'We can’t win this war'

Scott Ritter is a Marine. A semper fi, leatherneck, jarheaded Marine. He has a simple, aw-shucks manner of speaking that you often find in military professionals.

'I love America,' he told me when we spoke last autumn. 'There’s no doubt about it. I’m willing to die for America, so I’d better love it.'

He is unfailingly polite and pleasant; military training taught him to keep his cool under fire. Still, you get the impression talking to him that, inside, he is deeply pissed off. Pissed off at television for not giving him a fair shake, pissed off at Stephen Hayes for cherry-picking his two-hour interview to contradict Ritter’s intended statements, pissed off at Hans Blix for being less than completely candid before the UN Security Council, pissed off at Tony Blair, at Richard Butler, the CIA, the Defense Department, and definitely, extremely pissed off at George W. Bush. All things considered, he really keeps it well inside.

That said, you might think he would get a certain amount of satisfaction at having basically been proved right by the US’s inability to find any weapons of mass destruction or WMD programs in Iraq. But he rejects the suggestion that he might feel vindicated. 'This wasn’t a guessing game on my part,' he says. 'Vindication would have been if I had been able to make a convincing argument that resonated enough so that people voted against this war.'

Since our interview, numerous reports have concluded what Ritter said had been saying all along: Iraq had no WMDs. Ritter has never been wrong, an unsettling fact when you consider his prediction that the US cannot win the war in Iraq and that the best course of action is to pull out immediately, leaving power in the hands of the only people with any chance preventing total anarchy: the remains of the Baathist power structure.

Ritter was in Prague to address a congress of American Voices Abroad. A card-carrying member of the Republican Party, Ritter finds himself in the unenviable position of approaching the political left from the back door, making the public-speaking circuit with three-part message: The US interfered with UN weapons inspection, the US invasion of Iraq was illegal, and the current administration must be removed from power in the next election.

'I voted for Ronald Reagan, I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush and I voted for George W. Bush for president of the United States,' he said. 'One of the reasons I feel so strongly about the position I’ve taken is the concept of accountability: the man lied to me. The man betrayed me, and he must be held accountable.'

Still Ritter sees himself not so much as an anti-Bush crusader as a servant of the truth, a Marine sworn to uphold certain ideals, among them being the rule of law. And regardless of what you may think of Scott Ritter, he feels there is only one possible conclusion: the US invasion of Iraq was not only in violation of international law, but that Washington had long used the issue of disarmament as a pretext to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

TS: Eight months after the invasion of Iraq, no WMDs have been found. Do you feel vindicated?
SR: That’s a term that a lot of people are throwing around. I don’t know what the exact definition of vindication is. I knew this wasn’t a guessing game on my part. So if vindication means that I’m relieved that I was right, no, I’m not relieved that I was right. I knew I was right. If vindication is supposed to imply some feeling of relief and happiness, no, I’m sad. Vindication would have been if I had been able to make a convincing argument that resonated enough so that people voted against this war. But that didn’t happen. How can you have vindication when you have Americans in Iraq dying in a war that you opposed? There can be no vindication on that so you know maybe I should feel vindicated but I don’t. I’m just deeply saddened by what’s occurred.

TS: In the months leading up to the war, you were the only person in any camp who had the temerity say Iraq had no WMDs. If that was the case, why did the war happen?
SR: First of all let me clear up the record. I never said that Saddam has no WMDs. I never had the knowledge base to make that assertion. I said that Saddam had been certified by 1998 by the United Nations as being 90 to 95 percent disarmed, that we didn’t know what the final disposition of the remaining 5 to 10 percent of the unaccounted for material was but that it was just that: unaccounted for. It wasn’t that we had data to sustain any notion that Saddam still retained it. We had no proof that Saddam had these weapons and that until such proof is assembled and until you’ve exhausted every venue possible short of war to resolve this failure to account you couldn’t talk about war. So I just wanted to make that statement – that I’m not going to sit here and say ‘Oh, I was saying he had no WMDs before the war.’ I didn’t say that.

I was saying that he was fundamentally disarmed and that you could demonstrate how Iraq – and I’d like to make a distinction between Saddam and Iraq – how Iraq reconstituted a WMD program because Saddam Hussein doesn’t build anything. He doesn’t build a WMD – Iraq did that. And how Iraq reconstituted a WMD production base I know we destroyed, dismantled and while inspectors were there was being verifiably monitored you couldn’t say he had these weapons.

TS: But wasn’t Saddam calling shots?
SR: Saddam Hussein was an absolute dictator. But Saddam Hussein did not create the historical forces that drove Iraq in the direction of acquiring WMDs. Saddam Hussein didn’t order Iran to develop a WMD program. He didn’t order Syria to develop a WMD program. He didn’t order Israel to develop a WMD program. And I would say that, you know, that Iraq’s defensive posture vis a vis all three of those nations had a bearing, the Iran-Iraq war had a huge bearing on, you know, the Iraqi WMD program. So I think it’s much more complicated than to simply say it’s Iran that’s calling the shots. I think the forces of history play a role in that too.

