Communist sentiment within Poland, the Polish government imposed martial law between December of 1981 and July of 1983, but eventually had to negotiate with the union.

The Catholic Church, led by Pope John Paul II (a Polish national himself), was a major supporter of Solidarity and the movement came to be closely identified with the Church.  Jerzy Popiełuszko was a young, charismatic Polish priest who openly criticized Poland’s communist government. His sermons, which took a firm stance against communism and incited many to protest, were broadcast by Radio Free Europe and responsible for his mass popularity. Read more

Sue McCourt Cobb: Ambassador and Summiteer of Mt. Everest

Climbing Mount Everest has long been the epitome of physical and mental endurance. Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit on May 29, 1953, only some 4000 have been able to duplicate the feat; another 200 have died in the attempt.

Ambassador Sue McCourt Cobb learned first-hand how dangerous and grueling a climb up Mount Everest can be when she set out in 1988 to become the first woman from the United States to reach its summit. She traveled through China and Tibet and approached the mountain from the little traveled north side. Her ascent was made without Sherpas and without the use of oxygen. (All photos from Sue Cobb) Read more

The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference

The Madrid Peace Conference, held from October 30 to November 1, 1991, marked the first time that Israeli leaders negotiated face to face with delegations from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and, most importantly, with the Palestinians. In order for this moment to happen, both the United States and the (now former) Soviet Union had agreed to host the conference. Over a tense three days, several bilateral and multilateral talks were scheduled with the goal of covering a wide variety of issues, from the economy to the environment. Read more

Putin, The Early Years

From his crackdown on domestic opposition to his decision to invade Crimea and bomb U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, Vladimir Putin has increasingly become a thorn in the side of Western policymakers. His aggressive policies combined with his KGB background and over-the-top machismo have made him a bigger-than-life figure on the world stage, despite Russia’s flagging economy and declining population.

And yet, in his early years on the political stage, Putin did not stand out as a “rising star” whose rise to power was somehow preordained. Many in the U.S. government saw him, during his stint as Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, as someone who was tough on crime and potentially helpful to U.S. interests. After Putin’s unforeseen rise to the presidency in May 2000, President George W. Bush famously said in June 2001 that he had looked in Putin’s soul and found him trustworthy. Read more

Windshield Tour of a Military Coup in Benin

The small Western African country of Benin (formerly Dahomey) has had a turbulent post-colonial history. Since gaining independence from the French in 1960, the country has experienced various forms of government, coups, periods of military rule and ethnic strife. A number of politicians rose and fell from power in a series of coups between 1960 and 1972.

On October 26, 1972, the army led by Commander Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the government, dissolved its governing bodies and suspended the constitution.  In November 1974 he announced that the state would be Marxist-Leninist, and banks and the petroleum industry were nationalized.

In 1975 the country was renamed the People’s Republic of Benin.

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