Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks last year, the Bush administration began discussing plans to invade Iraq and topple its dictator, Saddam Hussein, accused of possessing or developing weapons of mass destruction and possibly abetting terrorists.
But if America attacks, we would lose the war against terrorism, argues Scott Ritter.
Ritter isn't your stereotypical anti-war activist. He's a former marine who served under Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in Operation Desert Storm, he's a Republican, and he voted for George W. Bush for president.
Ritter also possesses a rare degree of knowledge about Iraq and its weapons capabilities. From 1991 to 1998, he headed up the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq and personally helped hunt down and destroy most of the country's weapons of mass destruction, along with its facilities for making them.
Yet despite his expertise, Ritter was not on the witness list when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently held hearings on Iraq. The reason, he says, is simple: His views didn't fit the purpose of the "sham" hearings, which he claims were merely to provide justification for war. Ritter opposes attacking Iraq, arguing there's no hard evidence that the country poses any threat to the United States.
Ritter, author of the 1999 book, Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem -- Once and for All, now travels around the country and the world speaking out against the proposed war. The Independent interviewed him by phone.
Indy: You recently said of the planning for war, "This is about domestic American politics. The national security of the United States of America has been hijacked by a handful of neo-conservatives who are using their position of authority to pursue their own ideologically driven political ambitions." Can you explain what you were talking about?
SR: You have the Donald Rumsfelds and the Paul Wolfowitzes ... and others who have a tendency to come from the same ideological gathering prior to Bush winning the election -- that is, the American Enterprise Institute, the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. These are very right-wing, hawkish groups that are not reflective of mainstream America, yet they now have a preponderance of control in terms of national security decision formulation. These people have invested their intellectual, academic and political credibility in the concept of regime removal in Iraq. They have boxed themselves into a rhetorical corner, where they will lose political face if they back out of this.
So, we're going to go to war for that? That's not why I put a uniform on. I put a uniform on to defend the United States of America.
Indy: Based on your experience, what is the evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction capability?
SR: We know they had it, and so, I think that's what most of the people are building on. [They are] saying that because they had it back in 1991, and because we did not have a 100-percent confirmed verification of its elimination during the seven years of weapons inspections, not only does Iraq have it today, but they've expanded it in the four years that weapons inspectors have been absent. From an academic standpoint, that's a valid concern, and we should be focused on it. That's why I support getting weapons inspectors back in Iraq to complete the task of disarmament.
But it grossly understates what was accomplished by the weapons inspectors during their time there. As of December 1998, when inspectors left Iraq, we had a verified, documented disarmament level of 90 to 95 percent. There [are] weapons that are not accounted for, but not being accounted for does not translate into Iraqi retention. We have no evidence that Iraq retained any of this material. We have a lot of circumstantial evidence that they destroyed this material.
We don't have a case for war. All we have is hypothetical, based upon rhetorically laced speculation -- and that simply is not justification for a marine to give his life for his country.
Indy: What would be the consequences of a U.S. attack?
SR: Short term, I don't think -- with the military force that we're talking about deploying -- that we're gonna win. I think consequences will be that we're going to get bogged down in a war that's going to take a long time.
Long term, we're going to lose the war on terror, plain and simple. We're going to spend the next 20 years living in fear, waiting for a school bus to blow up, waiting for a school to be attacked, waiting for a shopping mall to go down, waiting for another airplane to be hijacked.
If we go to war against Iraq, unilaterally and in violation of international law, as the Bush administration is currently proposing, we will empower Osama bin Laden to an extent that's been unimaginable up until this point. We will give legitimacy to his cause. We will push moderate, intellectual Arabs into his camp. There's a good chance that many moderate Arab nations that currently ally themselves with our war on terror will topple and will fall to the forces of radical, anti-American, Islamic fundamentalists.
Indy: What about the recent cautionary statements by high-level Republicans -- do they give you hope?
SR: They're good, because they help further the debate. But the bottom line [is], the only way this war is going to be stopped is if George Bush and his advisers feel they're going to suffer more political loss by going after Iraq than they will by pulling back from Iraq. Right now, they know they're going to suffer political harm by pulling back, because they've committed too much political capital behind regime removal.
Indy: How do you propose to solve the "Iraqi problem"?
SR: Clearly, the path to take is the one that the international community has agreed on in terms of resolutions: Let's get weapons inspectors in, get a finding of compliance if one is possible, and then lift economic sanctions and allow Iraq to regain control of its economy, so that it can start developing and regrowing and reconstituting itself as a viable nation-state.
The only way you're going to get rid of Saddam is to understand that it's not about Saddam; it's about the phenomena inside Iraq that produce Saddam. By lopping off Saddam and not having a viable plan to replace him, you either are going to get something like an Islamic fundamentalist state or you're going to get somebody just like Saddam taking over.
For Iraq to change, it has to change from within; it can't change from without. Iraq has to grow its own form of government, and this is best accomplished through economic stability that can be achieved once sanctions are lifted. This is what the world agrees to.