Do I think any weapons will be found? No. Not this late in the game. I mean, given the fact that, you know, we had a certain element of uncertainty about the final disposition of aspects of these programs, it would have surprised me but not shocked me if they had found something in the immediate aftermath of the war. But now we’re eight months into the occupation, they’re not going to find anything.

TS: What was Saddam Hussein thinking? Did he want people to believe he had WMDs? Was he bluffing?
SR: That always strikes me when people say that. How could Saddam be bluffing when he declared that he had no weapons. To bluff, you’ve got to be holding on to something. So a bluff is when in a poker game when you’ve five cards in your hand and you’re pretending you’ve got a great hand when you’ve got nothing. Saddam wasn’t even pretending to sit at the table. He wasn’t pretending to take a hand. He wasn’t playing the game. Saddam said ‘I am disarmed.’

Now, he lied the first time he said it. He lied the second time he said it. He lied the third time he said it. You know, from 1991 to 1995, the Iraqis were not fully cooperative. They were retaining, especially in the early, they were retaining weapons of mass destruction they weren’t allowed to. But that’s where the inspectors step in. And we forcefully compelled Iraq into compliance by tenaciously pursuing our mandate.

By 1995, no one could make the case that Iraq had WMDs. In fact the case that’s emerging after eight months of occupation and investigation is that Iraq was disarmed by that time frame, by 1995, 1996. So when Iraq confronts inspectors in the 1996 to 1998 timeframe, what is the confrontation based on? Clearly now history shows that it wasn’t based on Iraq’s efforts to conceal WMD or WMD programs.

Maybe if you investigate the events that led up to confrontation you will realize that all of them revolved around presidential palaces and presidential security. So maybe the point of confrontation wasn’t hiding weapons from inspectors, but protecting the president from an inspection process that the Iraqis were convinced was inherently corrupted by the United States, the United Kingdom – nations that were using the unique access afforded to the inspectors by the United Nations security council for purposes of disarming, but using it instead to target Saddam.

The United States had a policy since 1991 of regime removal, and three consecutive presidential administrations had enacted lethal findings authorizing the CIA to use whatever means necessary to overthrow Saddam. The CIA had a history of active participation in the inspection process for just that purpose. So what was Saddam thinking? What were the Iraqis thinking? They were thinking about defending their sovereignty.

TS: In any event, they don’t have their sovereignty now.
SR: Did Saddam surrender? Did the Iraqi army surrender? Did anybody surrender? Who’s in charge in Iraq? One hundred fifty thousand American troops. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

TS: But couldn’t Saddam Hussein have prevented the war?
SR: It was a war that could not be prevented.

TS: Couldn’t he have opened the presidential palaces and asked the inspectors to stay?
SR: He did that.

TS: So what happened?
SR: I was ordered out by the ... well, I resigned out of protest to my inability to do my job, but that inability revolved around a number of issues, not just Iraqi non-compliance. It was tough for me to do my job when the Iraqis wouldn’t let me in to sites that were designated for inspection, because the second the Iraqis block that, they create the perception that they’re hiding something. The Iraqis weren’t going to let me into their sites so long as the United States was using my inspection teams to target Saddam Hussein, so you had this Catch-22 situation.

The Security Council wouldn’t defend their mandate either by enforcing the law when Iraq stood up to the will of the inspectors or confronting the United States of the fact of America’s unilateral policy of regime removal. The Security Council allowed the secretary general to step in on several critical fronts, diluting the authority of the Security Council. The result was, I couldn’t do my job. So I resigned.

Why did the inspectors leave Iraq? They were ordered out by the United States. After being used by the United States to deliberately provoke a confrontation that had nothing to do with disarming, everything to do with targeting Saddam Hussein.

In the aftermath of this, in December 1998, the United States and Great Britain bombed Iraq for 72 hours in Operation Desert Fox. Eighty-six of the 98 targets that were struck dealt with Saddam Hussein’s security, had nothing to do with an industrial base to produce WMDs or potentially produce. It was about targeting Saddam.

TS: So your inspections were a smokescreen for a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein?
SR: It’s not even a smokescreen. They were putting personnel on inspection teams whose job it was to use … it was a Trojan horse.

TS: Were there assassins on your team?
SR: Well, first of all assassination is a term that I think a lot of people would probably dispute. A lethal finding authorizes the CIA to use whatever means necessary to Saddam Hussein, even those means which could result in the death of Saddam, but there’s still, you know, US law against targeted assassinations. So did I have assassins on my team with a rifle to ready pop Saddam? No. But I had CIA personnel on my team who were gathering intelligence about the security of Saddam to feed back into the process that would then trigger certain activities, whether it was a coup d’etat or other that were designed to get rid of Saddam.

TS: Did you ever find any WMDs?
SR: We didn’t find WMDs. The Iraqis declared WMDs and we oversaw the disposition of these weapons. We knew the Iraqis hadn’t completely told the truth and we investigated that and we put pressure on the Iraqis until which point they were compelled to admit that they were lying and they led us to where they were hiding the WMD. So we were very effective in disarming Iraq. But in terms of opening the door and going ‘Voila! WMDs!’ No, we didn’t do that.

