Interview with Scott Ritter
with Tom Klammer
November 27, 2005
I interviewed Scott Ritter on November 5th, 2005 about his new book, Iraq Confidential, the Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein, and talked about supporting the troops, holding our elected officials accountable, and where to go from here. The interview aired on Tell Somebody on 90.1 FM KKFI Kansas City Community Radio. Tell Somebody airs Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Intelligence Officer and former United States Weapons Inspector who participated in 52 missions in Iraq...
Tell Somebody: Scott Ritter, welcome to Tell Somebody.
Scott Ritter: It’s my pleasure.
T.S.: Going into March of 2003, everybody thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Democrats had little choice but to support the war because of bad intelligence. Journalists had nothing to report but that everybody thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. What’s your response to that?
S.R.: That’s an absurdity. I mean, first of all, the senior elements in the Bush administration knew that they were hyping the case for war, that they had no hard intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In fact anybody with access to the significant amount of intelligence data in the possession of the United States would know that the data pointed to Iraq being disarmed, that there really wasn’t anything to be worried about in the form of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is reflected in statements made by Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell pre-September 11th, 2001, when they said that Iraq is contained, they don’t have any capabilities, and we don’t need to be panicked by this. The Democrats who sat, Democrats and Republicans alike, who sat in Congress, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, who had oversight responsibilities were fully aware that the intelligence pointed to an Iraq that had been disarmed as opposed to an Iraq that possessed weapons of mass destruction. And the media, likewise, knew that whatever sources they were using to bolster any case they were trumpeting regarding an Iraqi threat were weak sources. We see with the debacle of Judith Miller of the New York Times, that this is a reporter who overstepped her bounds, falsified reports, misrepresented data. And her editors and publishers were fully aware of the fact that what she was doing violated every journalistic standard. So I just think its wrong in the extreme to say that everybody thought these weapons existed. The ignorant public of the United States may have thought so they were only gaining access to what politicians and inefficient media outlets were telling them. But when it comes to decision makers and those who shaped the public perception, i.e., the media, no, I would say that they knew the exact opposite, that this is a war that was hyped up by people because they didn’t have the courage to stand up in a post-911 environment and take on an administration that was headed towards confrontation, not only with those who perpetrated the events of September 11th, but anybody they had in their gun sights, including Iraq.
T.S.: What about now? People say, okay, there were no WMD’s, but a brutal dictator was toppled and we’re bringing democracy to Iraq, we have to stay the course and finish the job. What’s your response to that?
S.R.: Well it’s curious that we suddenly went to war to depose a brutal dictator. That wasn’t the case being made. And if you call yourself an American citizen and if you understand the importance of the rule of law as set forth by the Constitution, you can not accept any notion of the ends justifying the means. We went to war to get rid of weapons of mass destruction that supposedly posed a threat to the security of the United States. We didn’t go to war to get rid of a brutal dictator, especially one that in the 1980’s we called a true friend of the United States, somebody whom we recognized as a secular leader, yes a dictator, but a secular leader who represented a bulwark against the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism coming out of Iran. This is basically those who got caught out on their hyped up case for war about WMD trying to re-create a new justification. And again, the justification fails on all levels, not just in terms of the notion of this brutal dictator. Do you think Iraq is better off today under a brutal American occupation than it was under a brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein? We fail on every benchmark. More Iraqis are being killed, there’s less electricity, there’s less fresh water. What we call freedom of speech is really just a reflection of chaos and anarchy. Yes, you can be free to speak in a society where there are no rules, when there is no governance. But it’s an artificial freedom, because it doesn’t bring with it any reward. Screaming out at the top of your lungs is not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the ability to express one’s self openly and without fear of prosecution in a stable environment. A stable environment simply does not exist in Iraq. So, again, anybody who makes the claims that, 'okay, there’s no WMD, but we got rid of a brutal dictator and we’ve instilled some sort of a viable democracy with freedoms’, is, again, it’s a false argument.
T.S.: What about, going back a second to the media and the public, some of us who listen to this station, on Democracy NOW! and I think Radio Nation and some other shows, heard you speaking out well before the invasion. Why do you suppose it is you couldn’t get any traction in the major media with that?
S.R.: Because the media, especially the mainstream media, has an inability or an unwillingness to take on authority. It’s not about reporting the news anymore. This is about a business. And this is a business that not only has economic ties to government, meaning that you don’t want to speak out against those who pay your bills, but this is a business that realizes that the major news is generated by the government, and access to this news requires access to those who are generating the event, meaning that if you are a reporter, you get your headline, you get your front page story, you get your leading story on the evening news when you have access to a government official who’s willing to talk off the record and give you a nice little tidbit. When somebody’s who’s in a position to contradict the government speaks out, if you’re a journalist or a news organization and you give credence to this individual, you sustain this individual’s argument, you now threaten not only the economic base of your news organization, but you threaten your ability as a reporter to grab the headlines, because an individual speaking out is just a one time event, even if the even is of extraordinary importance, such as war in Iraq and the justification for war, but a journalist is looking, or a so-called journalist is looking at the large scale picture, and they’re not willing to sacrifice their viability as a so-called journalist in an entertainment-biased media to report real news. The bottom line is the media today is composed of people who do shame to the notion of journalism.
