Published on Saturday, March 6, 2004 by the Guardian/UK
Blair Lacked Critical Thinking, Says Blix
by Richard Norton-Taylor and David Leigh
Hans Blix, the UN's former chief weapons inspector, last night delivered a robust critique of Tony Blair's defense of the invasion of Iraq, questioning the prime minister's judgment, especially his response to claims made by the intelligence agencies.
Asked about Mr Blair's admission yesterday that intelligence was not "hard fact", Mr Blix told the Guardian that was precisely how it was presented to the UN in the run-up to war. Britain and the US "were selling it as such", he said.
Mr Blair's claims about his thought processes in the run-up to the war are markedly different from the moment-by-moment picture painted today by Mr Blix in extracts of his memoirs - published exclusively in the Guardian - of his dealings with the prime minister.
Mr Blair yesterday played down his reliance on pre-war intelligence, describing himself as a man haunted by the risk that terrorists and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) might come together one day, but who recognized the limits of intelligence material.
In Mr Blix's accounts of meetings with him, a different Mr Blair emerges: a man convinced to the point of credulity by intelligence reports, and fueled by a religious enthusiasm of his own, to do battle with evil.
President Jacques Chirac of France, by contrast, said that the west's intelligence services, including his own, were "intoxicating each other"; believed that Iraq's WMD did not exist; and predicted that a war would be the worst outcome, inflaming anti-western feeling among Muslims.
In his memoirs, Mr Blix describes Mr Blair in the month before the war as saying "the intelligence was clear that Saddam had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction program".
"Blair clearly relied on the intelligence and was convinced," he said.
Speaking from his home in Stockholm, Mr Blix last night insisted he was not accusing the prime minister of bad faith: "What I am saying is there was a lack of critical thinking."
He highlighted the notorious 45-minute claim, played down yesterday by the prime minister in his speech. The claim, said Mr Blix, was clearly meant to convey something "ominous".
By the end of January last year, he said, UN inspectors had been to a number of key sites named by British and US intelligence. "Nowhere did we find WMD," he added.
It seemed at times Britain and the US were acting like "witch doctors", he said. They should have allowed UN inspectors to continue their work.
"Gradually [the British and US governments] ought to have realized there was nothing. Gradually they would have found that the defectors' information was not reliable."
Mr Blix added: "Inspection proved its value. We were independent and therefore did have legitimacy".
So too did the security council, he added, referring to Mr Blair's remark that the UN's top body should represent "21st century reality". Did the prime minister mean he wanted the security council to be more "trigger happy", asked Mr Blix.
He said he agreed in principle with the British proposal to send Saddam an ultimatum with a number of "benchmarks" he had to satisfy. However, he asked, how were the Iraqis able "prove a negative" - proving they had not got weapons the US and UK said they had?
Prewar wrangling in the UN collapsed not over the principle of benchmarks but because Britain and the US reserved the right to judge for themselves whether they had been fulfilled, said Mr Blix. Other countries, notably France, had no faith in that, Mr Blix told the Guardian.
He said that it seemed President George Bush had decided to go to war once 300,000 troops were amassed in the Gulf and the hot season was approaching.
Mr Blair yesterday said he was not prepared, before he decided to go to war, to take a "risk" with Saddam. It is unlikely that the US congress or the British parliament would have accepted that as a reason to invade Iraq, Mr Blix said.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004