Interview with Scott Ritter, former chief U.N. Weapons Inspector in Iraq (1991-98)
Coronado Democratic Club
April 20, 2006
When Scott Ritter speaks about Iraq, he does so from a position of authority. As the chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, Ritter worked for seven years to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, confronting deceptive Iraqis in what were often heated meetings that eventually resulted in the former Marine facing accusations of being a United States spy.
In 2001, Ritter arose as one of the harshest critics of the Bush administration, claiming that they had exploited the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to pursue the ÒimmoralÓ and ÒillegalÓ war on Iraq; a war based on the deliberate distortion of the countryÕs weapons of mass destruction capabilities. Now days, Ritter is busy traveling the country as part of a tour in support of his new book, ÒIraq Confidential,Ó speaking out about the war on Iraq, and what he feels is an increasingly imminent war with Iran.
On April 20th, Ritter came to speak at the Coronado Democratic Club, discussing his experience as a weapons inspector and his thoughts on the direction of United States foreign policy – a policy he describes as the pursuit of nothing less than Òglobal domination.Ó After the lecture, I sat down with Mr. Ritter and discussed the case for war on Iraq, the prospects for the return of a draft, and the possibility of a bombing campaign directed at Iran.
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
As someone intimately familiar with Iraq from you experience as chief U.N. weapons inspector, what was your response to then Secretary of State Colin PowellÕs presentation to the U.N. in February 2002 in regard to IraqÕs alleged failure to disarm?
I was supposed to address the International Foreign Correspondents Association, and we delayed it so that we could see Colin PowellÕs Presentation. And I watched it, and without even having to sit down [and research it], I just went up and gave a presentation that debunked Colin Powell point by point by point. And I thought for sure that the world would see through this thing, but you read the editorials the next day, and itÕs all Òbrilliant,Ó Òslam dunk,Ó Òhome runÓ; itÕs an embarrassment.
Do you think the media bears a lot of the burden for the invasion of Iraq?
I think theyÕre culpable. And Judith Miller, Bob Woodward, and others represent the worst manifestation of the disease that affects the media. One of the big problems with the media, especially the Washington D.C. aspect of it, is you become addicted to your sources of information. In Washington D.C. the sources are government, so you pretty much become an extension of the government. So nobody is willing to trade their access in exchange for telling the truth. Now [sometimes] the government is so egregious in what it does that the media has no choice [but to report the truth]. But as we saw with Iraq, the media made no effort to credibly go after the Bush administrationÕs case. And in the case of the New York Times, the newspaper of record, you have the media allowing this woman, Judy Miller, to write front-page stories that were dictated to her by the White HouseÉ The violation of journalistic ethics also extended not just to her, but the whole New York Times that allowed her to do this without challenging her. The New York Times became basically a cheerleader for war. CNN was a cheerleader for war. Every news service was a cheerleader for war.
Now during the Vietnam War, college campuses were basically the focal point of [anti-war] protests. Why is it that when you walk on a college campus now, most kids are talking about iPods rather than the war?
Well one of the problems in Vietnam is that you could be drafted, so it was a lot more personal. And I donÕt think thereÕs that level of fear.
Do you think that anti-war sentiment would be greater if people knew that their children were susceptible to being drafted?
Would you support a draft, like Charles Rangel (D-NY) is doing?
No, because Charles Rangel is supporting a draft for political reasons. To me the military is about national defense, national security, and our military today is equipped with some of the finest technology the worldÕs ever seen; itÕs horrible technology, but from a military perspective, itÕs good stuff. It requires a lot of training. When you talk about conscripting people, youÕre talking about what, a two-year term? You canÕt even train a good infantryman in two years, and so I wouldnÕt be in favor of a draft because it turns our militaryÉ it dumbs it down. I know where Charles Rangel is coming from, but see, why is it you have to have a son or daughter in the military before you care about the men and women in the military? We should get Americans to understand that [this] is our military, every man and woman in that military belongs to us; itÕs our responsibility. They donÕt have to be our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins, our relatives, our friends; theyÕre Americans. So we should have ownership of these people and we shouldnÕt allow them to go out and die in a cause thatÕs not worthy of the sacrifice. I just think itÕs a cop out to say that we have to have a draft before America cares – America should care without a draft.
