Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hans Blix Replies To Tony Blair

In early December 2009 former British Prime Minister Tony Blair conducted an interview with the BBC in which he said he believed in invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam even if he didn’t have WMD. Blair thought that Saddam was a threat to the Middle East, that he had never complied with United Nations resolutions for 12 years, and had used WMD on his own people. Blair also saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to influence the struggle over the future of Islam between moderates and radicals. He finished by saying that if not for WMD, he would’ve come up with another argument for overthrowing Saddam. The former prime minister’s comments were quite controversial, and started a heated debate in England, which is in the middle of the Chilcot Inquiry into the causes and consequences of the Iraq war. Hans Blix, the former chief of U.N. weapons inspector from 2002-2003 joined the discussion with an editorial in the Guardian on December 14 entitled, “Blair sold Iraq on WMD, but only regime change adds up,” arguing that Blair’s comments reveal that the United Kingdom was more interested in overthrowing Iraq’s government than disarming it.

In late 2002 England and Secretary of State Colin Powell finally convinced President George Bush to go to the United Nations and call for renewed inspections. British officials had continually told Washington that the price for their participation in any military action was a new U.N. resolution. Blix believes that the U.S. and U.K. were hoping that Iraq would obstruct the inspectors like they did in the 1990s, and that would lead to the U.N. authorizing war. That was actually exactly how British officials tried to sell the U.N. route to the Bush administration. For example, the British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer had lunch with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on March 17, 2002 and said that tripping up Iraq in weapons inspections would be a way to gain international support for regime change. England was gambling that going the U.N. route would provide the rational for war, but ended up losing.

The U.K. and U.S. got Resolution 1441 passed in November 2002, which brought the inspectors back into Iraq. The problem was that they did not turn up any WMD. Inspectors for instance, went to 202 suspected sites by the end of December and reported no evidence of an active WMD or nuclear program. In fact, they were running out of places to go, and asked the U.S. to provide more specific intelligence on where these illicit programs might be. Baghdad also ended up cooperating more as the inspections progressed, and the problems that did arise, to Blix at least, were not serious enough for the U.N. Security Council to vote for war.

The real issue was that the war plans of the U.S. and England were moving ahead at the same time that the U.N. inspectors were undermining the reasons for the invasion. Former Ambassador Christopher Meyer told the Chilcot Inquiry, in early December 2009 that:

The real problem, which I did draw several times to the attention of London, was that the contingency military timetable had been decided before the UN inspectors went in under Hans Blix. So you found yourself in a situation in the autumn of 2002 where you could not synchronize the military timetable with the inspection timetable. The American military had been given instructions to prepare for war. Initially it was ‘we want you ready by January.’ … January was never realistic and in the end it went back to March. … So the result … was to turn resolution 1441 on its head. Because 1441 had been a challenge to Saddam Hussein, agreed unanimously, to prove his innocence. But because you could not synchronize the programs, somehow or other, program, preparation for war, inspections, you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun. And suddenly, because of that, the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, you found yourself scrabbling for the smoking gun, which was another way of saying ‘it’s not that Saddam has to prove that he’s innocent, we’ve now bloody well got to try and prove that he’s guilty.

The U.S. had set the date for the war to begin in March 2003, and that’s exactly when they demanded the inspections end, and the invasion began. Blix believes that this is more proof that the U.S. and U.K. were not interested in disarmament and the inspectors doing their work, but were rather looking for some evidence of WMD to get to their ultimate goal of regime change. The U.N. however, was not turning up any serious incriminating material. This should have made the British and American intelligence agencies and governments re-evaluate their claims about Iraq’s weapons program, but they actually argued that not finding any WMD was proof that Iraq was hiding them. This was largely due to the fact that Saddam had never complied with the U.N. in the 1990s, so Washington and London were convinced that Iraq must have been hiding something again. The rest of the Security Council though, wanted the inspections to continue, and were not convinced of the arguments for war. When England tried to push for a second resolution they failed.

Blix believes that England was caught in a Catch-22. They would only join the U.S. invasion if the United Nations authorized it, which required the inspectors returning to Iraq to look for WMD, but they didn’t find any, and that undermined the rational for war. The result was that the Security Council refused to support military action. The British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in turn, said the war was illegal as late as March 7, 2003, and only changed his mind after a phone call from Blair who argued that it was legitimate due to previous U.N. resolutions. As former Ambassador Meyer told the Chilcot Inquiry, “We – the Americans, the British – have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun,” i.e. WMD, which the war had been sold on. Blair was committed no matter what though, as his recent comments point out. With the invasion set for March, the inspections and United Nations ended up hindering England’s plans rather than assisting them.


