Hans Blix on why invading Iraq was "a terrible mistake"

In an op-ed for CNN.com, Hans Blix writes: "I headed the U.N. inspections in Iraq at the time of the war 10 years ago. Today, I look again at the reasons why this terrible mistake -- and violation of the U.N. charter -- took place and explore if any lessons be drawn. Here are my thoughts. [CNN.com]


  1. Well, nice that he’s trying to wash his hands of it now, but I seem to recall the ambiguous reports coming from Mr Blix’s team being part of the raison d’guerre: they couldn’t deny that Saddam may or may not have weapons, but he’s certainly not cooperative.

    Sorry, but the bureaucratic and diplomatic double-speak coming from anyone at the UN is so thick that it’s worthless tripe on a good day, and a licence to draw your own evil conclusions on a bad day.  Hans Blix does not have my respect.

      1. There “may be” a difference, but in this case there is not. Hans Blix was in a prime position to blow up the baseless propaganda coming out of the Bush administration over Iraqi WMDs, which he knew for a fact was based on a giant pack of lies, and for whatever reason failed to do so. 

        Even Kofi Annan only waited until the carnage was about a year old before he offered his judgment that the Iraq war violated international law. Thanks Kofi! (<——this is sarcasm). Blix waits for a whole fucking decade. Thanks Hans! (<———this is also sarcasm.)

          1. …And I say that your own links suggest that Blix was playing with ambiguity so that he could say that he was not pushing the war (ten years later), but also was cowardly not trying to piss off the United States government in its obviously concerted propaganda campaign.

            From your links: “TIME: Was there anything in Secretary of State Powell’s presentation (to the Security Council) that surprised you or alarmed you?
            Blix: No, I think it was an excellent presentation.”
            TIME: The intercepts where he has officials talking to other officials?Blix: Well, I think several things could be interpreted in different ways, but I’m not going to analyze them.”

            …and from a different one of your links: “The chief inspector said the Bush administration showed good faith early on in the inspection process, but “clearly there have been many in the administration all the way through who have been very skeptical.”And, fuck it, the rest of what you gave me all seems to come after the start of the war, so fails to counter my point at all. The point is, Powell’s pack of lies at the UN, Blix said, was “an excellent presentation.” Do you call that countering the propaganda??

          2. By ” Blix waits for a whole fucking decade. Thanks Hans! (<———this is also sarcasm.)" I thought you were saying that this is the first that Blix has challenged the propaganda.

            I don't think he was without fault, and I wish his UN report had been less conservative. But the reality was that he could not prove a negative.

            As for respect, the man has spent his entire life working to prevent nuclear proliferation. I do respect him for that.

          3. “…And I say that your own links suggest that Blix was playing with ambiguity ”

            If an investigation team does not find evidence, that is not necessarily the whole of reality. No matter the answer he gave, the US had plans in motion.

          4. Well, given that DR Davit Kelly was found ‘suicided’ under a bush, some degree of equivocation might be deemed prudent…

          5. To be clear, I’m not saying Blix was an enthusiastic proponent of war. I do think he was opposed to it.  I’m saying he was a coward who was in a prime position to work to stop it and he failed to do so because of political and careerist considerations.

          6.  He said he found no evidence.  Would you rather he lied and said he had successfully proved a negative?  It’s not the intelligent man’s fault that the salivating war-mongers, and their nation full of rubes, preferred war over knowledge.

          7. In response to your last comment (because the interface won’t allow me to make a direct reply to it): Ok, maybe I was a little unfair in saying he didn’t challenge it. But he certainly didn’t challenge it very strongly. And he was in a position to so and had the knowledge necessary to so. While the roll up to war was ramping up, I remember hoping beyond hope that Blix would just come out and say that the Bush administration’s case was a bunch of bullshit. Which it clearly was. But Blix hemmed and hawed behind a bunch of bureaucratese and we got the disaster that we got. And the Iraqis got the disaster that they got, which was one of the great crimes of the century. I do not judge Blix kindly, but I suppose it’s a matter of subjective assessment of what he was capable of in his position. I tend to think that he valued his career and sinecure over the lives of the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and many other victims of the fucking war. 

          8.  You can’t prove a negative, man.  He wouldn’t have been doing his job if he had said “there are definitely no WMDs in Iraq” because that is something he can’t honestly claim to know.  He did the best he could which is that to the best of his and his team’s abilities they were unable to find any evidence of WMDs in Iraq and it’s not like he made any secret about it.

            How about holding the people who lied about the intelligence and started the war responsible instead of the dude who did more than any other individual human being to prevent it?

          9. Out of everything going on in 2003, the thing that still surprises me most is that they didn’t just plant false evidence like a Ramparts cop planting a drop gun.

          10. But he certainly didn’t challenge it very strongly.

            Do you remember the political climate at the time? Like the part about the UN being run by aliens who were trying to take away our freedoms? And the fact that the US government was not-very-subtly supporting that view?

            UN agents only ever have any power when they’re in agreement with the White House.

          11. He may not have been able to turn it around, but that’s no excuse for not really trying. I certainly realized it was likely a done deal that I had little influence over, but I did my part trying to stop it.

            Once again, on Powell’s UN speech, Hans Blix called it “An excellent presentation.” How hard would it have been for him to instead say, “From my position as the head of UNMOVIC, those assertions strike me as extremely dubious.” ????????

            Might not have stopped the war, certainly, but would have been a hell of a lot better than “an excellent presentation.”

            And what does Hans Blix care about the US political climate at the time? Dude’s a Swedish diplomat.

