Thursday, February 2, 2006
Rare is the public figure who can thrill policy wonks and rabble-rousers at the same time. Richard Butler, the illustrious former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, is coming to Monterey on Tuesday to talk about US-UN relations. Get there early: He’s such a figure.
The outspoken Australian diplomat served as chairman of the UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1997 to 1999, a tenure marked by controversy. In his quest to root out Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Butler pushed for access to the presidential palace and other sites considered off-limits by Iraqi officials. He bluntly complained his hosts weren’t cooperating. The Iraqis in turn accused him of being the Americans’ toady, trying to provoke them in order to justify air strikes. They also accused UNSCOM of spying. Butler pulled his inspectors out of Iraq in December 1998, blaming an “enormous” Iraqi bureaucracy dedicated to thwarting UNSCOM’s efforts.
Before all that, Butler was Australia’s permanent representative to the UN from 1992 to 1997, during which time he worked on three important projects. In 1994 he helped establish UNAIDS, a new grouping of UN agencies working to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. The next year he chaired the World Summit for Social Development, which led to the Millennium Development Goals aimed at ending the world’s worst poverty by 2015. In 1996 Butler shepherded the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty through the General Assembly.
<>After UNSCOM, Butler wrote two books about nuclear weapons. But it was with the advent of the Iraq War that he really started to rip the Yankee unilateral antics he observed. In an interview in February 2003, hours before dashing off to an anti-war demonstration in Sydney, Butler ranted that going to war without the Security Council’s blessing would “trash 50 years of post-World War II international law and replace it with the rule that might is right, and that’s what we’ve been trying to get away from.” Butler has since inveighed against Washington’s approval of bunker-busters and labeled US negotiators “terrorists” for trying to water down UN anti-poverty goals.>
Bizarrely, Butler was named Governor of Tasmania in late 2003 and resigned 10 months later in a cloud of controversy over absences and a high salary. Just before his inauguration he said it was time to be done with “being a bit of a political lightning rod” and move “into the more tranquil business of governorship.” Doesn’t look like things worked out that way for him, but so much the better for us.
RICHARD BUTLER SPEAKS AT 7PM ON TUESDAY FEB. 7, AT THE SAMSON STUDENT CENTER OF THE MONTEREY INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, 453 VAN BUREN ST., MONTEREY. ADMISSION IS FREE, BUT SPACE IS LIMITED.