A Convoluted Book

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Hans Blix, 304 pages, Pantheon Books, New York, 2004.

That's the word that came to my mind after finishing this enlightening
yet strongly opinionated account written by the high-profile man
who was in charge of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
and then the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection
Commission (UNMOVIC), the two United Nations commissions responsible
for divesting Iraq of illegal nuclear, chemical, germ and radiological
armaments. On the one hand, Blix presents many unknown details regarding
the twelve-year-long international efforts to ensure that Iraq was
free of weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi government's varying
degrees of cooperation with those efforts, especially in the months
prior to the US-led invasion of that country. But on the other hand,
Blix — both as an inspector and in the book — permits his own bias
to cloud his judgment, handles the entire affair in a roundabout
and disconnected manner, and uses circular reasoning that leads

When I first
opened Disarming Iraq, I expected Blix as an international
civil servant to be an impartial observer of the Iraqi situation
who would simply be reporting the facts gleaned from his own firsthand
experience — essentially, what weapons of mass destruction he discovered
(or failed to discover) in Iraq. Furthermore, I imagined that as
a European he might express a bias toward Iraqi innocence. Neither
turned out to be the case. Like many of his fellow Europeans as
well as many rich American Democrats, Blix is a lawyer well practiced
at extended argumentation and dispute; but like the Bush administration,
he assumes that Iraq is guilty of harboring weapons of mass destruction
until proven innocent. "There could be no presumption of innocence
in the case of Iraq," he warns (p. 128). Yes, believe it or
not, Blix takes the neoconservative position that attempts to prove
a negative, which of course fails. You cannot expect fairness from
someone who violates the fundamental principle of international
criminal law that a government is innocent until proven guilty.
This bias against Iraq pervades and distorts what could have been
a coherent, objective and much more satisfactory book.

However, presumption
of Iraqi guilt is not the only negative trait of Disarming Iraq.
Beneath it, I could detect a constant attempt to deflect attention
from this bias by walking the fence. My impression was that Blix
is trying his hardest to appear objective and uncertain while pleasing
supporters and opponents of the Iraq war at the same time. It is
a comical balancing act that fails miserably. In one of plentiful
examples, Blix states that while disarmament of Iraq had not been
achieved, neither had good justification for armed action been created
(p. 14). He acclaims the patient and full Iraqi cooperation with
the UN inspection teams (p. 111), yet refuses to take seriously
the exhaustive 12,000-page Iraqi report on weapons of mass destruction
because it contained little new information (p. 107). In another
instance he laments the paucity of critical thinking by the US and
British governments over the lack of evidence for a renewed Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction program (p. 263), yet sympathizes with
their post-September 11 unwillingness to take chances with perceived
foreign threats despite that lack of evidence (pp. 229–230).
The question marks in four of twelve chapter titles reinforce this
perception of ambiguity.

Blix begins
the book with a tantalizing peek at the last few hours prior to
the commencement of the war in Iraq in 2003. Next, he briefly recounts
the history of international efforts to prevent the spread of weapons
of mass destruction, discussing the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and
the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 as well as the establishment
of the IAEA and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM, the
precursor of UNMOVIC) for Iraq. Then he relates the successes and
failures of UNSCOM, its replacement by UNMOVIC, and his selection
by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be executive chairman of the
new commission.

this book is Blix's personal narrative of the months, weeks and
days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. He recounts numerous meetings
with leaders such as Secretary-General Annan, IAEA director Mohamed
ElBaradei, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, US secretary
of state Colin Powell, US national security advisor Condoleezza
Rice, and British foreign secretary Jack Straw, giving us a behind-the-scenes
look at the operations of the United Nations and the US government.
As might be expected, his sketches of these political leaders are
flattering. I found it disconcerting that he emphasizes form over
substance by repeatedly praising the correctness and politeness
of his meetings with these figures and pointing out the importance
of occasional humor in breaking a tense atmosphere with Iraqi officials.

Though I expected
enlightening information to compose the heart of Disarming Iraq,
it is in fact the book's sole redeeming quality. Blix related how
as UNMOVIC gradually exhausted natural search locations, it relied
more heavily on leads by Western intelligence agencies. "No
sites given to us by intelligence were ever found to harbor weapons
of mass destruction." (p. 93) Suspected mobile germ weaponry
labs turned out to be hydrogen factories for Iraqi weather balloons
(p. 154). In addition to the absence of weapons, no illegal activities
were discovered at any of the sites which inspectors visited (p.
156). The inspectors were unable to produce a single shred of incriminating
evidence. Blix's description of mutual hostility between the spy-ridden
UNSCOM, which demanded continuation of inspections, and the IAEA,
which desired to close the case against Iraq, is an interesting
read as well.

However, all
of these facts seem to get lost amidst a sea of persistent questions,
relentless conjecture, and unfounded suspicion. Why was the US government
so eager for war with Iraq, even at the risk of cutting the UN inspection
program short and forging a uranium contract between Iraq and Niger?
If Iraq had destroyed the last of its offending weapons in 1991
and shut down its entire range of nuclear, chemical and germ programs
by 1994, as all Iraqi scientists and military officers interviewed
by the US agreed (p. 257), why was the inspection program being
continued? What if Iraq was storing forbidden weapons in some civilian
vehicles or buildings? What if Saddam Hussein buried his weapons
of mass destruction somewhere in the rural vastness of Iraq, or
transferred them to Syria for safekeeping? If Blix "did not
have an impression of a lack of sincerity," why did he suspect
the Iraqi regime was hiding certain information?

