Magazine article The Spectator

An Inspector Recalls

Magazine article The Spectator

An Inspector Recalls

Article excerpt

An inspector recalls DISARMING IRAQ by Hans Blix Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 285, ISBN 0747573549

When Hans Blix first became the UN's chief Iraqi weapons inspector, journalists joked that his name made him sound like one of those sinister baddies who lurked in elaborate underground headquarters in Seventies James Bond films. ('Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Hussein. It may be your last.') Much to the frustration of the British and American governments, however, Blix never employed seven-foot enforcers with steel teeth, or threw anyone into a piranha pool, and the 007 echo of his name was about as exciting as he ever got. On the road to war, what London and Washington needed was a Judge Jeffreys, armed with a rhetorical smoking gun. What they found themelves saddled with was a sort of Scandinavian John Birt.

Of course, in 2000, when Blix was appointed, none of this had mattered terribly. As he reminds us, Britain was a great deal more sanguine about the less than dastardly threat posed by Iraqi WMD in those days. The then Foreign Office minister, Peter Hain, is quoted as holding out the possibility that sanctions against Saddam could be suspended within six months. Only when a confrontation suddenly became necessary was Blix transported to centre stage.

One can almost sympathise with Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Jack Straw and the rest, and certainly relive their frustration, as one ploughs through this careful book. Blix's description of the ideal weapons inspector - 'dynamic but not aggressive ... calm but somewhat impatient' - reminds you why he was accused of fence-sitting in his Iraqi reports. His overall summation of the crisis - 'an important sequence of events in contemporary history' - makes him unlikely to win prizes for a lyrical prose style. For most of Disarming Iraq, anything in danger of resembling a categorical statement is swiftly balanced with an equal and opposite statement. But, in time, certain themes do emerge, and all the more forcefully for the earlier equivocation.

Blix is utterly, and deservedly, scornful about the 'monumental' failures of intelligence. But he is even more damning about how those failures came to pass. The statement that the government knowingly distorted the intelligence is, of course, what got the BBC into such trouble last year. But it is here unequivocally supported by Dr Blix. 'The governments were conscious [my italics] that they were exaggerating the risks they saw in order to get the political support they would not otherwise have had. …

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