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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

US Angry with Blix. Is He Easily Duped and Misled? Yes, Says a Former Friend and Former Deputy Prime Minister in Sweden: the Wrong Man for the Wrong Job

American officials are openly voicing anger with Hans Blix's performance. In particular, what they regard as significant evidence of Iraqi non-compliance with Security Council Resolution 1441 --- which calls for "immediate," "complete", and "unconditional" cooperation with the inspectors to show that it has or will disarm (three adjectives with different meanings, apparently, in French and Russian than in English) --- never showed up in Hans Blix's public statement to the Security Council last Friday. Blix Report Blix's public excuse since then? He couldn't confirm the existence of the big drone plane, nor 100 special cluster bombs that can be used for spraying chemical or biological weapons, but was going to look into it.

Seems a strange claim, no? He could have said on Friday, clearly, explicitly, that the inspectors had found such weapons, but hadn't yet determined what violations they constituted.
  2) This leads to questions about Blix's character and temperament. No one, mind you, thinks he's being paid off. For the most part, he seems a solid professional international civil servant, who led the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in the early 1990s. But he wasn't the original choice for the present Inspection Team, created by the Security Council in 2000, of Britain and the US and others. Rather, that choice was Rolf Ekeus, who headed the original team in the 1990s, but was unacceptable to other members of the council like France, Russia, and China . . . and, so it was charged, with Baghdad. A vote couldn't be taken on the appointment, given the French and Russian and Chinese positions, and Blix was a compromise candidate. This was after the three had earlier rejected (vetoed) proposals regarding tough language for requiring Iraqi compliance.

Remember, it was only last fall that Colin Powell got a resolution at the Security Council adopted that had teeth in it, and even then it took the presence of American troops in Kuwait and the assembling coalition favoring war if need be that brought the three recalcitrants around. Since then, Powell -- beginning a few weeks ago in late January --- has been reported to have been furious with the French, who he now found were starting the run-around tactics.

 3) As for Blix, the questions hovering over his motives and temperament deal squarely with issues of character, nothing less; and on that key topic, in an extraordinary article published last fall, a former close colleague of his in the Swedish Social Democratic Party --- that country's former Deputy Prime Minister who has known Blix for decades, and even recruited him to join the party originally --- sets out what he regards as Blix's inlaid drawbacks to carry out the sorts of tough inspections in Iraq that are needed to disarm Saddam Hussein. Apparently, attacks on fellow Swedish politicians are a rarity in that country, and hence the following article is something not just unusual but worth all of us pondering, especially now: in effect, an open assault on the qualifications, mental and emotional, of Hans Blix to head the UN inspection team for Iraq. The former Deputy Prime Minister, Per Ahlmark, doesn't mince his words. He regards Blix as "weak and easily fooled" and unsuited for a "showdown with Saddam." He goes on to call Blix "nave and relatively ignorant of technical details" and a "wimp" who has repeatedly let himself be duped by the Iraqi totalitarian regime.

  4) Notice that Per Ahlmark says he has known Blix for 40 years . . . even since Blix was his deputy in the Liberal Youth organization. He does note that Blix is "amiable and has a sense of humor," traits that do not offset his political track record of being "weak and easily fooled," a record moreover "of compounded failure."

And this is the man we are supposed to rely on for ensuring that Saddam Hussein, one of the two or three most brutal totalitarian leaders in the world (rivaled only by Syria's and North Korea's heads), is complying with UN commitments to disarm. That said, note that maybe Blix is learning something. Along with the head of the International Atomic Energy Association, he came out strongly in favor of the US-UK backed position on an iron-clad Security Council resolution . . . not the weak, wimpy sort favored by the French full of wiggle room. It's something at least, and with this open assault by Per Ahlmark, maybe Blix's courage and determination will be further bolstered to prove his critics wrong.

  5) Does the character --- strength of purpose, determined will-power or not, willingness to say things frankly --- make a difference in the current inspection regime? To an extent, obviously; but not entirely

Obviously, because what the inspectors have so far discovered has been piece by piece, bit by bit, with mainly luck. It's hard to imagine that Ekeus, had he been re-appointed to head the inspection team, would come up with the bland optimism that Blix radiates . . . harder still to believe that he would have left buried and unspoken the disturbing news, found hidden in the 180 page report made public only yesterday (3 days after Blix's appearance at the Security Council), that a large drone, apparently up-to-date and outfitted with the ability to spray chemical and biological weapons, had been discovered.

Not entirely, though . . . because whatever Blix would come up with, short of uncovering huge chemical or biological stockpiles or nuclear warheads, Paris and now Moscow would still take the stance they have dug for themselves in the sand --- along with the Germans as supporters. For what's at stake in their decision to use a veto if necessary, as has been clear now for the last month when Schroeder, Putin, and Chirac assembled in Paris, was that a realignment is going on in the post-cold war world, aimed at countering US power and influence: world-wide and regionally in the Middle East and Europe. No formal alliance has emerged; none might for years; and it's unlikely that it would specifically commit the members to use war against the US and its allies.

