Before he left New York, Hans Blix had a poster on his apartment wall from the big antiwar demonstration in New York City a year ago on the eve of the attack on Iraq. “Blix Not Bombs,” it proclaims. Blix, the former head of UNMOVIC, the United Nations arms-inspection team in Iraq, is an unlikely poster-person. Avuncular, quiet-spoken but with a sharp and wry sense of humor, the Swedish diplomat has had an eclectic set of enemies. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz set the CIA to investigate him and reportedly “hit the ceiling” when–not for the first time, it now appears–the agency came back with the “wrong” intelligence. On the other hand, before the endgame began, the Iraqis denounced him as a “spy” and some antiwar protesters castigated him and his inspectors as the tools of American warmongers.
That means he probably got it about right, and even now, in his just-published book, Disarming Iraq, he has not gone out of his way to make friends. The failure to discover WMDs in Iraq, he told The Nation in an interview, proves that export controls and rigorous inspection backed by military pressure had already disarmed Iraq before the war.
Coming from the long Swedish tradition of support for the UN, he laconically repudiates the idea prevalent in pro-Administration circles that the organization in any way “failed” when it refused to back the invasion. “It is an interesting notion that when a small minority has been rebuffed by a strong majority, it is the majority that has failed the test,” he says.
Blix depicts the road to war in Iraq as a chronicle of willful self-delusion practiced by the major antagonists, in which Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush effectively conspired to pretend that Iraq was a military threat. He is happy to spread the blame around: to Saddam, for his refusal to cooperate with the inspectors until it was too late, and to the United States, for its refusal to take yes for an answer when the Iraqis did finally agree to let them in.
An optimist, Blix did not give up hope that inspections could avert war until Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf “phoned and told us ‘you better move out.'” Now, he says, “I feel that the most important thing that could have happened is if the US had allowed the inspections to go on at all the sites that they claimed had weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps it would have dawned on them that their intelligence was not so good.”
Blix is not in fact certain that the Administration began with invasion in mind. He comments that “certainly Colin Powell was no more hawkish than [Madeleine] Albright at the beginning. I don’t think they had plans for occupation then, although it may have been in the formative stages. Nothing really happened until 9/11; without that they may have continued the policy of containment. But in that case I’m not sure the inspectors would have got in. It would not have happened easily without the military buildup.”
But once Saddam bowed to the pressure and the inspectors did go in, there was a clear divergence on the role of the inspectors, and Blix characterizes the Bush Administration view in the book as, “The witches exist; you are appointed to deal with these witches; testing whether there are witches is only a dilution of the witch hunt.”
By January 2003, Blix recalls, instead of finding evidence that would justify war, he had his first suspicions that Saddam might be telling the truth. “We received tips about sites from intelligence agencies, and when we went to them only in three cases did we find anything at all.” What they found instead, as he explains in his book, were forgotten odds and ends, leftover cluster bombs and the famous drone, not evidence of any current weapons programs. “It was then we realized that this intelligence was the best they had, but that it did not give us anything.”