Blix, Hans, “Blair sold Iraq on WMD, but only regime change adds up,” Guardian, 12/14/09

Burrough, Bryan, Peretz, Evgenia, Rose, David and Wise, David, “Path To War,” Vanity Fair, May 2004

Gledhill, Ruth and Brown, David, “Blair ‘would have gone to war without Iraqi WMD,’” Times of London, 12/12/09

Meyer, Ambassador Christopher, “CONFIDENTIAL AND PERSONAL,” British Embassy, Washington, 3/18/02

Norton-Taylor, Richard, “Chilcot inquiry: US said Iraqis would welcome invasion,” Guardian, 12/1/09

Tran, Mark, “Iraq war inquiry key witnesses: Sir Christopher Meyer,” Guardian, 12/9/09


AndrewSshi said...

This could just be my faulty memory, but didn't Blair have almost as much of a bee in his bonnet about Ba'ath Iraq as the PNAC even prior to the Bush Administration's post-9/11 push for the invasion?

Joel Wing said...

Yeah, I think Blair thought that getting rid of Saddam was a moral issue that needed to be dealt with.

Iraqi Mojo said...

I completely agree with Tony Blair. I wish they had used the moral argument all along. Certainly many Iraqis were, and some of them were probably willing to lie about WMD, or speculate and wonder what Saddam would do, because they were convinced that the world had a moral duty to end the tyranny, which did last much longer than necessary, if I may add my own opinion on the matter. The regime should have been overthrown in 1991. It would have been easier. There was no Al Qaeda back then, and I wonder if Al Qaeda would have taken shape like it did. The US should have dealt with Saddam as the criminal he was in 1991 when the US & allies had almost a million troops(!), instead of allowing him to stay in power for another 12 years, and on top of that enforcing cruel sanctions, while Saddam built dozens of palaces! The injustice is so messed up when I recall it, so wrong that so many people ignored the crimes of Saddam's regime for so long.

What? said...

Is it just me that sees the non-sense Blix is spouting. For one Resolution 1441 did produce the "smoking gun" of an illicit missle program. Saddam gave up the goods on that one, but that didn't lead to war. Had the inspectors turned up WMD's than the rationale for invasion would have been undermined more not less. The argument would have been, see Saddam has repented let's lift the sanctions.

IMO the fact that they were not finding anything rightly did increase the chance for war, not undercut the rationale in the first place. I maintain that a policy of "we can't find anything so we better just trust Saddam" would be maddness and that seems to be exactly what Blix supports.

Joel Wing said...

I don't think Blix trusted Saddam at all. I think he followed the old phrase don't trust, verify. He seems to believe in what the inspectors mandate was: to disarm Iraq, and they just didn't find anything.

Even the evidence they found out about Iraq's missile programs was on R&D not operational ones, and Iraq agreed to destroy everything the inspectors found.

Maintaining sanctions was becoming more difficult, especially because Saddam was trying to bribe countries like Russia and others through illegal money he was earning from the oil for food program, and pumping up humanitarian stories about his suffering public, but the U.S. and England were pushing for smarter sanctions in 2001 that would've been more targeted, but the Bush administration wasn't putting much effort into them because Iraq wasn't a real priority at first.

Joel Wing said...

P.S.- Your also acting as if the U.S. was powerless in this situation, because as really happened, it didn't really matter what the inspectors turned up, the war was set for March 03 before they even returned to Iraq.

And besides, as Ari Fleischer said in Dec. 02 "If Saddam Hussein
indicates that he has weapons of mass destruction and that he is
violating United Nations resolutions, then we will know that Saddam Hussein again deceived the world. If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world."

Joel Wing said...

On U.N. sanctions you might try reading "Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked" Foreign Affairs July/August 2004

It argues that the sanctions and inspections worked in both disarming Iraq, destroying its nuclear and WMD programs, prevented it from rebuilding its military, blocked most of its oil revenue, and prevented the development of its economy to keep Saddam weak.

