Chilean Diplomat’s Book Critiques Washington’s Rush to War

Heraldo Muñoz

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.  

A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessonsby Heraldo Muñoz, 2008. Foreward by Kofi Annan. 288 Pages.

Purchase and read excepts at Fulcrum Books

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.

Muñoz concludes that had Bush exercised more patience and went along with the Chilean alternative, that if it was determined Hussein wasn’t cooperating he may have been awarded Security Council approval for the war. But whether Hussein was cooperating seemed to be very arbitrary, and had the Bush Administration been more patient and received the blessing of the Security Council to invade Iraq, the war still would have been launched under false pretenses, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would still be dead and the Iraq would continue to be a failed state.

Muñoz uses the first Gulf War to contrast the diplomatic styles of the two Bush’s. He initially points out Washington’s hypocrisy given its historically cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein, while also reminding readers that just a few days before Iraq invaded Kuwait—the stated reason for Washington’s military response—the ambassador to Iraq at the time gave a green light to Iraq’s military intervention in Kuwait, by telling Hussein that the U.S. had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

But then he goes on to use this first war as an example of a "good war" since Bush Sr. was able to get a Security Council resolution and backing of the international community. This again suggests that in his view "UN legitimacy" trumps right and wrong.

As violence in Iraq continued to spiral out of control, and it was becoming apparent that the Bush Administration’s occupation in Iraq was becoming an imperial nightmare and quagmire, Washington would return to the UN for help.

"Multilateralism had become both the default U.S. position and a practical requirement for any plan that would begin getting the United States out of the post-invasion quagmire in Iraq…This reversal was not a strategic commitment to multilateralism, but rather an undesired change of course by the Bush Administration, one made necessary by the deepening of the war," Muñoz rightly points out.

But Muñoz falls into the trap of recycling false narratives, like that of the so-called "democratization" of Iraq that has been allegedly taking place since the invasion. He recalls President Bush’s Jan. 30, 2005 speech lauding Iraq’s recent election and his specific acknowledgement of the vital role that the United Nations had in making it happen.

"The election had signified the launch of an unprecedented democratic process in the country," writes Muñoz.

He notes that Bush again thanked the UN for its pivotal role in the Iraqi election during a speech to the General Assembly a few months later, and requested that the world body "continue to stand by the Iraqi people as they complete their journey to a fully constitutional government."

This is a far departure from the President’s (and many other conservatives’) view that the UN had made itself "irrelevant" because it failed to endorse the Bush and Blair’s unnecessary, devastating and illegal war in Iraq. But in reality this "praise" shouldn’t be seen as anything more than words begrudgingly offered by Bush because of the necessity of keeping the UN engaged to help clean up the country-wide mess he made.

The Bush Administration’s bullying, bribery, disdain for dissent, spying on allies in the security council and other acts of diplomatic belligerence, in addition to being responsible for destroying the nation of Iraq, also had other costs. According to Muñoz it caused "mistrust and bitterness" among allies, "provoked a loss of American credibility", and  "a loss of trust".

"In the future, U.S. allies will very likely not be easily mobilized to war, unless they are provided with hard evidence that a purported threat is indeed and imminent threat," Muñoz writes.

What’s striking is that it doesn’t occur to Muñoz that this is a position the international community should have had prior, and regardless of Bush’s illegal (something Muñoz doesn’t strongly assert) war.

He then adds, "But perhaps most important, the United States paid a price in terms of losing authority and respect as the leader of the international community."

Again, Muñoz buys into mythology that "America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." This is astonishing given Washington’s role in Chile’s Sept. 11, which saw the military overthrow of the democratic government of Salvador Allende and the decades long murderous regime of Pinochet—the regime which imprisoned Munoz and which Munoz himself worked to get rid of as a dissident. Then there are Washington’s countless other crimes in Latin America, involving more coups, death squads, dictators, genocide and economic terrorism.

In the end, Muñoz’s book offers readers a valuable behind-the-scenes look at the run up to war by someone intimately involved. He is a critic of unilateralism and a proponent of diplomacy. But where Muñoz falls short is his critique of the UN, or maybe more so his lack of critique of the world body and the asymmetrical power relations that make it impossible to uphold international law and maintain justice.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered some excellent ideas to address these inefficiencies in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2005. Part of the institutional changes he suggested were terminating the veto vote , expanding the Security Council to include newly developed and developing nations, and to strengthen the Secretary General’s role.

Had these transformations taken place, then this "solitary war" may not have happened.

Read or watch an interview with Muñoz on Democracy Now.
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at