by Hans Blix
Pantheon, 285 pp., $24.00
The Report of the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr. David Kelly, CMG
by Lord Hutton
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 740 pp., £70.00
The first four years of the twenty-first century have produced enough strange and unsettling developments to haunt a far longer period. They include the September 11 attacks and widespread terrorism by suicide bombing; the descent into savage despair of that wellspring of hatred and violence, the Israeli–Palestinian problem; the opening of a dangerous gulf of misunderstanding between the United States and much of the rest of the world; the growing, and terrifying, threat of nuclear proliferation; and the proclamation by the United States of the policy of preventive and preemptive war and at least one questionable experiment with it. The relative optimism that attended the beginning of the century has largely evaporated.
That the actual threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was, as it turns out, flagrantly misrepresented continues to preoccupy the Western press and to erode the reputations of several Western leaders. The two books under review are both retrospective studies of aspects of this complex subject, the one a memoir of the attempt to deal with the Iraqi threat by inspection and disarmament, the other an inquiry into a single tragic episode that transfixed the United Kingdom and threatened the career of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both books raise important questions about the conduct of national as well as international affairs in the future.
Hans Blix is a seventy-five-year-old Swedish lawyer and public servant, who for sixteen years until 1997 was director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In March 2000 he was called out of retirement—he was on his way to Antarctica with his wife—to lead the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which was created by the UN Security Council in 1999 to resume weapons inspections in Iraq. Blix, before he was vindicated by the postwar search for weapons in Iraq, was systematically treated with contempt by leading members of the Bush administration. In view of this, his book is remarkably even-tempered and magnanimous. He has no doubt that without the American military buildup his inspectors would never have been allowed to return to Iraq, and under far better working conditions than the previous UN inspectors. He makes no secret of the fact that until a late stage he was himself inclined to believe that Iraq might still be concealing some stocks of chemical and biological weapons, as well as some illegal missiles.
Saddam Hussein agreed to let the UNMOVIC inspectors back into Iraq on September 16, 2002, when the American and British military buildup in Kuwait and elsewhere was already well under way. The conclusions of Western intelligence agencies at the time were generally hedged. The agencies said that they were “inclined to believe” weapons existed or that the evidence “strongly suggests” their presence. Such qualified claims nevertheless were the basis for the dogmatic statements pouring out of Washington and London about the monstrous and imminent threat of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs—statements “as firm as [they were] unfounded,” as Blix puts it. UNMOVIC’s mission …