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Ten Minutes with Hans Blix

Blix's recent book, Disarming Iraq, released by Pantheon Books, offers a play-by-play overview of the months of diplomacy and inspection efforts leading up to war and the resultant geo-political crisis.

Blix had been appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2000 to head the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and retired from that position in June 2003. He is now chairman of the International Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction. His talk at Lehigh was sponsored by the Visiting Lectures Committee. While on campus, he graciously agreed to take questions from the audience and from the Alumni Bulletin’s Linda Harbrecht.

If you were an American citizen, who would you vote for in the upcoming presidential election?
I recently got a visa to come to this country, so I must be very careful. We wouldn’t want to upset Mr. [Attorney General John] Ashcroft.

Sometimes I wonder if all the rest of the world should be allowed to vote in your elections since we all share in the results. But since I cannot vote, I won’t tell you who I would vote for. But I will say this: In the Swedish context, I am a liberal, which means left of center.

In your talk, you mentioned Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N., when he stated his case for acting against Saddam Hussein. Since then, much of that evidence has been either questioned or dis-proved. Do you believe he believed what he said?
Well, we read in the newspapers that he spent a good deal of time going over the materials. I have no evidence that he was not acting in good faith. But you can see now, how he phrased it, that he was much more unclear than we were led to believe.

In your view, how much damage was done to the U.S. within the international community when it decided to move against Iraq?
Legitimacy was hurt, no doubt about that. Certain people thought this didn’t matter at all, but it did matter. The U.S. may soon have a military budget as big as the rest of the world’s, but no country is so powerful that it can act alone. And in fighting terrorism, the cooperation of the rest of the world is needed. The message is clear: Agreements are to be respected.

Much of the case for justifying the war was built on information provided by Iraqi defectors such as Ahmad Chalabi. What’s your sense of the accuracy of the information provided by them, and the U.S. reliance upon it?
My knowledge of them is more through the media, and my impression is that at least some authorities on the U.S. side received quite a lot of information from them, relied upon them as well. What I can say is that I read the book by (Khidr) Hamza, Saddam’s bomb maker, and that was the area I was active in through the ’90s, and there are just lots of errors. But this is something that intelligence organizations, of course, are aware of. They are used to taking care of defectors and know the information is often unreliable. There should have been a cautiousness that appears not to have been practiced.

You mentioned this lack of critical thinking often in your talk.
Yes, the example I have in my book is about Bush in the autumn of 2002. He was talking about an installation that had had centrifuges in the past and he said that the U.S. now knew [that Saddam Hussein] had extended the installation and their ability - that he had seen that through the satellite. And he said, "What more evidence do you need?"

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2004

Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2004

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