Scott Ritter, former chief U.N. Weapons Inspector in Iraq (1991-98)

Coronado Democratic Club

April 20, 2006


            It’s not every day that the Coronado Democratic Club invites a Republican to come and speak to its group.  Then again, Scott Ritter isn’t your typical Republican.  A Gulf War veteran who says he voted for Bush in 2000 and the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, Ritter rose to national attention when he emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration’s case for war on Iraq.

            Back in 2002, Ritter’s image was plastered across the cable news networks, where he was busy telling anyone who would listen that Iraq had been successfully disarmed during his tenure, and that there was no way that they could have reconstituted their weapons programs since the inspectors had been withdrawn in 1998.  At the time, Ritter was widely derided by supporters of the war and the mainstream media alike, as typified by Stephen Hayes’ column in the Nov. 19, 2001 issue of the Weekly Standard entitled, “Saddam Hussein’s American Apologist.”  In the piece, Hayes intimated that Ritter was on Saddam’s payroll for a documentary he directed critical of economic sanctions on Iraq, and he accused him of operating a domestic Iraqi “propaganda mill” for his now prophetic statement that Iraq was effectively disarmed and “posed a threat to no one.”

            Others critics were even less kind, openly calling Ritter a “traitor” and labeling him the “Jane Fonda” of our times, joking as to what he would call his exercise video.  Asked for his response to these accusations in a 2002 interview with Time magazine, Ritter responded: “Those on the right who say that disgrace the 12 years of service I gave to my country as a Marine. I love my country. I'll put my record of service up against anyone, bar none. If they want to have an exercise video then why don't they come here and say it to my face and I'll give'm an exercise video, which will be called, ‘Scott Ritter Kicking Their Ass.’”

            It is this record of candor and tough-talk that Ritter brought to the Village Elementary School in Coronado last Thursday night, where he delivered a speech and answered questions as part of a public speaking tour in support of his latest book, “Iraq Confidential.”  In contrast to other commentators on Iraq, Ritter has the ability to point to seven years of on-the-ground experience there, when he was the aggressive face of the UN weapons inspectors team, using whatever means necessary to account for Iraq’s weapons programs.  Furthermore when the CIA concluded in 2004 that Iraq did not in fact possess stockpiles of banned weapons and former inspector David Kay reported to Congress that “we got it all wrong” on Iraq, Ritter was one of few prominent voices that could say, “I told you so.”

            Ritter began his lecture by strongly criticizing the Bush administration and its foreign policy, stating that, “if you take a look at why we’re in Iraq, you will come away with the disturbing conclusion that we’re there on the basis of a lie… this administration had made a determination to go to war and had fixed the intelligence around this policy objective,” he said.

            Ritter did not mince words when discussing President Bush, who committed the “ultimate war crime… the planning and implementation of an illegal war of aggression” in violation of the Nuremburg Trials, he said.  Ritter was quick to point out, however, that regime change in Iraq had been a bi-partisan pursuit ever since 1991, and strongly criticized the Clinton administration, claiming that it instructed the CIA to infiltrate and use “my [weapon] inspections as a Trojan horse to gather intelligence about Saddam’s security” in an attempt assassinate the Iraqi dictator, which led to the withdrawal of inspectors in 1998. 

            According to Ritter, “the policy of the United States regarding Iraq was never about disarmament… [it was] never about weapons of mass destruction.”  Rather, disarmament was put forth as an effective excuse to prolong economic sanctions in Iraq, Ritter claims, and later to build a case for war in pursuit of the real goal: the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.  “It was about regime change from day one,” he said.
            Ritter also criticized the Bush administration’s claims that they were simply misled by faulty intelligence. Citing the British Downing Street memos and other leaked documents that he claims support the conclusion that war was decided upon as early as 2001, Ritter said that the intelligence community was being used as a scapegoat.  “We never got it 100 percent wrong, never,” he said.  Instead, he feels that the intelligence was intentionally misused to drum up support for war, and viewed by the Bush administration as just a means to an end.

            Though he readily conceded that the Iraqis were less than forthcoming about their weapons programs in the early ‘90s, Ritter claimed that his team of UN weapons inspectors had successfully disarmed Iraq of 95% of its weapons capabilities.  Rejecting the idea of inspectors as bumbling “Keystone Kops,” Ritter compared his job to that of a forensic scientist, and called his inspection team “the finest ever assembled.”  “Our job was to disarm Iraq,” he said, “[and] we took it seriously, very seriously.”  But because the United States was never truly interested in disarming Iraq, he said, the upper echelons of the American government regularly discounted the findings of his team and continued to claim that Iraq was refusing to disarm.

            As to why the United States was so interested in regime change, Ritter cited American dependence on oil, stating, “we’re addicted to a lifestyle that requires the United States to secure resources… we don’t own.”  He also cited the neoconservative plan of sparking a “regional transformation” in the Middle East through military action, noting that several members of the Partnership for a New American Century, whose influential members had strongly agitated for “benevolent global hegemony,” held prominent administration positions, including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.  “You can call it what you want,” he said, “but when the United States is dictating, imposing its will on the rest of the world, that is global domination.”

            In the lively question and answer session that followed, Ritter spoke of what he feels is a coming conflict with Iran.  Because military manpower is currently tied down in Iraq, Ritter stated that he felt a bombing campaign was a very real possibility, arguing that “we are on the verge of an all-out nuclear war on Iran” and that “the military is planning this insanity as we speak,” an allusion to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s recent article in The New Yorker detailing military plans that include the option to drop nuclear bombs on Iran’s suspected nuclear sites.

            In closing, Ritter faulted the anti-war movement for failing to develop a clear message, saying that it “didn’t stop the war in Iraq” and was failing to prevent the “war coming up with Iran.”  “There’s no campaign, there’s no strategy, there’s no tactics,” he said.  Criticizing anti-war rallies for including what he says are extraneous issues, such as abortion and animal rights, Ritter called for a renewed commitment to capitalizing on growing anti-war sentiment and attracting mainstream America.  “You can’t be progressive left-wing liberals out there,” he continued, “where are the conservatives? Where is America?”