Back in the fall of 2002, six months before George W. Bush sent U.S. troops rumbling across the Kuwaiti border into Iraq, a Time magazine reporter noted to Scott Ritter that some right-wingers were calling Ritter "the new Jane Fonda," and wondering what he'd call his new exercise video.
"If they want to have an exercise video," snorted Ritter, "then why don't they come here and say it to my face and I'll give 'em an exercise video, which will be called Scott Ritter Kicking their Ass."
Confrontation comes easily to Ritter, the former Marine officer, adviser to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War, U.N. weapons inspector and unflinching critic of Bush's misadventure in Iraq. You want a fight? No problem. He'll give you one.
Ritter gained fame in the late 1990s for being a pain in Saddam Hussein's behind, then became a national fascination several years later when he turned his ire toward the Bush administration, which Ritter rightly believed was bent on waging a political war based on specious claims that Iraq posed a threat to its neighbors and the United States. The proof simply wasn't there, he said to anyone who'd listen, a crowd that included the Iraqi National Assembly's Arab and Foreign Relations Committee.
He told the committee in September 2002, "My country seems on the verge of making an historic mistake. ... My government is making a case for war against Iraq that is built upon fear and ignorance, as opposed to the reality of truth and fact."
Here in this interview, Ritter discusses rather passionately and at great length Iraq, Iran, the lost cause that is peace movement, the U.S. Constitution and the "failed" citizenship of the American people.
David Rolland: What about your background initially shaped your political thinking?
Scott Ritter: I don't have any political thinking. If embracing the truth and embracing the facts is political, so be it, but I'd hate to think that that's the case. I come from a military family. Marine Corps officers are required to have a high degree of integrity, and I adhere to that continuously.
DR: So, in your early adult life, you didn't have much of a political ideology?
SR: You could say that I was a Republican. That's what I registered and voted as. But I wasn't the College Republican who was heavily politicized. In college, I studied, played football, drank beer and prepared for the Marine Corps. Again, if that is political, so be it, but I wasn't somebody who was involved in political organizations in college, and once you join the military, you're apolitical. You may have a personal ideology, but the bottom line is, you serve your country, not a president.
DR: Who have you voted for in past presidential elections?
SR: I have voted Republican in every election except the last one.
DR: What are the most common misperceptions about our Iraq policy that still remain?
SR: I'd say there are still segments of society who continue to believe there will be weapons of mass destruction found. Thanks to the CIA's erroneous reporting after the Gulf War, there are many people who believe that while there may not have been weapons when we invaded, Saddam Hussein intended to reacquire weapons. The facts clearly point in an opposite direction.
But facts don't matter in how certain segments of society formulate their opinions. I think some people say this is about oil; I think that's a misperception. To say it's about oil ignores the global aspect of our Iraq policy, as set forth in two consecutive national security strategies promulgated by the Bush administration in 2002 and 2006.
I think there's a misperception that if we had brought in more troops, we would have won this war. We were never going to win this war. This isn't a war that will be won on the battlefield; it's a political war. No matter how you cut it, this was going to be an illegal war of aggression, therefore making the occupation of Iraq illegitimate, which would mean that it would eventually be rejected by the people of Iraq. Whether you have 130,000 troops, 230,000 troops, 2 million troops there's not enough manpower in the United States to change the course of this war. ...
Pretty much every aspect of this war is misunderstood by the American people, due largely to their ignorance of Iraq.
DR: Ignorance in what way?
SR: They can't even find it on a map. Let's start with that. And those who get the superficial coverage in the news say, "Oh, well, Iraq" they can say three words about Iraq: Sunni, Shi'a, Kurd. And now they think they understand Iraq. The fact that many Americans feel affronted that Iran, Iraq's neighbor with a long history of interaction with Iraq, would somehow deign to get involved in what's going on and say, "Iran has no right to get involved" well, again, that just shows ignorance of the situation.
When Americans can start parsing out the different Kurdish factions, tell me their history, who they're politically aligned with, the nature of their own internal conflict; when they can spell out the huge number of Shi'a factions and tell me the difference between a secular Sunni and a tribal Sunni and a religious Sunni; then we can begin to come to grips with the complexity that is Iraq.
DR: What about the invasion, and the subsequent occupation, was illegal?
SR: Well, I always refer to the Constitution, given that I took an oath to uphold and defend it. Article 6 of the Constitution clearly states that when we have entered into an international treaty or agreement that has been ratified by the Senate, that is the law of the land. We are signatories to the United Nations charter. The charter provides two conditions under which nations may go to war: Article 51, self-defense [when] we have been attacked, and a Chapter 7 resolution specifically authorizing military force none of which exists regarding our current interaction in Iraq, therefore making the American-led invasion an illegal war of aggression. Using the standard set forth by the 1946 Nuremberg tribunal ... the Supreme Court justice Judge Jackson condemned the Germans for basically doing the same thing we did in Iraq.
