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Scott Ritter Interview
« on: July 09, 2008, 09:44:09 PM »
Scott Ritter Interview

By Matthew Rothschild, July 2008 Issue

Scott Ritter has traveled an odd career path. An intelligence officer in the Marine Corps, he was gung-ho on the Gulf War and was an aide to General Norman Schwarzkopf. Then he was one of the leading U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He resigned because he didnít think the United States was acting aggressively enough to combat the threat from Iraq.

But he opposed overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And when George Bush and Dick Cheney were ginning up the case for war, this former Marine became a chief critic. He famously said that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And these days, he is warning loudly about the likelihood that Bush and Cheney will bomb Iran.

Ritter is the author of several books, including Iraq Confidential, Target Iran, and Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement.

I caught up with him in Madison, Wisconsin, in mid-April, where he delivered a public talk and then went drinking with some Iraq War vets.

I asked him if any of his old Marine Corps buddies resent his outspokenness. ďNo, they love me,Ē he said, adding that he is able to say out loud many of the things that they agree with but are forbidden from mentioning.

Q: I was amazed at how far out on a limb you went before the Iraq War started in declaring flat-out that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. Why were you so certain?

Scott Ritter: I donít view it as going out on a limb. Having investigated Saddamís WMD programs from 1991 to 1998, I was simply pointing out the fact that if youíre relying on a data set thatís derived from that experience, there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein would have these massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that the Bush Administration claimed were being possessed.

Unless someone could demonstrate that the Iraqis had reconstituted their manufacturing base for WMD, simple science takes over. You donít have to be brave to point out that anthrax as produced by the Iraqis has a shelf life under ideal circumstances of three years. The last known batch rolled out in January 1991. One cannot state that any anthrax that may have been hidden at that time is still viable in 2002 unless there was a new anthrax facility put in play. And the Bush Administration never said that. What the Bush Administration said was that 9/11 has caused us to reevaluate the intelligence data that existed up until 1998. Thatís why I knew I had them because I was intimately familiar here with the intelligence information up to 1998, and there was nothing in that data set that would support what the Bush Administration was asserting. So I wasnít going out on a limb. I was simply stating a fact.

Q: Do you think Bush Administration top officials were surprised not to find weapons of mass destruction once they got there, or did they just not care?

Ritter: Itís even more simple than this. Some of the key members of the Bush Administration knew they werenít there. Remember, Scott Ritter is not the only one who was familiar with this data set. The CIA was familiar with this.

Q: But George Tenet says in his autobiography that he was as surprised as the next guy that we couldnít find any of these weapons.

Ritter: Tenet himself knows that there was no hard intelligence that sustained the Bush Administrationís claims. It might have been wishful thinking on his part. But my experience with George Tenet is one of a man who publicly says one thing and privately says another. I donít believe George Tenet for a second that he was surprised. George Tenet knew that he was selling the President a bill of goods. George Tenet knew that the intelligence support for the Presidentís claim was based on stovepiping and cherry picking, not on a comprehensive review of all the available data.

Q: Was he selling the President a bill of goods, or was he selling the President the goods the commander in chief had ordered?

Ritter: Youíre right to point that out. This isnít George Tenet trying to convince the President to do something. This is the President saying, ďIím going to war against Iraq. The vehicle that will facilitate this is the WMD issue, and I want George Tenet basically to cook the books so that the data is available that sustains my allegations.Ē And thatís exactly what Tenet did; Tenet delivered that which the President demanded.

Q: Where are we now in the war in Iraq?

Ritter: Itís an unmitigated disaster. Weíve lost the war. And we donít have a collective recognition of our defeat yet, so we continue to stumble along trying to achieve some nebulous definition of victory that no one can define. Our politicians seem more inclined to seek a ďsolutionĒ in Iraq that is derived not by the reality on the ground in Iraq but rather that which can be sold to the American people, sold to the Congress. We have a problem. Weíre not defining it correctly. Therefore, any solution we embark on is a solution to nowhere.

Q: Good people in this country who agree Bush shouldnít have gone into Iraq and that he and Rumsfeld made hash of the situation are reluctant to say the U.S. should withdraw. They cite humanitarian grounds, arguing that things could get worse, or that there could be a genocide. How do you respond to that?

Ritter: Well, how much worse could it get? I donít understand the benchmark thatís being applied here. You know, people talk about a humanitarian disaster. There is a humanitarian disaster in play right now. Itís called the American occupation. People talk about a moral imperative. The moral imperative must be to get the problem out. The problem is the American occupation. You know Iíve been in Iraq for many, many years. And I have enough respect for the Iraqi people to understand that they are capable of resolving their own internal problems. The hubris of the white manís burden, that only the United States can solve the problem of Iraq, is extreme and dangerous. We need to understand itís a problem we made. Itís a problem we canít solve. And we need to liberate the Iraqi people by withdrawing our troops so they can resolve their own problems.

