The war against Iraq divided opinion throughout the world and generated a maelstrom of spin and counterspin. The man at the eye of the storm, and arguably the only key player to emerge from it with his integrity intact, was Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons inspection team.
This is Dr. Blix’s account of what really happened during the months leading up to the declaration of war in March 2003. In riveting descriptions of his meetings with Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Kofi Annan, he conveys the frustrations, the tensions, the pressure and the drama as the clock ticked toward the fateful hour. In the process, he asks the vital questions about the war: Was it inevitable? Why couldn’t the U.S. and UK get the backing of the other member states of the UN Security Council? Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? What does the situation in Iraq teach us about the propriety and efficacy of policies of preemptive attack and unilateral action?
Free of the agendas of politicians and ideologues, Blix is the plainspoken, measured voice of reason in the cacophony of debate about Iraq. His assessment of what happened is invaluable in trying to understand both what brought us to the present state of affairs and what we can learn as we try to move toward peace and security in the world after Iraq.
Blix reluctantly came out of retirement in 2000 to lead the U.N. weapons inspections team in Iraq because he was the only man everyone could agree on for the job. Three years later, those clamoring for military intervention grumbled at his inability (or, as they saw it, refusal) to present evidence of weapons of mass destruction, but he reminds readers that his assignment was to assess and report on the available evidence. Although his instincts told him Saddam was probably "still engaged in prohibited activities and retained prohibited items," as he dryly puts it, hard evidence never materialized. This play-by-play account of the months of diplomacy and inspection efforts leading up to the war is almost always strictly professional in tone, and though it does take us behind closed doors for meetings with world leaders, nothing here will radically transform the historical record or the ongoing debate. Blix doesn't have any scores to settle; while noting that Condoleezza Rice was never bashful about expressing her opinion, for example, he notes that she never tried to exert undue influence over him. He even laughs off some of the sharpest barbs from the conservative press (though not the New York Post's unflattering comparison to Mister Magoo). When he does, near the end, shift emphasis from facts to opinions, he suggests the American-led drive to war was led at least in part by "a deficit of critical thinking," and that the much-ballyhooed WMD threat probably doesn't exist but he doesn't lament Hussein's overthrow. His sober account probably won't sway hardline critics, but it offers insightful perspective on how the Iraq situation snowballed into a geopolitical crisis.