Blix's still small voice of calm on Iraqi WMD was not loud
If there was one man who could have stopped the war in Iraq last
year, it probably was not Hans Blix.
He faced a mission almost impossible. He was looking for something
which did not exist.
When he duly found nothing, the Americans and British would not accept
that absence of evidence meant evidence of absence.
And he was dealing with an Iraqi leader who did not understand that the
only thing which could save him was total co-operation.
But, even then, it might not have worked.
Dr Blix's own thoughtful, reasonable character also told against him.
His still small voice of calm was not loud enough.
His book Disarming Iraq, published just in advance of the first
anniversary of the war, gives him a chance to say "I told you
so" and he does say that.
But he does it in the same quiet, restrained way in which he sought the
He even admits that, at one stage, as late as 20 February 2003 "I
tended to think that Iraq still concealed weapons of mass
But he states his conclusion about the war simply enough: "It was
caused by an unjustified armed action by the US and the UK."
He says of Mr Bush and Blair that it was "probable that the
governments were conscious that they were exaggerating the risks they saw
in order to get the political support they would not otherwise have
And he reckons that among the costs were "the damaged credibility
of the governments pursuing it and... the diminished authority of the
Minds made up?
Despite such conclusions, he is rather generous in his judgment on
those who went to war.
"A common denominator of the failures, it appears, was a deficit
of critical thinking," he says.
And he does not accuse the Bush administration of orchestrating the
move towards an invasion.
"My conclusion was, and remains, that the armed action that was
taken was expected but not irrevocably pre-determined."
As often happens with such books by insiders, what really tells are the
pen portraits of the players in the game.
And here a picture emerges of some US leaders making their minds up
very early on.
A meeting he and Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's nuclear
agency the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had with US Vice
President Dick Cheney in October 2002 is particularly illuminating.
"He stated the position that inspections - if they do not give
results - cannot go on forever and said that the US was 'ready to
discredit inspections in favour of disarmament'".
"[It was] a pretty straight way, I thought, of saying that if we
did not soon find the weapons of mass destruction that the US was
convinced Iraq possessed [though they did not know where], the US would be
ready to say that the inspections were useless and embark on disarmament
by other means."
He says that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, too, was convinced that
Saddam Hussein was hiding something.
In one meeting "Blair said that even the French and German
intelligence services were sure there were such weapons, the Egyptians,
Blair: Convinced Saddam Hussein was hiding something
"[I said] it would prove paradoxical and absurd if 250,000 troops
were to invade Iraq and find very little.
"Blair responded that the intelligence was clear that Saddam had
reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction programmes."
And that was after Hans Blix had told the UK prime minister that a lot
of the intelligence "had not been all that compelling".
At three sites suspected by the British and Americans, nothing had been
Towards the end he reveals a rush by the UK Government to make a last
minute breakthrough, by getting Iraq to commit itself to a series of
"benchmarks" which would demonstrate its good faith.
Allowing scientists to be interviewed was one of them.
"At 0800 in the morning on 10 March, I had a call from a member of
the British mission [to the UN]," Mr Blix writes.
"He apologised for disturbing me at such an undiplomatic hour and
asked if I could come to his mission in half an hour to take a call [on a
secure line] from his prime minister."
The benchmark plan came to nothing, but it showed that Britain might
have harboured some late doubts about military action.
Or perhaps the UK wanted to show Iraqi intransigence.
If there is a criticism to be made about Dr Blix, it is that he did not
end an ambiguity that was often hardened into a certainty.
The ambiguity was that Iraq had not fully accounted for previously
admitted quantities of material from which chemical and biological weapons
could be made.
This allowed "unaccounted-for material" to be transformed by
the hawks into actual and threatening weapons.
Against such certainties, the measured arguments of Dr Hans Blix,
evident on every page of this book, did not get far.