It's maddeningly difficult to know which would be worse: if Hans Blix says there are signs of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or if he says there aren't.
The 74-year-old Swedish diplomat's history doesn't evoke a world of confidence in his abilities, and aggressiveness, in rooting out such weapons. As director general of the International Atomic Agency from 1981-97, he admits the Iraqis fooled him with their advanced nuclear weapons development program.
Today his many critics say he seems more concerned with not ruffling Iraqi sensibilities than with protecting the world from rogue nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. They note that he is big on cultural sensitivity training for weapons inspectors.
It also is deeply troubling that former Swedish deputy prime minister Per Ahlmark calls Blix "totally incompetent."
"It's much too important a job for him, and he's too easily deceived," Ahlmark said.
Nor is it vastly encouraging that Blix was a compromise choice for the job in 2000 - picked expressly for his diplomatic bedside manner rather than any ability to catch nuclear speeders.
Why is the world sending a diplomat to do a cop's job?
The distinction is sharp. Whereas a cop would want to interrogate Iraqi scientists outside of Iraq - reports indicate scientists who cooperated with U.N. weapons inspectors previously have disappeared in Iraq - a diplomat concerned with diplomatic niceties sees no need for possible asylum.
Furthermore, it is not irrelevant to note that he is a diplomat from Sweden. Of all people, he would not want to be put in the indelicate position of triggering a war with his discoveries. One writer suggested that Blix himself might want asylum in that event.
Chances are he wouldn't get it in the United States. Blix was not the U.S. choice for weapons inspector. He has made the inane, and insane, comment that he might wait for a "pattern" of violations before reporting them to the U.N. Security Council.
"We are not coming to Iraq to harass or to insult or humiliate them," Blix told the BBC. "That's not our purpose."
True enough. But the gentleman needs to remind himself that neither will he be able to do his job without stepping on a few toes.
Landing in the inspection team's jumping-off point, Cyprus, Blix said that Saddam Hussein holds the answer to the "question of war and peace."
Perhaps. But it is a genteel diplomat from Sweden who has possession of the answer key.
The question is whether he's a tough enough grader for a chronic cheater such as Saddam Hussein.
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