A Scott Ritter War Interview
Jude Wanniski
April 4, 2003


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Gloomy Assessment

On the issue of Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, there is nobody I respect more than Scott Ritter, the former U.S. Marine Corps captain and disarmament specialist who served as a UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq for seven years throughout the 1990s. I have not simply taken his word for his insistent views in the last two years that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed by 1997 and poses no threat to the region or the world. On each question raised by the warhawks, I have cross-checked Ritter’s arguments and assertions with others I respect in the scientific and intelligence communities who have assured me Ritter is correct in that regard. In that sense I believe President Bush and British Prime Minister Ton Blair have been misled on the WMD issues by their own hawkish advisors. I cannot vouch for the opinions of the war which Ritter expresses in this March 27 interview with the Foreign Policy Association’s R. Nolan. The situation may not be as bleak as he believes, and I certainly hope he is wrong about what the future holds, but the interview is important enough for me to put aside this weekend’s economics lesson and present it here in its entirety:

The War to Disarm Iraq: An Interview with Scott Ritter, March 27, 2003

FPA: What advantages do American forces on the ground have in identifying chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to U.N. weapons inspectors, if any?

Ritter: Well, there is an advantage in the sense that we could occupy territory, and bring it under control enabling people to come in and search without fear of materials being moved around, as may be the case for inspectors arriving at a site. However, any process that results in the death of American service members and engages in activity that can be carried out by weapons inspectors could never be seen as an advantage. Weapons inspectors are the vehicle of choice for disarming Iraq. They succeeded in disarming Iraq fundamentally and qualitatively. Weapons inspectors were furthering the disarmament of Iraq and the monitoring of Iraq in accordance with Security Council resolutions, when the U.S. unilaterally decided to violate international law and invade Iraq using weapons inspections as an excuse. This is where the world needs to wake up. These weapons are not a reality. This is not a real threat. This is simply a façade. A diplomatic smokescreen designed to exploit fear and ignorance in the American public and the international community, which has successfully been achieved by the U.S. I cannot sit here and somehow legitimize this invasion by saying that disarmament through military occupation is more efficient than through the U.N. route.

FPA: If inspections had been allowed to continue further, when would that process have ended?

Ritter: I have always said that the U.N. at some point in time will have to take into account qualitative judgments. Given the inconsistent nature of the seven-year experience of UNSCOM, it is impossible to prove with absolute certainty one hundred percent compliance. Iraq will never be able to write adequate documentation to overcome legitimate concerns that are raised by unaccounted for material, given Iraq's past record of conceit, lies, concealment etc. But, this is a quantitative analysis here. A qualitative analysis allows one to step back and ask, for instance on the issue of Anthrax, how can Iraq have an anthrax program today unless they have reconstituted a manufacturing base? How can Iraq have viable stockpiles of anthrax? They cannot. So for the U.S. and others, at this point in time, to be focused on 25,000 liters of unaccounted for anthrax is absurd in the extreme, because those 25,000 liters cannot physically exist today. Liquid bulk anthrax deteriorates after 3 years. The last known batch came out in 1991. The factory was eliminated together with production equipment in 1996, so how can one say that Iraq has anthrax today, unless one demonstrates that Iraq has reconstituted a manufacturing base, which, so far has not happened.

FPA: I understand that there are special technicians on the ground with American forces whose role is to identify weapons of mass destruction and chemical and biological weapons laboratories. What is their role, and how may it differ from the role that you played?

Ritter: Their role does not concern disarmament. It is actually about identifying this capability. The Bush Administration is desperate at this point in time to find evidence of retained prohibited capability, because this would in one fell swoop legitimize the entire invasion. People have to take a step back and understand that the Bush Administration fabricated and misrepresented information going into this conflict about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. If they don't find it, there is every reason to believe that they will fabricate and misrepresent information to legitimize the other end of the conflict. It is imperative as this is an ideologically driven rather than national security driven war that they legitimize this conflict to sustain this national security foreign policy initiative that they have initiated here. This is about changing a region, where Iraq is not the end result but rather the beginning. To sustain it, they must legitimize the beginning.

