Predictably, a lot of the media (and, of course, the Bush administration) had spun this into a justification for war, as opposed to something that Iraq should be compelled to rectify. Apparently, however, Hans Blix thinks differently, and is saying as much.
In a two-hour interview in his United Nations offices overlooking Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Blix, the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector, seemed determined to dispel any impression that his report was intended to support the administration's campaign to build world support for a war to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"Whatever we say will be used by some," Mr. Blix said, adding that he had strived to be "as factual and conscientious" as possible. "I did not tailor my report to the political wishes or hopes in Baghdad or Washington or any other place."
Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.
Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to Syria, Jordan or any other country to prevent them from being interviewed. Nor had he any reason to believe, as President Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists.
He further disputed the Bush administration's allegations that his inspection agency might have been penetrated by Iraqi agents, and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad, compromising the inspections.
Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda, which Mr. Bush also mentioned in his speech. "There are other states where there appear to be stronger links," such as Afghanistan, Mr. Blix said, noting that he had no intelligence reports on this issue. "It's bad enough that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction."
Well, we can leave aside that last one; Bush has been pushing that line for half a year now, and has provided no more convincing information now than back when he started. There is no reason to believe that the administration is telling the unvarnished truth on this, and several reasons (not the least of which being the PR usefulness of convincing Americans that Iraqis had anything to do with 9/11) to take the claims skeptically.
As it is, however, Blix's reaction seems to fit that mixed reaction that I had earlier. He is not convinced that Iraq's attitude has completely changed, but..
...continued to endorse disarmament through peaceful means. "I think it would be terrible if this comes to an end by armed force, and I wish for this process of disarmament through the peaceful avenue of inspections," he said. "But I also know that diplomacy needs to be backed by force sometimes, and inspections need to be backed by pressure."My own personal feelings on this issue is that the pressure needs to be kept up on both Bush and Hussein. Hussein needs to be impressed with the severity of the issue; that the council will act if Blix is completely stymied. (To some extent this is taking place; supposedly Iraq will invite officials to Baghdad to "discuss issues". Considering that many of their other objections melted away using this same sort of process, I consider it a good sign.)
The Bush administration, on the other hand, needs to be reminded that the point of the inspections was not and is not to justify their pre-existing position, but to determine whether it's necessary in the first place. It is this role of determination from which stems the U.N.'s legitimacy on this matter, not whether or not it hews to the White House line (no matter what the unilateralist rhetoric of the right might imply). Fortunately, the Blair visit seems to be a sign that this is going on as well.
Oh, and one other thing. This South African disarmament comparison that is going around is utterly inane. Iraq is not South Africa, and Saddam Hussein is not Nelson Mandela. Despite that, there is absolutely no reason to believe that every country will be as forthcoming as South Africa was; that doesn't make inspections either impossible or undesirable, simply more difficult. Among other things, South Africa wasn't paranoid about the possibility of inspectors being spies for a hostile power. Iraq has excellent reason to exhibit such paranoia, and the reality of the possibility of espionage is one of the reasons why this whole process is different.