At slamming barn doors behind escaped horses -- and imputing blame for the escape to the wrong parties -- the Congress of the United States knows few peers, now as in years long past. Witness the current emergence of the "Who lost Kuwait?" inquisition.

A week or so ago the Iraqi government mischievously leaked a bugged transcript of Saddam Hussein's parting interview of July 25 with April Glaspie, U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. The obvious intent is to complain, perversely, that Saddam was given no clear signal that his invasion of Kuwait some days later would be resisted by an enormous deployment of U.S. forces.

Certainly the language of threat was there in what Saddam Hussein had to say on July 25, just before the American ambassador left for consultations in Washington. Yet Ambassador Glaspie -- a highly respected Foreign Service professional -- was explicitly assured that no invasion was planned.

Reading the transcript today, with 20-20 hindsight, the congressional detractors of Ambassador Glaspie and of her State Department superior, John Kelly, make the easy and gratuitous point that the State Department should have read the Iraqi dictator's mind more clearly and should have left less doubt that the United States would resist the rape of Kuwait.

At some point during the crucial period between the July 25 interview and the Aug. 2 invasion, it is said that the CIA reached a conclusion that Saddam planned to invade. That assessment is invoked as further backing for the proposition that the State Department should have been more lucid.

In a hearing last Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Chairman Lee Hamilton berated Kelly for leaving "the impression that it was the policy of the United States not to come to the defense of Kuwait." On a previous occasion, Hamilton recalled, he had "asked {Kelly} if there was a U.S. commitment to come to Kuwait's defense if it was attacked," and Kelly had replied -- as truth and policy warranted at the time -- that "we have no defense treaty relationship with any gulf country."

An innocent exchange, which, before the invasion of Kuwait, turned on simple matters of fact -- the United States indeed had no "commitment" to or treaty with the emirate, and Congress would have been the first to howl if either had been proclaimed. Now it has been transformed in hindsight into a culpable act of omission.

This ex-post facto judgment is no more than retrospective scapegoating of an unfair and odious variety. Failures of foresight are translated into failures of policy or worse, and professionals such as Glaspie and Kelly are pilloried for them.

This is a familiar congressional habit with an infamous history. The most extreme precedent was the vengeful treatment of an entire generation of Foreign Service professionals whose field of expertise was China. In the McCarthy period of the late '40s and early '50s, these professionals, whose records were for the most part entirely honorable, were held accountable for the "loss" of China to Mao Tse-tung. Their reputations were savaged by congressional inquisitions amounting to treason trials. The China specialty in the Foreign Service was a long time recovering, if indeed it ever has recovered.

No one this time is charging "treason," as the kingpin congressional inquisitors did then. And "Who lost Kuwait?" is a question of a distinctly lower voltage than "Who lost China?" But if you listen carefully to what the Monday morning quarterbacks of Capitol Hill are saying, you can hear the first sounds of the new inquisition. A lack of perfect foresight is to be treated as culpable failure of competence, and professionals such as Glaspie and Kelly are to be made the goats of the rude surprise Saddam Hussein visited upon the world on Aug. 2.

As President Bush has observed, the Iraqi dictator himself is the unmistakable villain of the piece, and the true miscalculation his own. Blaming American diplomatic professionals for Saddam's misdeeds is shameful. And it is, of course, a recipe for a timid Foreign Service as well.