I would recommend that everybody take a long hard look at the people involved in this process. Charles Duelfer, the former deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM. He is a State Department employee who served with the weapons inspectors from 1993 to 1999. As a state department employee, he implemented unilateral American policy of regime removal – containment, destabilization, and removal through intelligence collection, using the weapons inspections process to achieve this. He was not there to disarm Iraq. This is a man who leaked film images to the media in 1996 of burning leaves claiming to be burning documents. This is a man, whom in the presence of myself and others, said to a senior CIA official out of frustration of not finding weapons, “Why don't you put a missile in Iraq for us to find?” This is a man who deliberately misrepresented the body of data held by the weapons inspectors in their final report to the Security Council so as to achieve American political objectives. This is the man now – a senior participant in this effort with this exploitation team that they are ready to send into Iraq. Why should I trust Charles Duelfer? Why should any American trust him?

If the U.S. is serious about legitimizing any potential weapons of mass destruction, they should have the U.N. weapons inspectors go in and do the work, with an independent objective and an implementation of a Security Council mandate; not people who are responsible to a political entity, i.e. the Bush Administration that has already displayed a tendency to fabricate and misrepresent to create justification for war. What about the forged documents regarding the recent uranium transaction between Iraq and Niger, or the misrepresentation of the aluminum tubing? The list goes on. Why should anyone trust the Bush Administration?

FPA: Could you talk about what some reports identified as the discovery of a chemical weapons factory in Najaf earlier this week that were said to be false?

Ritter: Well, firstly I am deeply disturbed by the tendency of the American media to go into a feeding frenzy at the drop of a hat, on issues that are deemed to be important for the Administration. The American media has lost all objectivity. I don't think there are too many American media representatives that are deserving of the title ‘journalist'. You cannot be an embedded journalist and be a journalist. You cannot be a journalist when you assume the lexicon of the department of defense. You cannot be a journalist when you are unable to disassociate yourself from those whom you are reporting on. Then, there are the journalists who have an agenda going in, a bias. Look at Al Najaf! Who was the first reporter to release this story? The Jerusalem Post. If anyone thinks that the Jerusalem Post is an objective outlet of modern day journalism, then you need to go back to school and get re-educated. What does the Jerusalem Post base this on? Initial spot reps, contact reports from combat forces forward who came back with reports from a chemical plant. The Jerusalem Post, without checking on the story, immediately forwards it onto Fox News network.

Fox News network has a long history of being overly biased in favor of war with Iraq. Remember it was Fox News two days before the Najaf story broke that was broadcasting reports that Iraq was firing scud missiles into Kuwait, thereby proving that Iraq was in violation of Security Council resolutions, legitimizing the Bush Administration's decision to invade. They had to retract that because there are no scuds. Fox News blasts the Najaf discovery to the world. Reuters picks it up. Notice that Reuters when they picked up the story and put it on the newswire did not quote department of defense officials or central command officials. Instead, they quoted Fox News network, which given the fact that it's so ideologically embedded with the Pentagon was able to get a senior Pentagon official – unnamed - to confirm the story. Now, how does a senior official at the Pentagon know what is going on, on the ground in Najaf is beyond me. This just illustrates the kind of duplicity that exists in media outlets like Fox News. Now, the story is all over the place. The media and the whole world are going crazy saying we have found a chemical weapons plant. The speculation is rampant. I watch people on television talk about how it might be a VX germ plant. These people don't even have a clue how to produce VX. They said it could be a chemical storage plant, a chemical filling plant. They went on and on without any facts available. People are madly speculating.

At this point, I took a step back, and I encourage others to follow. Najaf is a holy city in the Shia world. It is the home of the tomb of Iman Ali. Najaf is a hotbed of anti-Saddam feeling among the Shia population. The city was a place that fell to Shia rebels in 1991, and had to be taken by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, where these people were brutally suppressed. There is a lot of animosity that is derived from that period of time. So why would you put a chemical weapons plant in Najaf? Not to mention that myself and other inspectors are intimately familiar with Najaf and never found such a plant. It makes no sense.

Part two, thirty soldiers defending surrender at the drop of a hat. If this is indeed a strategic chemical weapons factory, and Saddam knows that if this is discovered then the game is up. Why is this not defended by the Medina division, the Hammurabi division, the special republican guards, Saddam Hussein's personal bodyguards, whatever it takes to defend this thing? Instead, they surrendered without a fight. Was it rigged for explosive demolition? No.