I was actually wrong too, because in 2002 the Bush administration did get new smart sanctions passed by the U.N. The article says that support for sanctions was declining amongst U.N. members in the 1990s, but the new smart sanctions that were more focused and specialized renewed support for them.

Basspastor said...

Even the evidence they found out about Iraq's missile programs was on R&D not operational ones, and Iraq agreed to destroy everything the inspectors found.

I am pretty sure that Saddam handed over some missles. I remember seeing a photograph of them.

The only reason we know sanctions worked is because we invaded and couldn't find anything. Saddam was unable or unwilling to produce the evidence that his previously known stores of WMD had been destroyed. The burden of proof was on Saddam and he didn't deliver. As far as I'm aware we never found evidence that proved the stuff he was known to posses was destroyed. For all we know Saddam buried the stuff somewhere known to him and a few hardcore loyalists and we just never found it.

Joel Wing said...

I was wrong, Iraq had 20 al-Samoud 2 missiles that the inspectors told them to destroy. That began right before the war started. Afterward the U.S. found a couple more.

I was thinking of these bigger missiles Iraq was doing R&D on and were building engines for that the inspectors also found and wanted destroyed.

When the inspectors ended in March 03 they found no evidence of a reconstituted WMD or nuclear program. All of the major facilities that the U.S. listed were checked and nothing found. The aluminum tubes were found to be for rockets not centrifuges, the Niger documents were forgeries and there was no evidence that Iraq had gotten uranium from abroad, they didn’t find evidence of mobile labs, etc. Iraq was also cooperating more and more as the inspections continued.

The only thing left were the unaccounted for stocks of WMD and agents that Iraq never verified they had destroyed after the Gulf War. The problem was this was done all in secret just after the war ended in the early-1990s because Iraq didn’t want the inspectors to know about their programs, so Iraq screwed itself because it could never prove what it had done. Many of the agents listed such as Sarin also had limited shelf life, and these were made during the Iran-Iraq war, so by 2003 a lot of it would’ve been useless.

Hussein Kamal, Saddam’s son-in-law, and head of Iraq’s weapons programs defected to Jordan in 1995 and told the U.N. inspectors and U.S. that all the WMD and nuclear programs had been shut down and that the WMD stocks had been destroyed. He also said that Iraq had hidden all kinds of banned material, which the inspectors later went in and got rid of. Kamal’s story of hidden equipment was used by Bush and others, but not his claim that all the WMD stocks were destroyed and the programs ended.

U.S. intelligence was also so completely off on Iraq’s weapons programs that it didn’t matter what Iraq produced or the inspectors found they were never going to come up with what the CIA and others said Iraq had. You should read the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on pre-war intelligence. It’s mind-blowing how little the U.S. actually knew. Basically all the major claims on Iraq were based upon worst-case assumptions about Iraq after inspectors left in 1998 rather than any hard intelligence. Rather than re-thinking their reports after the inspectors returned in late-2002 and turned up no weapons programs, the CIA and White House ignored their findings and claimed that finding nothing was actually proof that Iraq was hiding everything because of Iraq’s previous behavior with inspectors in the 1990s.

Finally, all the post-war investigations inside and out of Iraq found that Iraq had shut down its programs by the late-1990s because inspections, sanctions, and the occasional U.S. strikes made it impossible to maintain any of them. All the stocks were destroyed. The only thing found were some small labs run by Iraqi intelligence for agents that were probably used to assassinate regime opponents.

Basspastor said...

Rather than re-thinking their reports after the inspectors returned in late-2002 and turned up no weapons programs, the CIA and White House ignored their findings and claimed that finding nothing was actually proof that Iraq was hiding everything because of Iraq’s previous behavior with inspectors in the 1990s.

We probably disagree, because I think what the White House and CIA did was the more rationale coarse of action. The possibility certainly existed that the inspectors were successfully being duped. As you said yourself
"It’s mind-blowing how little the U.S. actually knew."
I think you have to error on the side of caution, which means not just the US but the international community should have been as aggressive as possible. I believe the point of sanctions was not just to contain Saddam, but weaken him to a point of collapse. Thanks to the UN corruption in the Oil for Palaces and Protection racket that was not going to happen.

Yet even now we are seeing the international community playing dangerous games with Iran when there shouldn't be any doubt about Iran's intent to aquire nuclear weapons.

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