          12. And what does Hans Blix care about the US political climate at the time? Dude’s a Swedish diplomat.

            He’s working for the UN. The US has a permanent seat on the Security Council. The UN is located in the US. The US provides a lot of funding for the UN. US Conservatives want to stop funding, withdraw from the organization and tell them to find new headquarters. You’ve decontextualized his actions down to a stick figure cartoon.

          13. So he shouldn’t speak up to try to prevent a major war crime from happening? Let’s just say you’ve failed to convince me with that argument.

        1. Are we recalling the same history here? 

          From The Guardian’s archive, Feb 14th 2003, more than a month before the invasion:
          How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programmes? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed.

          Full text of Hans Blix’s briefing to the security council

          Read the whole thing.  Bush and Blair should be made to answer for their crimes in the ICC.

          1. “Bush and Blair should be made to answer for their crimes in the ICC.”

            You will find absolutely no argument from me on that point. I am an enthusiastic proponent of that idea. I just remember being disgusted at what I saw as Blix’s cowardice in confronting what I clearly saw as a pack of lies. 

          2. “Blix’s cowardice in confronting what I clearly saw as a pack of lies.”

            Blix’s role did not amount to that. How much more can he state facts?

            There is no way that he could have phrased it that would have remained truthful to his understanding/research and that would have made a difference.

          3. Since I’m not allowed to directly reply to CW because of the odd nesting rules, I’m going to do it here. 

            I would suggest that those assessing Blix’s role in this affair go back and compare his extreme caution in laying out the facts (with many qualifications) compared to that of El-Baradei at the IAEA. I’m not a particular fan of El-Baradei, but he certainly was much more strident about countering obvious lies. Blix, in contrast, would hedge, and hem, and haw, putting out the actual facts in order to support his reputation, but also never just calling a fucking warmongering lie a fucking warmongering lie. 

            Powell’s pack of shit at the UN? Perhaps the key address bringing us to war? According to Blix: “An excellent presentation.” 

          4. At the time any child with half a brain could see it was bullshit. Bush and the GOP got Democrats and stupid hawkish liberals to sign on because they were both spineless and frightened of looking soft in the face of extreme nationalism and war fervor, and because some of them probably were genuinely into it. Meanwhile thousands were in the streets protesting during the ramp up to invasion.

            Blaming Blix seems a bit misguided…

          5.  Powell’s pack of shit at the UN? Perhaps the key address bringing us to war? According to Blix: “An excellent presentation.”

            That right there. Fark you, Hans Brix.

  2. Hmmm, reminds me of that paper on why inserting your penis into an ant hill is a terrible mistake.

    1. Because you’ll have to live with being nicknamed Antfucker for the rest of your life?

      1. Doesn’t matter how many hot babes you’ve slept with, you stick your dick in *one* anthill and that’s it…

    1. We’re going to mark the anniversary with a war with Iran!  America, land of perpetual war.

        1. It is no longer acceptable to oppose the military in any way now.  Support the troops!

          1. Supporting the troops, and opposing military action are not mutually exclusive. Lots of people involved in the fighting knew how messed up the Iraq war was. The blame lies with Bush, Congress, and the portion of America that supported the war.

        2. Democrats are pussies if they oppose the war.  Stooges and useful idiots if they support it.  It’s a win/win.

          1. Not following you man. A sizable amount of more principled Democrats voted no and tried to get their more right wing colleagues to vote no as well. Clinton, Kerry etc. etc. have no excuses.

  3. I remember him being a professional – talking about evidence in a ridiculously anti-intellectual pre-war fever.  The tone of the time was one of shouting down anyone with the temerity to oppose the invasion.

    He could not say what he did not know to be true, and I appreciate that.  Sadly, he had an impossible job, speaking truth to power-mad lunatics and their apparent legions of enablers.

    There are times when it sucks to be right.  The outcome of the criminally stupid invasion of Iraq, for all involved, was and remains one of those times for all of us who opposed it.

  4. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield dismissed our reports with one of his wittier retorts: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Rumsfeld’s logic was correct, I believe…

    Ah, the celestial teapot argument. Always a tough one to counter.

  5.  Exactly. Some people here seem to have forgotten the atmosphere of the time- the strident, self-righteous aggression being drummed up by the US Administration and its domestic and overseas cheer squad- remember the ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’? remember Blair’s 45 minutes?

    That bunch was quick to tear into anyone of substance who suggested that the invasion might be anything less than divine providence. If Hans Blix had gone beyond his evidence to press a case against invasion, that bunch would have put a gun to the UN’s head to get him removed, and leave a critical vacuum at a time when events were moving rapidly. Better to have a credible voice against invasion than than no voice at all. At the time, nothing Blix said could have stopped the momentum for war.

    Rather than venting fury at Blix, why not ask about the perpetrators in the Administration and their friends in the think tanks. Has anyone assembled a list of names and how they have fared since the invasion? and how many are working on plans for invading Iran … 

    1.  The thing about Blair’s ’45 minutes’ that really boiled my piss, was the fact that the preceding news item was about how fast the Royal Navy could deploy cruise missiles: 90 fucking minutes. No-one appeared to think this was odd…

  6. Respect for Hans Blix! Didn’t the conventional weapons these brave IAEA inspectors happened to find, label and photograph then turn out to be found stolen through footage shot by embedded reporter Dean Staley and his team? Purely accidental discovery made possible by IAEA’s good work, Staley’s good work and the work of people comparing the two. At the time, the U.S. military was claiming to be effectively guarding all Iraqi gubmint weapons caches and this footage showed that was incorrect.

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