Anybody who has been following this situation knows that there is a man named Major General Hasam Amin, who is the head of the Iraqi national monitoring directorate. He wears the uniform of a Major General and has the rank of a Major General. But is he a military officer or is he an engineer who - because Iraq's military industry and industries are militarized - has military rank? Factory managers carry military rank. So, capturing a General means nothing.

All of this would have led most journalists, if they had just taken a step back, to say that this does not make sense…I am not reporting it until I get further clarification, which after all is a journalist's responsibility I would imagine. So, I think that the Najaf story proves without a shadow of doubt that the American dominated media covering this story has lost all sense of objectivity or responsibility.

FPA: What do you say to reports of Iraqi Republican Guards carrying gas masks?

Ritter: In World War II, U.S soldiers went to the beach in Omaha carrying gas masks. German troops carried gas masks. Everybody did. Why? Because these militaries had been trained that their potential adversary could employ chemical weapons. Iraq fought an eight-year war with Iran in which chemical weapons were employed. Iraq is confronting coalition forces, and what are these forces wearing? Chemical protective gear. If you are an Iraqi General defending your country from an invader who is wearing chemical protective gear, might you not think that the U.S. may employ chemical weapons. Of course, they carry gas masks. Of course, they have chemical protective gear and Atropine. It doesn't mean that they possess chemical weapons. This is a professional military that is fighting a battle for its national survival. They are prepared to defend against all potential threats. It means nothing.

FPA: If you were the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., how might you have acted differently from Negroponte?

Ritter: If I were advising the President, I would say, “Mr. President, I understand your objective: it is the elimination of Saddam Hussein. This may have to be done militarily. But, we cannot do this without legitimacy, which means that you have to convince the world that we are serious about disarmament more than about regime removal”. That is the biggest mistake we have made. No one in the world believes that we want to disarm Iraq; everyone is convinced that we want to eliminate Saddam Hussein. You cannot create a foundation of legitimacy based on regime removal. People will accept regime removal if Iraq is shown to be a nation that more than likely possesses weapons of mass destruction and has no intention of abiding by international law. So, I would have encouraged the President to go to Congress and repeal the Iraqi Liberation Act. And have the President make a formal statement that regime removal is not the policy of the U.S., and that we care about weapons and that we will fully abide by Security Council resolutions.

Indeed, after Resolution 1441 was passed - I think that if the U.S. was serious about disarmament - it was a good resolution. 1441 is a terrible resolution in reality because we don't care about disarmament. 1441 is a diplomatic game of trickery that was designed to legitimize military action upfront; to create a certain amount of lack of definition diplomatically, that allowed the U.S. to say we have permission to go to war, when in fact the rest of the world never gave that permission. It was a trick. It wasn't real. To make 1441 real, the U.S. needs to disassociate itself from regime removal and embrace disarmament, and then seek to disarm Iraq.

The other thing I would have done is, to say that because we have 1441, we no longer need economic sanctions. I would have lifted economic sanctions having a robust U.N. weapons inspection process in there. And then, I would have used the turmoil, the internal domestic turmoil that would have arisen in Iraq – because of the lifting of sanctions and the economic liberation that occurs – to exploit that through the CIA and other resources to further destabilize the regime, which would have pressed the regime on all fronts for disarmament. At the moment the regime balked, go to the Security Council and get international legitimacy behind military action. Now, effects based strategy works.

Donald Rumsfeld's effects-based strategy requires overwhelming military force, and civilian and international support to create an environment that makes victory inevitable, and that makes defeat inevitable for the Iraqi's, thereby prompting the Iraqi military to surrender rather than resist. All of this would have fallen into place, and we could have achieved military, diplomatic, and political victory in Iraq. That is how I would have advised the President. We achieve the same end. But, now you have the world on your side, you have the Iraqi people on your side, and you succeed.

FPA: Well, that strategy could have been implemented before war began. But, now that it is underway, what are your biggest concerns?

