Saturday, December 10, 2005


By William Fisher

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was big on explosions.

And the Committee that bears his name loves them as well.

It set one off in Oslo on Saturday by awarding its Peace Prize to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and his International Atomic Energy Agency – and burying the Bush Administration in the fallout.

Through the Bushies’ lens, this was never supposed to happen. ElBaradei should have been out of the IAEA at the end of last year, when his second term expired. Instead, he was unanimously elected to a third term as the organization’s Director General.

The Egyptian-born diplomat and lawyer survived a relentless assault by the Bush Administration, led by our now-Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and bolstered by the “mushroom cloud” rhetoric of Dick Cheney and Condi Rice.

Maybe ElBaradei’s victory should have served as a portent of Bolton’s effectiveness.

Why did the U.S. have it in for ElBaradei?

Because he told everyone who would listen that there weren’t going to be any mushroom clouds emanating from Baghdad any time soon.

You may remember that in George W. Bush's first State of the Union message, he claimed Iraq was one of three nations that had clandestine nuclear programs. The other two were North Korea and Iran.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. ... I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons," the president said.

But what the Bushies forgot was the IAEA had been granted extraordinary authority by a U.N. Security Council Resolution that gave it authority to identify Iraqi facilities capable of enriching or extracting fissile materials, assess Iraqi industrial capabilities for constructing such plants, identify Iraqi plants capable of producing non-nuclear components of nuclear devices, and search for evidence – including analysis of ongoing research and development activities – of an Iraqi nuke program.

Had the IAEA inspectors had found any of the above, they could have asked the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions, including the use of military force.

The IAEA found nothing, and so announced to the world in 2002.

It exposed the forged documents that purported to show that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium ore from Niger – which eventually brought us Plamegate. In a report to the U.N. Security Council in March 2003, ElBaradei declared that there was “no indication of resumed nuclear activities... nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites”.

He also questioned the U.S. rationale for the war in Iraq since the 2003 Iraq disarmament crisis, when he, along with Hans Blix, led a team of U.N. inspectors in Iraq, seeking evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

ElBaradei’s reports refuted the litany of charges presented by Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 to justify military invasion. The IAEA’s evidence was a key factor in the Security Council’s refusal to bless the U.S. attack.

But the Bush Administration wasn’t listening. Why let a few pesky facts get in the way of a grandiose project to democratize the Middle East?

ElBaradei had to go. The White House made no secret of its desire to replace him when his second term expired this year. As early as September 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell called for ElBaradei to step down, justifying his demand on the pretext that there was an informal “rule” that senior U.N. positions should be limited to two terms. Meanwhile, as revealed by The Washington Post, the White House spin machine was busy spreading malicious rumors and U.S. intelligence agencies were intercepting dozens of ElBaradei’s phone calls in an effort to dig up embarrassing details that could be used to oust him.

The Bush administration started sounding out possible replacements for ElBaradei, including two South Korean officials, a Brazilian disarmament expert, two Japanese diplomats and, most promising to the White House, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer – a man with no experience with nuclear issues whose principal qualification appeared to be his ability to memorize Bush talking points.

But when Downer declined to be nominated, the U.S. found itself without a candidate, and with an IAEA Board eager to appoint ElBaredei to a third term.

In accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, ElBaradei said that six decades later and 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear nightmare remains strong.

“The world community is deeply concerned about possible atomic weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, and terrorists' increasingly sophisticated efforts to obtain nuclear weapons”, he said.

Globalization, he declared, has “swept away the barriers to the movement of goods, ideas and people but is has also removed barriers that confined and localized security threats."

"There are three main features to this changing landscape: first, the emergence of an extensive black market in nuclear material and equipment; second, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and sensitive nuclear technology; and third, the stagnation in nuclear disarmament."

But, Nobel notwithstanding, the Bush Administration is probably not finished trying to undermine ElBaradei. They think he’s too soft on Iran – and often refer to his Iranian-born wife as the reason.

I don’t know how ElBaradei plans to deal with Iran. But could his plan be worse than the Bush Administration’s non-policy of using the Europeans to do what it should be doing itself?