Blix’s critical report to the UN has certainly strengthened the case for war with Iraq. Unlike those of us commenting from afar, he is, after all, dealing with the Iraqis on a daily basis, and is obviously running into difficulties. At this point, Bush could clinch things if, as some have suggested, his State of the Union address is the occasion for producing the evidence of Iraq’s weapons that he has long claimed to possess.
If this doesn’t happen, Bush will still have a stronger bargaining position with the UNSC than seemed likely a few days ago. Assuming the alternative to war is a redefinition of ‘active co-operation’, it’s clear that this must include everything on Blix’s wishlist – unchaperoned interviews, surveillance flights, and more documentation of ‘missing’ weapons.
The incentive for Bush to take this route is strong. Despite the tough rhetoric of the past few days, a decision to bypass the UNSC poses immense risks of all kinds. If it went even moderately badly, both Blair and Howard would be finished, and Bush himself would suffer grave damage. And as I’ve noted, Blix’s report increases the likelihood that Bush will be able to get the UNSC on board with sufficient patience.
At the bottom of all this is the question, still unresolved as far as I am concerned, of whether the Iraqis actually have a weapons program. If so, I think the evidence of past successful inspections, cited in Blix’s report suggests that, if the inspectors have a sufficiently free hand, they will be found in the end. This in turn means that Saddam will probably defy any UNSC resolution that is sufficiently tightly worded. If not, then, however humiliating the demands may be, he will have no rational alternative but to comply.