The lack of
sound logic and authentic critical thinking is painfully evident.
Blix's failure to connect the dots regarding Iraqi innocence and
American warmongering is as serious, if not more so, than the Bush
administration's failure to detect the warning signs of 9/11. It
is obvious to almost everyone in the world — with Blix himself a
notable exception — that the US government forged evidence and grasped
at straws in order to justify a preplanned invasion of Iraq to seize
the country's large oil reserves and provide a fertile new playground
for Western big business. Moreover, the Iraqi claim of infiltration
by American spies is corroborated by the report that US members
of the inspection team asked questions about who was investing in
the Nineveh Free Trade Zone and how closely the mosques were related
to the regime, questions which were totally unrelated to the search
for weapons (pp. 119–120). These undercover agents seemed to be
preparing the way for US armed forces to destroy mosques and for
Western corporations to remodel the economic structure of Iraq.
American spying on Iraq through the UN inspection commission from
the mid-1990s onward would also explain the Iraqi government's tendency
to refuse to cooperate with American inspectors.

If the US government
had planned to invade the country years in advance, as Blix himself
admits; if Iraq was fully disarmed in 1994, as all the evidence
declares; and if the US was infiltrating and crassly manipulating
the UN Security Council, as Blix heard (p. 207), then the UN inspections
from the late 1990s onward were an American-inspired charade — and
Blix was a part of that charade. He notes that the Iraqi regime
accused him of being a spy (p. 67), which is little wonder given
his presumption of Iraqi guilt, yet Blix dismisses all the espionage
charges as "petty obstacles" to inspections. Throughout
the book, Blix's talk of the disarmament process and of "key
remaining disarmament tasks" demonstrates a disconnection from
reality as one intrusive inspection mission after another fails
to find the much-hyped weapons or prohibited activities. He comments
that Iraq would be in a more difficult position if it possessed
no weapons of mass destruction at all, which is precisely the intent
of the warmongering neoconservatives whose belief in Iraqi guilt
he shares.

Perhaps Blix
should not be judged too harshly. After all, his job required him
to serve four masters: truth, international law, the UN, and the
CIA. While he endured intense pressure from the American government
to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he also
bore international pressure to confirm Iraq's innocence. The uncertain
and ambivalent tone of the book reflects this attempt to please
both sides. Yet Blix's subtle neoconservativism overrides all claims
to impartiality. The idea that a government should be considered
guilty of harboring and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction
until proven innocent is completely unfair and serves to justify
American aggression.

At the end
of the book, Blix offers reflections on what the absence of weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq means for that country, for the Bush
administration, and for future disarmament efforts. Here he is a
little more forthright, admitting the possibility that Iraq was
devoid of the illegal armaments for years prior to the 2003 invasion,
and that the American and British governments deliberately exaggerated
the risk of such weapons in Iraq to gain public support for the
Iraq war. But even in this last chapter, Blix does his best to rationalize
the US-led military action:

"The UN
and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it."
(p. 259)

one…could guarantee that Iraq was without any weapons of
mass destruction…Presumably it was an awareness of this circumstance
that led the US and UK governments to claim certainty that the weapons
existed." (p. 270)

The veteran
weapons inspector fails to give an adequate answer to two chief
questions his book raises: How are we to be certain that any nation
formerly possessing weapons of mass destruction has disposed of
them completely? And is it right for the United States to wage preemptive
war against a country on the pretext that it could harbor weapons
of mass destruction, even when no incriminating evidence to justify
such an invasion is found? In response to the first issue, Blix
offers already existing mechanisms such as foreign policies of détente
(which we used with Iraq in the 1980s, during the very period when
it actually did possess nuclear and chemical weapons); treaties
(Iraq signed the Nonproliferation Treaty); inspection and monitoring
programs; and export and transport controls (which actually worked,
preventing Iraq from resurrecting its weapons of mass destruction
project after the early 1990s). As for the second question, Blix
dances around it carefully without acknowledging the existence of
objective moral standards. Based on his proclaimed uncertainty regarding
the nation's disarmament, his attitude toward the Iraq war is lackadaisical;
he seems to accept it as a matter of course. Here also Blix attempts
to disguise a neoconservative bias with ambivalence. While he refuses
to call the invasion a mistake, and welcomes the elimination of
the bloody, ruthless regime of Saddam Hussein, he admits that the
unilateral, illegal war weakened the UN Security Council.

In addition
to the book's logical and ideological handicaps, I was displeased
to find more than a dozen significant typing mistakes. Several of
these concerned dates. For example, Blix relates what he did on
February 28, 2000 and then says, "The next day, March 1,"
although the next day would have been February 29 since 2000 was
a leap year (p. 43). The reader is left wondering which day it really
was. Elsewhere in the book, March 16, 2003 is called a Sunday, and
then March 18 is called a Monday (p. 253). Other misprints include
the misspelling of names and grammatical errors.

More a tale
of controversy and politics than an engrossing investigative journal,
Disarming Iraq is simultaneously an enlightening and a confusing
read that raises many more questions than it answers. It was written
by a smooth lawyer, a cunning diplomat, and a longtime Swedish politician
who seems to have no real interest in truth. Apparently, though
it satisfies the curiosity of people around the world regarding
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, the main purpose of
this convoluted book is to please those anonymous officials within
the American government whose radical neoconservative ideology dictated
an invasion of Iraq.

23, 2007

Justin Soutar
[send him mail] is
a young freelance writer living in Huntsville, Ohio. He has so far
published nine independent-minded articles on terrorism, American
foreign policy, and related subjects in a wide range of Internet
and print publications.

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