Ritter: My biggest concern is that the U.S. has lost this war. We cannot win this war. We can win tactical engagements. We can win battlefield victories. We have lost this war, the Iraqi people, and international support. Now, we are losing American lives and taking Iraqi lives. This is a disaster; we don't have enough ground forces to sustain this combat. I am afraid that we will be bogged down outside of Baghdad, and have to wait until follow-on divisions show up. The longer we wait, the more international unrest there will be, and so, I cannot imagine any way that we can win this war.

American troops will leave Iraq with their tails between their legs, either in a matter of months or in a year. But, either way we have lost this war. Donald Rumsfeld's plan was a bold ignorant gamble, the equivalent of mortgaging one's home and taking the money to Las Vegas and betting on red five times in a row. He has lost his gamble; the house has gone. Now, he is a pathetic gambler at the table watching everything disappear but still fooling himself in to believing that he can achieve victory with one last roll of the dice, one last spin of the wheel. Sorry Donald, you lost! You failed! And tragically the price of failure is going to be measured in American lives, Iraqi lives, and lost prestige globally for the U.S.

FPA: What implications will this war have on future weapons inspections in places like North Korea possibly, or Iran?

Ritter: For the U.S. to take this action, and to deviate from international law and from international organizations requires decisive victory for it to succeed. I don't like the policy of unilateralism. But, if that is our policy, then we have to understand that it is based upon the world accepting American military power as a benevolent power. There is no way that the world will ever see that again. We have blown it. We are the Nazis, we are the wagers of the illegal wars of aggression. We are the bad guys, and it is all over. The question is, is the world after Iraq going to be a world in which the U.S. has successfully destroyed the credibility and viability of international organizations? Or is it a world in which - out of this disaster the U.S. has created - the international community can reemerge? It depends on what the international community wants at this point in time.

Right now, the U.S. is getting kicked in the teeth. We will emerge from this weaker – diplomatically, economically, and militarily speaking. If the Arab League can successfully get the General Assembly in the coming weeks to pass a resolution mandating an immediate ceasefire, I don't see how the U.S. can ignore that for too long. At that point in time, I think it is imperative for the Secretary General and the Security Council to engage, to seek to terminate this conflict, to put in the U.N. emergency forces to separate the Iraqis from the U.S., to get the coalition out of Iraq, to immediately come in with massive humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq, to pressure the Iraqi government into real and meaningful change, and to get weapons inspectors back in to complete the mandated task of disarmament.

You have to get weapons inspectors back on the ground so that this mandate can be completed. If the U.N. continues to be a passive observer of American aggression, then it is a useless organization. If it stands up and adheres to the letter of the law, the promise and intent of the U.N. charter, it suddenly has viability. It would be ironic if the Bush Administration through actions designed to destroy the U.N. in the end actually strengthens it.

FPA: What about setting up an arms race that encourages North Korea and Iran to strengthen their defense mechanisms?

Ritter: If the U.N. can't get engaged; if the U.S. gets away with this aggression then I don't think you will see Syria, Iran, North Korea, and other nations just standing by and waiting for us to come and topple them. I think a couple of things will happen. Firstly, there will be a global race to acquire weapons of mass destruction because the acquisition of these weapons will be seen as the only way of viably holding off the American global superpower, unilateral power, imperial power, or what ever term you wish to use to describe this domination.

Secondly, if the U.S. pushes forward with an aggressive policy of confrontation, it leaves open the real possibility of a pre-emptive strike by these nations using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or American allies. North Korea could very well threaten to drop a nuclear weapon on Tokyo as a way of telling the U.S. to back off. If the U.S. pushes it then North Koreans may in fact, not be bluffing.

What is happening with India and Pakistan? Already we have found in the past year that they have been on the verge of a nuclear exchange; the only thing that has prevented it has been a recognition that pre-emptive strikes would be widely condemned. But, if the U.S. engages in pre-emptive action, that legitimizes it in the eyes of the Indians and Pakistanis, we may find a situation where the Indians would be very likely to launch a pre-emptive strike. We have seen evidence of a massive military incursion. They may incorporate nuclear weapons causing mass decapitation. It is imperative for the international organization – the U.N. – to understand that this is a life and death struggle for their viability, and indeed for the survival of the world. I don't want to sink into hyperbole here, but once we unleash that nuclear genie, the world will never be the same.