DR: Supporters of the invasion say that intelligence indicated there were WMD, and that if the administration thought there were WMD, it therefore didn't lie about them unless we have proof that they knew there were no WMD.
SR: We do have proof, and I spelled it out in a book called Iraq Confidential. I've spoken in detail about the level to which the international community had concrete knowledge about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, the level of disarmament that had been achieved, what wasn't accounted for and what that could have meant.
You compare and contrast the facts that were known by all parties, including the CIA, and compare it with the Bush administration's contentions, and you realize there's a huge divergence there that cannot come from simple bad analysis. It was a deliberate exaggeration, misrepresentation on the part of the Bush administration, and in my simple Marine Corps mind, when you exaggerate to that level, misrepresent facts to that level, that constitutes a lie.
DR: What should people know that they might not know about how the weapons-inspections program was or was not working in early 2003? If we had not invaded, could inspections have borne fruit?
SR: Well, I think it's clear that the CIA acknowledges that there were no weapons. Therefore, what fruit did you want the inspections to garner? They weren't going to find anything, other than that there were no weapons, which they had already ascertained.
The findings were never going to be recognized by the United States because we now know the Bush administration had no intention of abiding you see leaked document after leaked document showing that Bush could care less about disarmament, less about the inspections, that this was just a diplomatic smokescreen to buy time until the military forces could be brought to bear to launch the invasion.
So, inspections never had a chance, because the United States was never predisposed to embrace and act on the truth. We had a foregone conclusion that we were going to invade Iraq.
DR: Did the CIA simply tell the president what he wanted to hear, or was Dick Cheney involved in cooking the books?
SR: Seeing as I wasn't part of the Bush administration or the CIA at the time, I don't know the exact level of Dick Cheney's interference. What I do know is that the CIA, in October of 2002, basically cooked the books in producing the national intelligence estimate that had to be produced only after members of the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee said, "Wait a minute, the president has decided on a course of action vis--vis Iraq, void of a national intelligence estimate."
Now, what prompted [former CIA Director George] Tenet and [veteran CIA analyst Stuart] Cohen and company to do this? Was it Dick Cheney? Was it Scooter Libby? Was it other factors? I think the book's still open on that one.
DR: Supporters of the war often say that Bill Clinton and our European allies also thought there were WMD. What do you think when people make those statements?
SR: I'm not going to defend the Clinton administration. I fully believe that the Bush administration should be investigated for lying, and lying in the course of official duty constitutes a felony, and I believe that there are many members of the Bush administration who could be brought up on felony charges for misleading Congress, misleading the American people. But don't stop at the Bush administration! This goes back to the Clinton administration.
Sandy Berger is a liar every bit as much as Condoleezza Rice is. Madeleine Albright's a liar every bit as much as Donald Rumsfeld is. I mean, they've all lied about the same thing, which is that Iraq represented a threat, in the form of weapons of mass destruction, that warranted military action. ...
But, no, Clinton's just as bad as Bush. The only difference is, he just bombed them; Bush invaded. But let's never forget: Under Clinton, another form of warfare took place, and that is the economic sanctions that the United States would never allow to be lifted regardless of Iraq's compliance level with its disarmament obligations. And these sanctions have killed far more people than George W. Bush's war has.
DR: You mentioned Iran earlier. What do you see happening there?
SR: The 2002 national security strategy which the Bush administration used as a blueprint for initiation of a policy of ... regional transformation in the Middle East only mentioned Iraq once, and yet it was used as a document to set forth the events that led to the invasion of Iraq.
The 2006 version of this mentions Iran 16 times as the No. 1 threat to the security of the United States of America. And it does not reject a pre-emptive war of aggression. In fact, in addition to not rejecting it, or not ruling it out, it embraces it; despite how bad things have gone in Iraq, it continues to say this was the right thing to do. Left with that, I don't think anyone could question the motivation of the Bush administration, which is to continue with regional transformation policies in the Middle East that revolve around regime change, which means that's what our goal is vis--vis Iran.
That's why when I speak of Iran, I say be careful of falling into the trap of nonproliferation, disarmament, weapons of mass destruction; this is a smokescreen. The Bush administration does not have a policy of disarmament vis--vis Iran. They do have a policy of regime change.
