Hans Blix has come in for a lot of criticism and caricature but he’s revealed himself as one of the cleverest political operators on the world scene today. His critical report on the Iraqi declaration got him exactly what he wanted. The US Administration passed up any chance of an immediate declaration of war based on the December 8 trigger and effectively made Blix’s interim report, due on Australia Day 26 January, the new trigger. On the other hand, the references to omissions and inconsistencies have put maximum pressure on the Iraqis to comply with all his demands.
All of this is good. If the Iraqis are hiding WMDs, the pressure Blix is now putting on will make it hard for them to conceal the fact. Even without an actual discovery, another negative report from Blix would certainly pave the way for a US invasion.
On the other hand, the Administration has given far more ground than seems to have been realised by most commentators. If Blix’s report is along the lines of ‘Iraqi compliance has been generally satisfactory, but more time and more inspections are needed’, it will be very hard to get UNSC support, or even domestic support in the US, for war. This in turn gives Blix a lot of leverage in pressing the US to hand over its evidence against Saddam (if in fact it has any useful evidence).
To summarise, Blix, not Bush, is now the person who will have the biggest say in deciding whether or not there is to be a war. When those inside the Beltway wake up to this, expect a dramatic change in the tone of discussion.