And even though that can't be ruled out in the future, it seems unlikely in the next 3 or 5 years . . . beyond which nobody can foretell what will be happening in world events -- or for that matter, what the US-UK position and the Gulf region will look like exactly in two months or two years. (A period of two months is easy to predict on these topics: Saddam gone, disarmament complete, US and UK peace-keepers on the ground in Iraq, and a constituent assembly meeting to draw up a constittution). What's more, there are cross-cutting interests at stake for the three countries that will still probably align themselves with the US-led coalitions, including NATO in Europe (however it operates, with 24 of 27 European members siding clearly with the US) --- above all in the war against Islamo-fascist terrorism whenever they feel their own security interests are jeopardized.

Otherwise, it's diplomatic realignment that, right now, is open-ended, and it's based as we've noted on stymieing and reducing US influence. The more Paris and the others protest it isn't, the more we should be skeptical.

It is not the behavior you expect, in the French and German case, of allies. And as Henry Kissinger noted in this connection a few days ago, if it's a return to 19th century balance-of-power politics that the French above all, with their German and Russian friends, are driving at, the French (and whoever is still allied with them) are likely to be the perennial losers again.


Per Ahlmark: "Sending in a Dupe to Disarm Iraq"

The U.N. weapons inspection chief and Iraq have agreed on tentative terms for the conduct of weapons inspections, which in theory could begin as early as two weeks from now. But the success of any such deal depends as much on the men who will carry out the inspections as on the details of when, where, and how they are carried out.

Hans Blix will head the U.N. arms inspectors charged with searching for, finding and destroying Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. I have known Mr. Blix for more than 40 years. In 1960, he was my deputy when I was a leader of the Swedish Liberal Youth organization. Since then I have followed his career closely. He became Sweden's foreign minister for a year and was later a director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

Personally, Mr. Blix is amiable and has a sense of humor; politically he is weak and easily fooled. I can think of few European officials less suitable for a showdown with Saddam. Indeed, it is with utter disbelief that I watch television news about Mr. Blix's negotiations with the Iraqi dictator's henchmen.

The world has been amply warned about Mr. Blix's weaknesses because he has a track record of compounded failure. When Mr. Blix headed the IAEA before the Persian Gulf war of 1991, he blithely assured the world, after several inspections, that nothing alarming was happening in Iraq. He delivered the clean bill of health that Saddam had hoped for when he began hiding his atomic factories and nuclear ambitions.

Since then, we have learnt all too unambiguously that Saddam is obsessed with procuring weapons of mass destruction chemical and biological warheads as well as atomic bombs and the missiles to deliver them. Former experts of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, who have fled Baghdad for the West, confirmed this. They told us about determined and costly efforts to obtain doomsday devices. Indeed, it is now clear that Saddam was but a year away from securing his first atomic bomb when the Gulf war broke out.

After that war, U.N. inspectors found and destroyed huge amounts of chemical and biological warheads as well as the facilities to produce nuclear weapons. Despite his grave failings as IAEA chief before 1991, Mr. Blix once again came to lead U.N. disarmament inspectors, this time in tandem with another Swede, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus.

Mr. Blix, naive and relatively ignorant about technical details his field is international law is easily mislead. Even after the Gulf war, he failed to realize that the Iraqi officials, who were again assuring the U.N. that they were hiding nothing, were but consummate liars. Indeed, Mr. Blix believed that Iraq had no program at all for nuclear arms. David Kay, perhaps the most effective arms inspector, insisted that he did not trust them. But Mr. Blix reproached Mr. Kay for his attitude. You must believe in official information, Mr. Blix implied.

The turning point came when Mr. Kay initiated inspections of suspect buildings without notifying the Iraqis about his intentions in advance. This new, aggressive inspection strategy had dramatic consequences: Mr. Kay discovered material confirming that Iraq was only 12 to 18 months away from producing a nuclear device.

This historic discovery ended up in a confrontation at a parking lot in Baghdad. The U.N. cars were surrounded by 200 Iraqi soldiers and a mob, ordered out to the scene by Iraqi officials. For four days and nights the siege continued, as Mr. Kay and his colleagues used satellite telephones to fax crucial documents to the West.

Mr. Blix had opposed the raid. Fortunately, Mr. Ekeus backed it and supported the inspectors during the siege. I have met a number of experts on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and they often compare the two Swedes: "Ekeus is brilliant," they say, "Blix is terrible."

When the current U.N. inspection team was being put together in 1999, both Mr. Ekeus and Mr. Blix were among the candidates being considered to head the new group of inspectors. Friends of Iraq in Paris and Moscow consulted Baghdad to see whom Saddam would prefer. France and Russia then suggested Mr. Blix. Surprisingly the Clinton administration accepted that decision.

Saddam's chemical and biological arms, and his determination to get nuclear weapons, are a threat to the world. The dictator could use these arms himself or make them available to terrorist organizations.

And the issue of war and peace depends on a man repeatedly duped the Iraqi regime.

The Bush administration probably understands Mr. Blix's weaknesses. My guess is that the United States will not allow Mr. Blix and the inspectors that he oversees to be deceived by Iraq again. Regardless of how this crisis develops from this point, the United Nations has neglected its duties by asking a wimp to lead the inspectors who are supposed to stand up to the brute of Baghdad. Per Ahlmark is a former deputy prime minister of Sweden. Copyright Project Syndicate. Back to Commentary