Oh, for the ice-cold Swedish eye on the Middle East. Ah, for the freezing Scandinavian vision of truth. Hans Blix, everybody’s headmaster, delivered his school report yesterday with enough fairness to outrage both pupil â€“ Iraq â€“ and parent, ultimately the US.
Yes, Iraq had provided the names of relevant scientists, but “only a few documents had come to light â€“ a disappointment”. And on Iraq’s destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles â€“ a “substantial measure of disarmament” â€“ a Swedish bon mot. “We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks,” Mr Blix said. Toothpicks, indeed.
Words of truly Nordic neutrality followed: “reluctant co-operation”, “soberly judged”, “immediate co-operation” (which was not obtained), “a considerable volume of documents”. The famous aluminium tubes turned out â€“ if one believes Mr Blix, and why not â€“ to have nothing to do with nuclear weapons (goodbye, the British intelligence file). And â€“ if you believe Mohamed al-Baradei, and again why not â€“ quite a number of other US documents are lies. But the words from this most intransigent of Swedes to most enrage the warmongers were: “We intend to continue our inspection activities.”
You could almost hear the roar of fury from the Americans. Saddam has lied; the UN hasn’t found the weapons. The UN doesn’t know how to find them. Alas for President Bush, the UN was urged to go to Iraq last year by … President Bush.
He thought Saddam would not allow inspectors to land in Iraq. Saddam let the inspectors in â€“ so the inspectors must now be trashed by Washington. Not an easy task when Mr Blix â€“ the archetypal, friendly Swedish bear â€“ is in charge.
The words were no help to US war plans. “Plausible … verifiable … progress,” he said of his mission. All words the US would welcome if they wanted the inspectors to succeed. Hence the statement from Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister: “We see no need for a second resolution.” Which, of course, was the view of the French and the Russians â€“ and Mr Blix. So, Mr Blix, watch out.
Colin Powell didn’t seem quite ready for the report, though there was plenty of talk of “criminal evidence”, of “lying and deceit”, along with some new phrases: “cluster of questions” and “tens of thousands [sic] of delivery systems”.
Yes, Mr Powell, who picked up the “toothpicks” metaphor, liked Iraq’s co-operation â€“ he could scarcely say otherwise â€“ but added he was “sorry to learn that this is coming in a grudging manner”.
The two words not mentioned were those of the countries whose people are really killing each other: Israel and Palestine. Alas, that would have muddied the waters â€“ and introduced an element of reality to this frozen debate at the UN.