T.S.: Speaking of the media, they gave pretty prominent coverage recently to a counter-protest to Cindy Sheehan’s. And at this counter-protest, a gold star mother asked "what part of 'support the troops’ don’t you get? And last week, my guest was a young man named Tomas Young, a wounded Iraq War veteran, and I asked him 'what do you say to people who don’t want to question the war because it’s undermining support for the troops while they’re over there?" As an ex-marine, what’s you’re response to people who think that any questioning of what’s going on is not supporting the troops?
S.R.: I would ask those people to review their role as a citizen in democracy, in a constitutional republic. To sit there and say that your only role, once we go to war, is stand on the street corner, wave the flag, and shout support for the president, you’re no better than the Germans who supported Hitler, or people who support any brutal dictatorship. This isn’t about an individual guiding our country. This is about a group of people who govern in accordance with the rule of law supported by a document called the constitution, which these soldiers swore an allegiance, an oath to uphold and defend, with their lives if necessary. So I just really have nothing positive to say to those who speak out against people expressing their First Amendment right of Freedom of Speech, especially those who through their words and actions show a greater support for the troops than those who would say let’s continue down this course of action that has resulted in the deaths of 2,025 American soldiers to date, over 15,000 wounded, and what are they encouraging us to do? Reinforce failure? More of the same? More dead, more wounded? More bad policy? What part of "We went to war on a lie" don’t these people understand? Waving a flag on the street corner does not make you patriotic or support the troops. I could train a monkey to do that job. You’re only a patriot if you’ve read the Constitution, and you live the Constitution, and I would say that Cindy Sheehan and those who support her, and those who speak out against this war are far more patriotic than any gold star mother or anybody else who stands on the street corner and encourages a war that’s based on a lie and can only result in the death and dismemberment of more American troops.
T.S.: So now we’re in this mess, based on a lie, but there we are. Where to go from here?
S.R.: Well, I mean, the easiest aspect of a disengagement strategy—because that’s what I’m advocating, I’m not advocating a reinforcement of failure, I’m not advocating continuing down the same failed course of action—I’m advocating a disengagement strategy, and the first aspect of that is to actually disengage. To get the troops out of Iraq and bring them home. Every senior officer in the United States military recognizes that it is the presence of American troops in Iraq that is exacerbating the situation. There is no positive benefit coming from the ongoing presence of this occupation. The Iraqi people reject this occupation. Those who support this occupation in Iraq are those who use the American troops for their own limited scope political gain, i.e., there are some Shiia politicians and some Kurdish politicians who understand that once U.S. troops leave, they will be held to account by much of Iraq, and so their future is dependent upon the maintenance of American forces, American troops in Iraq. I don’t believe we should have Americans dying in Iraq so that we can sustain a Shiia politician’s future in Iraq. That’s absurd in the extreme. Americans should go to war only to defend our country, only to preserve our security, and everything that’s happening in Iraq today is to the detriment of the security of the United States of America. So bring the troops home, and then deal with the issues that have emanated from our invasion of Iraq, and these are, simply put, threefold:
1. To disenfranchise the Shiia political elite who have seized control of Iraq. They haven’t been voted in. The Iraqi people did not vote for Jafari, they did not vote for Talibani, they did not vote for Hakkim and his Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, they did not vote for the Dawa Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group, and yet these are what govern Iraq today; they are pro-Iranian. And they allow for the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism coming out of Iran that is anti-Western, anti-American in nature. They must be disenfranchised for the security of America.
2. We must re-enfranchise the Sunni, the secular Sunni, who were our allies against this expansion of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980’s and would have been our allies had we not engaged in this irresponsible conflict to remove Saddam Hussein from power. By removing Saddam, we undid the glue that held Iraqi society together and the end result is the chaos and anarchy that we witness. We must re-enfranchise the Sunni to bring them back to serve as this bulwark against the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism, but more importantly, re-enfranchise them economically and politically so that they don’t become the new Afghanistan. Right now the heartland of Iraq, the Sunni heartland, has become a festering cesspool of anti-American sentiment that breeds the kind of terrorism we’re supposed to be waging war against. We’re not going to Iraq to fight them over there before they come here. By going to Iraq in the manner that we did, we’ve created more terrorism that is not only killing Americans in Iraq, but its being exported to strike European targets and potentially American targets abroad and here at home. We need to change that situation. We need to bring stability by supporting those who are most likely to be are our allies, and those are the Sunnis.
3. And the third one nobody talks about is the Kurds. We speak of freedom and independence for the Kurds, but I guarantee you this: if the Kurds declare independence, if they attempt to seize control of the northern oilfields in Iraq, they will incur the wrath of the Turks. The Turks are a NATO ally that just entered into a 15-year negotiation with the European Union so that they become members of the European community. It would be a disaster for the United States and Europe if we allowed a situation to go forward that prompted a Turkish response in northern Iraq that would threaten this negotiation. If the Kurds of Iraq declare independence, the Turks will respond. If they respond, Europe will cease negotiations, and if Europe rejects Turkey, Turkey will drift away from the West and into the arms of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists. This is a very dangerous situation.