Q: For several years now, youíve been warning of the possibility that the Bush Administration will attack Iran. What do you think the likelihood is now in the waning months of the Bush Administration?

Ritter: I think weíve never been at a greater risk of American military action against Iran.

Q: Really? Why do you say that?

Ritter: Because the Bush Administration has made it clear that it seeks to resolve the Iranian problem before it leaves office. It has defined the Iranian problem in quite stark terms. Itís a nation pursuing an illegal nuclear weapons program. Itís a nation that retains the status, according to the United States, as the largest state-sponsor of terror in the world today. And itís the nation solely responsible for all that ails the United States in Iraq today.

The American people need to understand that when we speak of conflict between Iran and the United States, weíre not talking about a repeat of Operation Iraqi Liberation, later known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Weíre talking about a limited military strike, at least initially. Weíre talking about a five- to seven-day aerial bombardment that can be extended to thirty days.

Q: How limited would that be? Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker says this could involve many hundreds of targets. Then things could spin out of control. The Atlantic magazine did a war games exercise on this, and the thing just spun and spun and spun. So it wonít be just a simple seven-day or two-week or three-week affair.

Ritter: I concur with these assessments. But the Bush Administration continues to live under the illusion that it can limit this conflict. I was always trained in the military that the enemy has a vote. When you start something, youíve suddenly lost control. No plan survives initial contact with the enemy.

Q: What are some of the predictable negative consequences?

Ritter: The easiest one is that the Iranians wonít roll over and play dead, and the Iranian people wonít rise up and embrace the United States for bombing them. The Iranians arenít stupid. They know the region better than we know it, and they are planning, as we speak, appropriate retaliatory measures. If they shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which they can do, if they intervene into Saudi oil production in the eastern oil fields, if they shut down Kuwaiti oil production, if they unleash the hounds of war in southern Iraq and shut down oil production there and tie down American troops there, if they fire ballistic missiles against the state of Israel, thereby prompting an Israeli retaliationĖall of these things are well within the realm of the possible, I would even say probable. But all of them will create a massive escalation of the conflict.

Q: How will Bush be able to get away with this?

Ritter: Well, heís already gotten away with it. Thereís no constitutional impediment to prevent the President from launching a military strike against Iran.

Q: Thereís Article 1, Section 8, which says Congress has to declare war.

Ritter: Congress has declared war. Congress has given this President two standing war powers resolutions that clearly link the use of military force to the global war on terror. And the President has successfully defined Iran as the largest state sponsor of terror in the world today. The United States Senate has gone further, giving the President a de facto target list by naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Command as a terrorist organization.

Q: This is the Lieberman bill, right?

Ritter: Kyl-Lieberman.

Q: Some members of Congress tried to pass a bill requiring Bush to come to Congress first before attacking Iran. But that bill died.

Ritter: It died for some of the most curious reasons, too. Nancy Pelosi opposed this legislation because she did not want to tie the Presidentís hands when it came to securing the national security interests ofĖand now we can have a drum rollĖIsrael. Here we have an elected American official willing to push the Constitution of the United States aside not for American interests, which I would still disagree with, but for the interests of a non-American entity, in this case, the state of Israel. I find this as repulsive as can possibly be.

Q: Youíve written a book about the peace movement. Whatís your critique of the peace movement, and what should we be doing?

Ritter: This book was a product of my frustration out of the 2006 elections. Democrats got control of Congress, and a lot of people in the anti-war movement were claiming victory, saying, weíve reversed the trend, and a majority of Americans are against the war in Iraq. But the people are against the Iraq War not because we went to war under false pretenses but because weíre losing the war. The other thing is, what anti-war movement are we speaking of? There is no anti-war movement in America. There are grassroots organizations across the country that canít even organize themselves to do anything meaningful. I do a lot of traveling. I have nothing but the highest respect and regard for these true patriots who are out there doing the job of a citizen. But to say this is a movement of a national scale is misleading. We canít even get two of the big organizations to sit down and talk with each other. You get ANSWER to sit down with United for Peace and JusticeĖit wonít happen. If you call yourself an American who believes in the principles set forth in the Constitution, who believes in citizenship, who believes in the rule of lawĖthatís what the anti-war movement should be, not anti-war, but pro- America, pro-Constitution. Weíre the real American movement. But you need to understand that thereís an element out there thatís against you. Theyíre engaged in ideological warfare. And unless youíre organizing yourself to wage war, youíre going to continue to get beat.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive.