The Greatest Threat: Library Edition

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9780786192847: The Greatest Threat: Library Edition
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Civilization may face no greater enemy than Saddam Hussein, and yet the major powers allowed Saddam to face them down. Here, Richard Butler tells the inside story of the UN's failed attempt to stop Saddam and explains the terrible cost of that failure. As the head of UNSCOM, the special United Nations commission that was supposed to regularly inspect Iraq for weapons violations, Butler had the authority to shut the Iraqis down if he caught them cheating--but that authority was undermined behind his back. Kofi Annan, in the name of diplomacy, agreed to Hussein's outrageous demands, and Russia's foreign minister took secret payoffs from the Iraqis in exchange for his support. The French, eager to do business with the dictator, undercut American efforts to force Hussein to comply, and Butler found himself the target of a major Iraqi and Russian propaganda campaign, ultimately alone.

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Review:

This is the memoir of a frustrated man. Richard Butler is the former chairman of UNSCOM, the United Nations-appointed arms-inspection team assigned to Iraq in the wake of the Gulf War. Between 1992 and 1997, Butler toiled to prevent Saddam Hussein from manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM experienced some success, but it was essentially a failure thanks to the intransigence and intimidation Butler faced from without (by Saddam's henchmen, such as Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz) and from within (members of Butler's own task force, representing the interests of their own countries, constantly undercut him). And this "constitutes a serious crisis in global security," writes Butler. "While the full nature and scope of [Saddam's] current programs cannot be known precisely because of the absence of inspections and monitoring, it would be foolish in the extreme not to assume that he is: developing long-range missile capabilities; at work again on building nuclear weapons; and adding to the chemical and biological warfare weapons he concealed during the UNSCOM inspection period."

Butler's account of his own efforts is, as he freely admits, "far more important than it is colorful." If readers hunger for a spy thriller about Iraq, they should turn to novelist Frederick Forsyth's The Fist of God instead of The Greatest Threat. But if they want a realistic look at Middle Eastern power politics, the maddening challenge of disarmament, and a few vivid reminders that Saddam is both "determined and diabolical," Butler's book is an excellent resource. Butler, who is Australian, closes with an idealistic call to stop nuclear proliferation, urging Americans to forsake "the pursuit of purely national goals": "By leading the global community in the effort of reducing and then eliminating the unique danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, the United States can assure itself the highest and most justly honored place among nations in the annals of history." Whether or not readers agree with that sentiment, Butler convincingly shows that reducing Saddam's ability to make war is in virtually everybody's interest. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Richard Butler was appointed to lead UNSCOM on July 1, 1997. From 1992 to 1997, he was the Australian ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations. In 1994 Butler was elected president of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. In 1995 he chaired the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and in 1996 Butler led the United Nations to adopt a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

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