If we had a policy of disarmament, we would have engaged in unilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranians a long time ago. But we put that off the table because we have no desire to resolve the situation we use to facilitate the military intervention necessary to achieve regime change. It's the exact replay of the game plan used for Iraq, where we didn't care what Saddam did, what he said, what the weapons inspectors found.
We created the perception of a noncompliant Iraq, and we stuck with that perception, selling that perception until we achieved our ultimate objective, which was invasion that got rid of Saddam. With Iran, we are creating the perception of a noncompliant Iran, a threatening Iran. It doesn't matter what the facts are. Now that we have successfully created that perception, the Bush administration will move forward aggressively until it achieves its ultimate objective, which is regime change.
DR: How can we do that, given the depletion of our military forces?
SR: I always love to hear civilians say that no offense. I hear it over and over again with the civilian generals, the civilian warriors, the people who aren't planning the military actions, who aren't sitting on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who don't occupy seats of authority in the Pentagon.
You'd be surprised what kind of plans are being hatched up right now plans that include covert action; plans that include massive aerial bombardment, according to Seymour Hersh's [April 17] article in The New Yorker; plans that include massive aerial bombardment that incorporate the possibility, or some would say the probability, of nuclear weapons.
And if you go to the School of Advanced Military Studies in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as I have several times, you'll see the maps on the wall clearly indicate an American interest in pushing forces into Azerbaijan. Why? It neighbors Iran. Why is that important? The shortest route to Tehran is down the Caspian Sea coast, [where] the Army is planning an incursion right now.
We civilians may say there's not enough troops. We don't count. The military believes they can do this mission, and they are planning to do this mission because they have received the political guidance from their commander-in-chief to accomplish this mission. That's the only reality that counts. None of the pundits that appear on TV, none of the ill-informed people writing op-eds, have a vote in this matter. The only votes that count are those who have the authority to order military action and implement those orders, and that's the president, his inner circle and the military, and they are preparing for war with Iran as we speak.
DR: You've said Americans aren't against the war in Iraq because it's wrong; you say they're against it because we're losing. Is it just that Americans don't like getting their asses kicked?
SR: I'm saying Americans don't know enough about anything to have a well-informed opinion; this is all superficial. At the end of the day, yeah, we don't like to get our asses kicked. We have a lot of national pride that's based around the notion that we can kick anybody's ass we're the biggest, baddest boys on the block. And in Iraq, we're not winning, so a lot of Americans have their ruffles up.
I guarantee you, had we invaded Iraq, had it gone easily, there'd be a small, little element in the so-called anti-war movement; they'd be screaming about violation of law, et cetera. They'd be shouted down by the vast majority of Americans who would thump their chests with national pride and say, "No, we did the right thing. To hell with international law. We got rid of Saddam. We've instilled democracy. And it's a good thing we did."
Of course, things have gone sour, and now a lot of Americans are jumping on the bandwagon of "Hey, we shouldn't have gone there." But, again, at what point in time, I ask these newfound converts to the anti-war movement, did this become a bad war? See, that's a key question people have to ask. I say it was a bad war the day we invaded Iraq, because it's an illegal war.
DR: I think you've said that you think Americans, by their nature, are violent.
SR: What I said was that America, as a country, is addicted to war and violence. We have a national addiction to war and violence. ... As proud as I am of [spending] 12 years in the Marine Corps, and I love my military service, and I'm very proud of our armed forces they do not define us. They serve us, and they serve a larger cause. That's why we take an oath when we join the military to uphold and defend the Constitution.
But today, pretty much the symbol of America is the military. ... M-1 tanks, F-15s, B-2s these are the symbols of national pride. What an absurd situation to be in! I would have thought that the Statue of Liberty, the flag so many other symbols out there that stand for the basic precepts of what this nation is would be the symbols we would rally around. But it's the military.
And why? Because it's reflective of the sad reality that America today is a society that has been militarized in so many ways, shapes and forms, starting from our economy, which has fallen into the military-industrial-complex trap that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about, all the way to our entertainment, where we glorify war on television and in the movie theater.
So few Americans today actually share the burden of service. When you have the vast majority of Americans who don't know what military service is about, but glorifying it, again it shows that there's a disconnect there because those who serve in the military for damn sure don't glorify war.
DR: What is it about Americans that allows them to get so bent out of shape when you start questioning the government in a time of war?
SR: I'll say ignorance. How many Americans have read the Constitution and know the Constitution, live the Constitution, breathe the Constitution, define their existence as Americans by the Constitution? Very few. And so what happens is, Americans have no concept of what citizenship is, what it is they're supposed to serve.