So, disengagement just doesn’t mean cutting and running, disengagement means removing the troops that are exacerbating the situation on the ground in Iraq, and then working diplomatically with Iraq’s neighbors and with our friends around the world to resolve these three critical situations that I’ve just outlined.
T.S.: A lot of us think of this as a Republican quagmire, a Republican lie-based war, but yet much of the elite of the Democratic party is trying to out-military the Bush Administration by calling for more troops in Iraq, not pulling out. Talk about that a little bit in light of some of the history that I believe is in your book, "Iraq Confidential." This is not just a one party deal that happened here, is it?
S.R.: No, it’s not. As I point out in the book, "Iraq Confidential", and the time that’s focused on in this book is 1991 to 1998. It deals primarily with the Clinton administration, a Democratic administration. This isn’t about just sitting here saying this is all George Bush’s fault. This is the fault of failed policy that has manifested itself in the bad decision-making made by the current Bush administration, but it has as it’s roots the failed policy in 1990-1991 with the first Bush administration, failed policy that was inherited by the Clinton administration in ’93 and sustained for eight years before being passed off to George W. Bush. The Democrats created a lot of these problems because they didn’t have the courage to stand up in 1993 to the policy that they had inherited from George Herbert Walker Bush, which is a policy based on confronting Saddam Hussein, not because he posed a national security risk to the United States of America, but because he posed a political embarrassment to George Herbert Walker Bush who promised in 1990 to deliver Saddam Hussein’s head on a platter—he called Saddam Hussein the Middle East equivalent of Adolph Hitler, and he said there needed to be Nuremberg-like retribution. George Herbert Walker Bush trapped himself into a corner based on his own rhetoric. And now, when the war ended in 1991, Saddam Hussein’s survival was a political problem here at home in America for George Herbert Walker Bush, and that was the genesis for everything that transpired from that time, not only a policy of regime change, but also using disarmament, and United Nations weapons inspectors not to disarm Iraq, but to facilitate regime change by maintaining economic sanctions and by providing a vehicle by which CIA and U.S. intelligence services could spy on Saddam, gather information about his security, so that a coup d’etat could be launched. This started in 1991; it was sustained for eight years by the Clinton administration. The Democrats didn’t have the courage to stand up and say time-out, this is bad, this is stupid, this is wrong policy, this bad for the security of the United States, we’re going to work with the Iraqi government to bring them back into the fold of the international community so we can restore this bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism that’s erupting in the Middle East. Remember, Osama bin Laden is festering at this time. He’s in Afghanistan. He’s taking advantage of the missteps, continuous missteps by the United States and others regarding the Middle East, and one of the greatest missteps is this sustained policy of economic sanctions against Iraq that killed anywhere from 700,000 to 2.2 million Iraqis. If anybody thinks that the Clinton administration was fostering good will among not only the Iraqis, but the Arabs and Muslims of the world, think again. Bill Clinton is guilty of the same crimes that many people have accused George W. Bush of committing in Iraq. The only difference is that during his administration he didn’t order a ground-based invasion of Iraq. When you take a look at the Democrats today, uh, you know, a lot of people like to call the administration of George W. Bush an administration of chicken hawks, people who didn’t serve in the military, don’t know anything about national security, and etc.; I would say that the majority of Democrats who are advocates for this war are cut out of the same piece of cloth—chicken hawks, people who don’t know anything about the military or national security—and because they have such a fundamental weakness when it comes to defense issues, national security issues, the only way they can survive in the current political environment is to be more conservative, more warlike than their Republican counterparts, so they advocate this get tough policy on Iraq that, frankly, they don’t anything about.
T.S.: Scott Ritter, any final words for our listeners on, you know, if they’re concerned about this, what do you think individuals should try to do?
S.R.: Well, the most important thing is to empower yourself with knowledge and information. Right now people are, because they’re ignorant about the situation in Iraq, and I don’t mean that harsh, but it’s an honest assessment—you know, a nation of 280 million people, and we’re at war in a country, and most Americans couldn’t even tell you anything about Iraq, or the culture of Iraq, or the history of Iraq, or why we’re there. They’re prisoners to the garbage that’s fed to them by a media that has sold out for this war. So, the most important thing they can do is to empower themselves with knowledge and information so that they can hold their elected representatives accountable for decision that are made in their name. That’s one of the reasons that I wrote this book "Iraq Confidential" is to provide people with a book that is detailed, well-documented, absolutely factually correct on a critical period of time from 1991 to 1998 where Iraq was subjected to the most stringent arms control regime in the history of arms control. "Iraq Confidential" is meant to be the Rosetta Stone- if you read this book, you’ll be so empowered with information that you’ll be able to look through the lies and deceit that are being fed to you by Republicans, Democrats, and a compliant news media.
T.S.: Again, the book is "Iraq Confidential, the Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein", published by Nation Books. Scott Ritter, thank you very much for taking some time with us today.
S.R.: Thank you sir.