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Blix details hunt for WMDs in Iraq

A capacity crowd in Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall braved a late winter snowstorm to hear former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix review the U.S. rationale for the war in Iraq and offer blunt criticism of the Bush administration’s presentation of unsourced, inaccurate, and even forged documentation to justify its course of military action.

“We were criticized for a cautious approach,” he said. “Well, we were given information, but unless we have the sources of that information, we won’t present it to the U.N. Security Council and expect them to say, ‘Amen.’

“Indeed, if the Security Council had endorsed military action on that unsourced evidence, how the world see us today? In retrospect, we were right to be critical of such information.”

Blix’s appearance at Lehigh was one of several talks and appearances he is making across the country to promote his new book, Disarming Iraq , which offers a play-by-play account of the months of diplomacy and inspection efforts leading up to the ongoing Iraq war.

“A deficit in critical thinking”

In making his case before the Lehigh audience, Blix detailed the proliferation and elimination of weapons of mass destruction over recent decades, and contrasted the styles of several U.S. administrations in confronting the issues.

He charged Bush administration officials with “a deficit in critical thinking,” and suggested that in their rush to war, “they put exclamation points where there should have been question marks.

“We want our government, in some instances, to keep distance from the advertising world,” he said. “We want them to acknowledge the real world, not operate in the virtual one.”

Blix gained international recognition last year in the prelude to the war in Iraq as he and his team tried to determine if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. While the U.S. and it allies pushed for justification for military action, key opponents on the U.N. Security Council called for time to allow the inspections process to work. Blix had the often uncomfortable and controversial role of mediating between the two factions as he tried to impartially determine the true scope of Iraq’s weapons program.

Saddam Hussein’s role

Blix acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the issue of WMDs in Iraq was complicated by Hussein, who adopted a strategically evasive approach.

“I think Saddam Hussein may well have been ambivalent about inspections,” he said. “And perhaps maybe he liked to be suspected of having weapons. It’s like the sign on the door that says, ‘Beware of dog.’ You don’t need to have a dog.”

Blix said that he worked through “disincentives to cooperation,” and the U.N. weapons inspections team had created “a climate of cooperation.” He acknowledged that the threat of military power played a role in that development.

Ultimately, he concluded, the combination of diplomacy, inspections, and the potential to employ military might “kept Saddam Hussein in a box, as (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeline Albright liked to say.”

But, he suggested, the events of 9-11 prompted both the U.S. and Britain to abandon the long-held policy of containment and begin to build a case for war that relied on questionable evidence, such as forged documents and unfounded claims. Aside from the breakdown in international cooperation and loss of credibility for both countries, this aggressive policy also presents a host of larger issues, Blix said.

“These claims, this talk of ‘gathering danger,’ these are vague concepts,” he said. “How do we interpret them? And is the U.S. the only one who is allowed to act on them? Who decides? Can other countries, such as China or Russia, feel justified in taking similar action? Is the policeman of the world to be a Western power? Is that where we’re headed?”

Comparing the leadership of the U.S. to a crayfish that advances itself by moving backwards, he wryly noted: “At any rate, the crayfish knows where it’s going.”

"The losses continue"

Ultimately, Blix concluded, the weapons inspections process was flawed, but he contended that it was certainly preferable to more unstructured and dangerous approaches.

“The more distant a danger is, the more hypothetical, the less justification there is for a pre-emptive strike and the greater the need for other avenues,” he said. “The U.N. is not the only multilateral church in the international village, but it is the most effective one.”

While noting that he doesn’t mourn the removal of Saddam Hussein—“Few regimes have as much blood on its hands”—he decried a deficit on the balance sheet of results.

“There was the loss of many, many lives,” he said. “There was the loss of much progress. And the losses continue.”

Blix, a native of Sweden, was introduced by Lloyd Steffen, chair and professor of religion studies and member of the Visiting Lectures Committee, which brought Blix to the Lehigh campus.

In doing so, Steffen described the administration’s approach as “faith-based,” a characterization that drew approving laughter from the crowd.

Lehigh, we need to talk

Members of the campus community (with a valid Lehigh e-mail and password) who wish to continue the discussion of the war in Iraq and related issues can log onto Lehigh’s new at online discussion forum.

The topic of discussion will change periodically, so first-time users are encouraged to bookmark the site and check back. To suggest topics for additional discussion forums, e-mail mbb2@lehigh.edu.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004

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