Photo by Tenaya HillsMaybe Hans Blix isn't right-wing enough. Or maybe UC Irvine Chancellor Ralph Cicerone just hates Swedish diplomats. Either way, Cicerone was nowhere to be seen May 5, when Blix, the chair of the United Nations Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction and the former United Nations chief weapons inspector, spoke before a standing-room-only crowd at UC Irvine.
That was a bit odd, because, with the exception of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Blix is probably the most high-profile "Chancellor's Distinguished Fellow" to speak at UC Irvine this year. It was odder still because Cicerone was supposed to introduce Blix to the crowd, and his mysterious absence delayed the event by several minutes. When it became clear Cicerone was a no-show, Barbara Dosher, dean of social sciences, had no choice but to deliver Blix's introduction herself.
"My job was to introduce the chancellor, who for whatever reason, was not able to be here," Dosher said. "Instead, I'll introduce our speaker."
Blix opened his speech with a joke. He expressed enthusiasm for being on a college campus, which is friendly toward "critical thinking." Blix noted that he's a big fan of critical thinking himself, adding that "it should also be applied to politics."
His joke—that the Bush administration is driven more by what Blix called "faith-based intelligence" than by objective "interpretation of reality"—needed no elaboration. But Blix elaborated anyway. While moderate and even grandfatherly in tone, his entire speech echoed with the obvious frustration of someone who knew there were no WMDs in Iraq, said so until he was blue in the face—and then had to sit back and watch as the Bush administration manufactured last-minute evidence to justify an invasion that had no basis in fact.
"In Iraq, weak evidence of a connection to terrorists was spun into virtual reality," Blix said. "Sadly, our reports did not affect U.S. leadership. They believed inspectors were lying and reportedly arranged to have me bugged. If so, I wish they would have listened to what I was saying more carefully.
"The war [in Iraq] was unjust," Blix continued. "And Bush effected a lethal blow on the UN. U.S. policy is now one of anticipatory self-defense. But before an attack occurs, knowledge depends on intelligence. And the Iraq war doesn't provide confidence for the value of intelligence; it shows that it could cause an unjustified attack."
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That's scary, Blix said, because the United Nations is currently trying to gain access to suspected WMD sites in both Iran and North Korea—and the U.S. is fucking up that program just like it did in Iraq. "We need to induce North Korea and Iran to voluntarily submit to international inspections," Blix said. "In return, they would need to be given assurances of security from attacks from outside. When the U.S. threatens to attack, as it does frequently, it undermines that attempt."
That's exactly what happened in Iraq. Before the March 2003 U.S. invasion, Blix explained, his staff conducted more than 700 inspections of 500 Iraqi sites thought to hold evidence of WMDs, including several dozen recommended by the CIA and other intelligence agencies—and found nothing. "We did not find any smoking gun," he said. "What specifically struck us was we found no evidence of WMDs in sites recommended by other states' intelligence services. We said to them, 'If these are your best, what are the rest?'"
In fact, Blix concluded, he's at least as afraid of the Bush administration's stunning lack of "critical thinking" as he is of states like Iran and North Korea. "I confess that I see dangers on the road traveled by the U.S. administration in the past few years," he said. "There may be more weapons rather than fewer threats down the road of being the lone-wolf sheriff in the world. In foreign affairs, as in medicine, successful operations must be based on a successful interpretation of reality."