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A Chilean diplomat's observations on the build up to the war in Iraq offer insights on the tightrope Latin American countries walk when presenting alternatives to global superpowers. Heraldo Muñoz's book, A Solitary War: A Diplomat's Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons, rejects the unilateralism of the Bush Administration's rush to war, its dismissal of the United Nations and consensus seeking diplomacy, and condemns Washington's ill-advised rush to war with Iraq.
"The most important lesson of the second Iraq war is that in the world characterized by global media, new threats, and inextricably interwoven political and economic interests, the United States of America needs the support of significant allies and multilateral organizations for the long haul," writes Muñoz, who received a PhD in international political economy from the University of Denver's Graduate School of international Studies, where he was a classmate of Condoleeza Rice.
Muñoz, who is ambassador-permanent representative of Chile to the UN and former president of the Security Council, offers an insider's account of the political wrangling played out at the UN, in the media and through diplomatic channels during the run-up to the war in Iraq and throughout the ongoing occupation. He recalls throughout the book phone calls, discussions between Presidents and cabinet members, and other behind-the-scenes minutiae.
Muñoz makes it a point to highlight the Bush Administration's change in attitude towards the UN, from completely disregarding its legitimacy and deeming it "irrelevant", to looking to it for help when it became clear that the occupation was rapidly becoming a quagmire. He also emphasizes Chile's role in trying to find what he believes would have been a peaceful alternative.
"For Chile, it was essential to preserve multi-lateralism and to avoid the break-up of the collective decision process in the Security Council…Chile had to do the utmost to impede the unilateral use of force," writes Munoz.
In the weeks leading up to the war, Chile spearheaded an effort to offer an alternative resolution in the Security Council to counter Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's war resolution. While France, Russia, and China, the major dissenters with veto power, took a more confrontational approach to Washington's push for war, Chile along with a group that came to be known as the "Undecided 6" (which in addition to Chile included Mexico, Cameroon, Pakistan, Guinea, Angola) looked to achieve a more nuanced and subtle compromise. In the meantime, Washington would try to jockey votes away from this group.
Chile's alternative offered "concrete benchmarks, but would be more flexible with time constraints and did not authorize automatic use of force." The resolution would have included five compliance tasks for Saddam to meet with inspectors and a deadline of three weeks for Hans Blix, head of the UN inspections team, to report back (even though Munoz writes in the book that Blix stated he would need 40 days).
John Negroponte, then Bush's UN Ambassador, got wind of the alternative text, and according to Munoz phoned Mexico's representative to the UN to say that proposing the resolution would be seen as an "unfriendly act," while Colin Powell passed along similar messages to the foreign ministers of the remaining U-6. Munoz believes this essentially killed the initiative. Lagos, submitted it anyway, and Washington considered it for a full 20 minutes before former White House Press Secretary Aril Fleisher called it "a non-starter."
On March 11 Bush called Lagos in a last ditch effort to persuade him to vote for war.
Muñoz writes, "In a cabinet meeting afterward, Pres. Lagos stated that his country's coordination with Mexico was essential. Assuming there was no veto from a permanent member…Chile could not vote in favor of the Iraq invasion if Mexico abstained, and Chile could not abstain if Bush truly had nine votes [which Bush claimed on the phone], including that of Mexico."
So much for principles trumping politics.
On the other hand, Lagos called out French President Chirac for trying to confirm his vote against the resolution, while the French government had yet to state definitively that it would exercise its veto authority.
Lagos told Chirac, "…for me to vote against the resolution is equivalent to voting against the United States, but if you abstain it means you are voting for Bush. Obviously, the political cost is much greater for me than for you."
Two days later the Chirac government officially announced that it would, in fact, veto the Bush/Blair resolution.
But in the end, on March 17 Blair announced that the war resolution would be withdrawn because it became apparent that there was no chance that it would pass.