So I take it that you feel that if there is a war with Iran, there would not be a return of the draft to meet the manpower [shortages] that we currently have?
No, because theyÕre not planning a manpower intensive war. We would have a problem if, while bogged down in Iran, North Korea started causing a problem. The problem is when we exhaust our manpower, we only have one level to draw back on, and thatÕs nuclear weapons, so itÕs a very dangerous situation. Rather than a draft though, IÕm all in favor of increasing the size of our land army. [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld has been behind the reduction of our conventional military; IÕm for expanding our conventional military, because I think having a larger, stronger conventional military gives us the confidence to deal with problems around the worldÉ When you operate from a position of strength, diplomacy now becomes a much more viable option, and thereÕs less tendency to talk about nuclear weapons, etc. IÕm for increasing the size of the army by two divisions, allowing the Marine Corps to ramp up to three full-strength divisions, and paying for it by getting rid of silly things such as National Missile Defense and also reducing our nuclear weapons.
I read some of your articles in the past, and you seem to imply that you feel a war with Iran is already going on right now, with Special Forces already in the country.
Well, war-like actions are already taking place. WeÕre not at conventional war yet, but we are violating the sovereignty of Iran in ways that constitute acts of war. So thatÕs why I say we have a state of war. We have a policy of regime change thatÕs in place today. That is a war-like policy.
So weÕre seeing dŽjˆ vu with [the buildup to war on] Iraq. Do you believe that war [with Iran] has already been decided, and that [the administration] will just use the pretext of another terrorist attack?
Yeah, well I donÕt know if theyÕll use the pretext of another terrorist attack. But I do think that policy has already been decided upon. I think this president has made a decision that we will remove the Iranian regime from power. That is the policy. How we do that, and when we do that is yet to be finalized, but we know where we want to go. This is why this president who speaks of wanting diplomacy, of wanting a diplomatic solution, thatÕs why heÕll never engage with direct talks with the Iranians. You donÕt negotiate with that which youÕre trying to remove from power.
You said that you think the anti-war movement should support Democrats in 2006, but a Democratic Senate authorized a military resolution authorizing force against Iraq in 2002. So what makes you feel that a Democratic majority wonÕt simply put a respectable face on what is an ÒAmerican empire?Ó You see a lot of Democrats out-hawing Republicans now, and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) are some of the [biggest] hawks on Iran.
Right. IÕm not a political analyst or expert on domestic American politics. In just grossly simplified terms, the potential of friction, the friction of government by having an empowered opposition, at least give us the hope of somebody speaking and doing something. Maybe the Democrats would just continue the policy of the Republicans, but what do we have to lose by trying to create friction? ThatÕs all IÕm hoping. IÕm not here to endorse the Democratic Party platform; IÕm not here to endorse Hillary Clinton. IÕm just saying that if the Democrats take charge of the House I can tell you that, for instance, [John] Conyers (D-MI), who heads the House Judiciary Committee, suddenly he can subpoena people and demand that they appear before a committee that meets in the main meeting room, not down in the basement. It empowers a voice of opposition, it creates friction, and maybe from that friction we can stop this mad rush to war; thatÕs all IÕm saying. ItÕs the House that IÕm focused on; the Senate IÕve given up on. I mean look, youÕve got Hillary, youÕve got Biden; these guys are more hawkish than, like you said, than many neoconservatives. The House is where our focus will have to be.
Now my final question would beÉ even if we had a Democratic majority, a lot has been talked about how Bush believes in the Òunitary executive theory,Ó where he can basically go on and just authorize [military action] himself. Do you think he will even consult Congress if we start a bombing campaign on Iran?
No, unless the Democrats are able to take over the House and compel him to do this, then no, Bush has no intention. [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice has already let the cat out of the bag where she said she will say nothing that ties the hands of the chief executive, commander-in-chief, to do that which he feels is necessary for the security of the United States of America.
All options are on the table.
Yeah, except consulting Congress.