Many Americans have become so addicted to a lifestyle that I say they're better consumers than they are citizens. And it's these consumers who have wrapped themselves in a cocoon of comfort and who have basically abrogated their responsibilities of citizenship to the government, and as long as the government keeps them waddling down the path to prosperity, they don't want to rock the boat. And they will go out and attack those who do rock the boat, those who challenge authority.
If you read the Constitution, you'll be struck by the first words: "We the people of the United States." And yet it sickens me where Americans will say, in the name of security, they will give up their constitutional rights. Warrantless wiretapping it's against the law! This is the sort of issue that should bring Americans streaming into the streets, saying, "Not on my watch." If your definition of patriotism is blind subservience to governmental authority, then you've just defined those Germans who supported Hitler, the Italians who supported Mussolini.
DR: You say people have failed at citizenship. But, playing devil's advocate, people are really busy. You seem to be saying that people can't trust mainstream media, but it's a lot to ask people to seek out the truth from alternative sources. How can people know whom or what to trust as the truth? In a representative democracy, shouldn't they be able to trust their elected officials? And if they can't, hasn't our entire government structure failed?
SR: It would be nice to trust [elected officials], but, you know, representative democracy isn't a one-phase process, where you vote, and then boom somebody gets elected and now that's it, you back off. There's a thing called accountability. They're still accountable to you, and you have to hold them accountable for what they do in your name. It's a constant process. We have to supervise, because, remember, they work for us.
The other aspect of citizenship is to empower oneself with knowledge and information so that in the conduct of supervision of those whom we elect, we do so based on knowledge and information, on facts, as opposed to rhetoric, fiction and bald-faced misrepresentation of fact. It's the citizen's responsibility for this empowerment no one else's. And, yeah, it's hard. God, I'm busy; you're busy; we're all busy life's a busy thing.
But, you know what? I don't want to hear that people can't go out and gain access to the data necessary, because, you know what? I go to a bar on Monday night, and I watch baseball fans; I watch football fans hell, I'm one of them. And they can give me the slugging percentage of every player coming up there. How do they know that? They spend hours reading the sports pages.
If an American citizen has enough time to know all these sports statistics, they have enough time to learn about the world we live in and the role America plays and how their representatives are guiding us in this world.
So, no, I don't accept the notion that life is too complicated for American citizens to be involved. I reject that 100 percent. Democracy isn't meant to be easy.
DR: You've offered the anti-war movement a bitter pill to swallow. You've said the peaceniks are a poorly organized conglomeration of egos, pet projects and idealism. Can you elaborate?
SR: First of all, what is the peace movement? There is no national peace movement. There's a conglomeration of organizations, all of which are ego-driven. If you take a look at Peace Action, they have a national Peace Action and they have state Peace Actions around the country. They don't work well with each other; they don't get along with each other. They feud. They don't have a centralized plan.
You have Cindy Sheehan running around, a symbol of the peace movement. A symbol of what? Who is she? Who nominated her to be the spokesperson? She did one brave thing. I'm all for what Cindy Sheehan did last August. But people say, "She sacrificed so much." She didn't sacrifice anything. Her son sacrificed his life.
In order for Cindy Sheehan to have sacrificed anything, she would have to have given up her son to the military. The last time I checked, he was an adult. He signed a contract. He went into the military. He went off to war, and he died. And, yes, it's a tragedy that he died, and it's a bigger tragedy that he died in a war that I believe is an illegal war of aggression. There should not have been a war to begin with. But Cindy Sheehan didn't sacrifice a damn thing; her son did. He made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country. That's a tragedy that he died.
But this is the problem with the anti-war movement they lionize people for artificial reasons. They give them artificial standing. There's no depth to it. There's no direction. Where does the peace movement want to go?
Cindy Sheehan, in her own response to my [recent AlterNet.com] article [criticizing the anti-war movement], spoke of defending a woman's reproductive rights. You know what, Cindy? Go do that. But don't call yourself the peace movement when you do that. Because when you do that, all you do is basically take the energy that's necessary to have a genuine peace movement, to have a true impact, and you allow that to basically just be spread and wasted. It's wasted energy. There is no peace movement. There is no peace movement. It's a bunch of people who claim they're part of a peace movement, but there is no peace movement.
DR: Are you an intense person, or are you an angry person?
SR: I'm not an angry person at all. I would say that if you knew me, I'm a pretty laid-back person, until it's time to get serious. And when it's time to get serious, I get very intense; I get focused. I'm somebody who will empower myself with knowledge and information and act on that, and I have no patience for people who try to play a game when they don't know the rules, who try to talk on a subject and they don't know the facts. But angry? Nah.
David Rolland is the editor of the San Diego City Beat .