PARIS – From London to Brussels, the verdict is practically unanimous on the report prepared by British premier Tony Blair, supposed to be the smoking gun against Saddam Hussein: it’s nothing more than “sanitized intelligence” presented as a political document. Most of the material had already been published in the US. Only two pieces of hard news stand out: that Iraq tried to get uranium in Africa, and that it is capable of deploying chemical weapons in 45 minutes.
Even Terence Taylor, director of the London-based Institute of International and Strategic Studies, who could be characterized as a supporter of Washington’s hawks, says that the report is based on a “substantial body of evidence” already produced by the United Nations. He also stresses a “sense of urgency” about the whole matter – but insists on a resolution by the UN first. Some European diplomats in private express doubts about suspicious black and white photos of suspected missile launching sites – something that reminds them of Soviet propaganda. Others suspect that the whole drama surrounding the report was choreographed by the US.
The assumption is that the Blair report is not telling a big lie, therefore it is telling the truth. But reading the report we come across a mass of “maybes,” “unclears,” “probables” and “unaccounted fors.” The report’s guesses are as good as any. There’s no hard evidence of a single new Iraqi missile. And the report does not establish Saddam’s motives or intention to use the weapons that he may or may not have. Only if he is attacked by the US will he be offered a solid motive.
George W. Bush has stuck to his guns: for months the distinction has been absolutely clear between renewed UN weapons inspections and “regime change.” It is patently obvious that it is absolutely impossible that Washington will agree to any finding that Baghdad has fulfilled its obligations under Security Council resolutions.
The precedents do exist. In 1998, the US blocked the closure of the Iraqi nuclear file by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the agency said that it could certify that Iraq’s ability to produce nuclear weapons had been neutralized and eliminated. Scott Ritter, the American former chief of UN inspectors in Iraq, has been stressing for years that Iraq did not close its doors to the inspectors in 1998. It was the US that told them to leave after the failure of a crude manipulation to provoke a crisis between the inspectors and Iraqi officials. The US then used the crisis to once again bomb Iraq – without even bothering to consult the Security Council. Ritter also stresses that this bombing campaign was not concentrated on Iraq’s capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, but on Saddam’s security apparatus. The American bombs were directed to targets identified by CIA agents disguised as inspectors. Even Washington recognized some of the “inspectors” were not the real thing.
European and Arab world diplomats comment in private that apparently now Iraq simply has to comply with UN demands, and if it does so, the whole problem will be solved. Not really. The US will find any imaginable reason to reject Iraqi compliance as falling short of UN demands. This is what has been happening since 1991 – as Asia Times Online learned in Iraq from many academics, and also from other players, such as Denis Hallyday, former director of the “oil for food” program in Iraq.
The whole world is now anxiously waiting for the new, magic US-proposed UN Security Council resolution. This was solemnly announced by Bush himself almost two weeks ago. The Americans started writing it with the help of the British. Then came the crucial visit of the Russian foreign and defense ministers to Washington. And then came the Blair dossier. But nobody actually knows which members of the Security Council really want to examine a text before chief weapons inspector Hans Blix meets an Iraqi delegation in Vienna next Monday.
Most observers would bet on this resolution being extremely vague on what Iraq actually needs to do, but it will be extremely specific on what Iraq will face if it does not comply. There is a simple test to verify the real US intentions: the US-inspired resolution has to be absolutely transparent, with unambiguous mechanisms and procedures, stating exactly what Iraq has to do to get the elusive all-clear certificate that will lead to the end of the sanctions that are currently imposed on it.
There is a consensus among European and Arab diplomats – supported by the views of an insider like Scott Ritter – that if Iraq fulfills its obligations, the international community should end the oil embargo and give the control of the Iraqi economy back to the Iraqi government, even if this means that Saddam Hussein will retain power. As much as Iraq has the obligation to allow the inspectors back without any conditions, the international community has the obligation to conduct a rigorous and fair investigation.
But any realist knows that this scenario is absolutely unlikely. And that’s why the whole waiting game for a “magic” resolution is a non-event. For Washington’s hawks, regime change is infinitely more crucial than disarmament. In other words: whatever the UN does, it does not matter.
The British ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, has stressed that the resolution will emphasize disarmament: “Whatever the US decision on anything else, it will only concern the US.” Europe remains totally divided about the war. Tony Blair wants it, but his Labor Party is totally split. According to the latest British military estimates, a land invasion of Iraq by 250,000 troops would yield a figure of 37,000 casualties on the US-British side – not to mention the other side. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was re-elected at the weekend, capitalizing on the deep anti-war sentiment in Germany. And as far as the Franco-German alliance – the main engine that moves Europe forward – is concerned, the controversy on Iraq has once more made clear that the German public is more anti-American than the German elite, while the French elite is more anti-American than the French public.
Jean-Herve Bradol, the founder of Doctors Without Borders, has observed that Western societies have always presented their most brutal military expeditions as enterprises of civilization: “To the wars of the ‘others’ rests the privilege of barbarism.” What has just happened in Afghanistan is the latest example of how the “defense of peace and civilization” is conducted: apocalyptic prophecy, demonization of the enemy and a totally asymmetric war. Saddam is the “ultimate evil” who will destroy us all (yesterday it was one Osama bin Laden, the day before that it was Muammar Gaddafi).
The Russian war against Chechnya and the Israeli war against Palestine follow the same pattern. And so will the next inevitable war of the US against Iraq – even though Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization itself.