TS: There was no Geraldo moment.
SR: We had better than Geraldo moments, because the Geraldo moment is false. We did a hard-nosed investigation that achieved tremendous results. But, you know, most forensic-based investigations don’t have a Geraldo moment. You gather bits and pieces of data which allow you to, you know, form a conclusion.

In a murder investigation, for instance, very rarely do you go out and find a body. What you do is find evidence that the crime had been committed and you confront the criminal suspect with that evidence and the criminal suspect confesses and leads you to the body. That’s what we did in Iraq. We confronted a criminal suspect with evidence that they were lying, and when the Iraqis couldn’t wiggle their way out of it, they had to confess that they had lied and they led us to where they were hiding stuff.

TS: In 1998, you wrote in the New Republic that Iraq retained WMDs and they were ‘not nearly disarmed’. When did you change your mind?
SR: If I said ‘they retain’ … I think you should re-read that because I think the way I wrote that article is I think I said that ‘we suspect they retain, we have evidence that they may retain.’ But I don’t I would be as cheeky as to say they retain it. If that’s what was written, then obviously that’s an error on my part.

I think the most important part of that article is to understand the context in which it was written and what I was saying in that article. I was saying that the United States was walking away from the inspectors. That at the same time I was writing that article, Madeleine Albright was saying the inspectors weren’t necessary. The United States was saying that inspections weren’t necessary.

But what I was saying was that the security council passed a Chapter Seven resolution authorizing weapons inspections to disarm Iraq and did so because they felt that Iraq represented – remember, it’s the Security Council that’s making this decision … and I’m writing this article from the perspective of an inspector, okay, so it’s the Security Council that determines the definitions and the definition of threat is Iraq possessing WMDs, so I say Iraq is an ugly threat, that’s Security Council definition, not mine. As an inspector, I had no choice but to echo the Security Council. They’re not nearly disarmed. The Security Council set the standard as 100 percent. We had not achieved that …

TS: But they were 90 to 95 percent disarmed.
SR: They were 90 to 95 percent, but that’s not total disarmament. That’s not what the Security Council wants. That’s not what the United States was demanding. So as an inspector, I have to put the marker down and say ‘We haven’t accomplished our mission. There’s still a mission to do.’ And that mission’s an important mission, because Iraq had WMD that the Security Council determined had constituted a threat to international peace and security. Therefore how could we walk away from that job?

We had important leads. I had a stack of leads that I was investigating, leads that said that Iraq might have anthrax, might have chemical weapons. We know that Iraq has a legitimate industrial base that could be reconfigured to reconstitute certain aspects of the programs within six months once inspectors leave, once inspectors were gone. We need to get inspectors back in.

So I would direct you to the final paragraph of the article in which I dismiss all the cases that were being made about going to war in Iraq. I said the only case that’ll work is to get inspectors back in properly mandated by the council, and then if Iraq won’t cooperate with these inspectors you then have the legal basis upon which to confront Iraq militarily. But the legal basis has to be derived from the disarmament mission not from any other hyped-up mission, and the United States can’t corrupt the integrity of the inspectors. You have to let the inspectors come in and, you know, with the pure intentions of the council, which is to disarm Iraq, if Iraq is in compliance, then to lift economic sanctions. But you can’t have the United States saying sanctions will be maintained no matter what, even if Iraq complies. And that was the importance of the article.

Now in the immediate aftermath of that article, what I warned about in that article took place: the United States corrupted the integrity of the inspection process and then bombed Iraq. And after Desert Fox, what I realized is that you can’t sit there and continue to defend an inspection process that has no legitimacy, because what legitimizes the inspection process is the rule of law, the rule of law as set forth in Security Council resolutions. And when the United States disregards Security Council resolutions, how can you hold Iraq accountable to them?

So I came up with the concepts of redefining Iraq’s disarmament obligation, concepts that broke away from the quantitative methodology used in the past, where we have to account for everything, 100 percent certainty. And I said if we use instead a qualitative judgement, Iraq’s disarmed. Qualitatively, they can’t produce these weapons. They don’t have them. We got rid of 90 to 95 percent of them. We can prove that. So don’t tell me we’re going to stick on the remaining 5 to 10 percent, but prior to that, the law said we had to stick on that. So that’s the importance of the New Republic article.

TS: You made a similar remark to Congress in September of that year, that Saddam Hussein remained a threat to world peace.
SR: That’s what the Security Council says. When I sat before Congress, I told Congress ‘I sit before you as an inspector. And I’m holding a mirror up to you, understanding that the United States voted for a resolution, under Chapter Seven of the United Nations charter, that called for Iraq to be disarmed, and that the United States had walked away from the inspectors.’ There was still a mission to be done.

TS: Would you make a different argument now?
SR: In defense of the inspections, if the inspection process I was involved in was still viable, and I was making the argument to get them back in, no, I wouldn’t. I would say the same thing. I would say the exact same thing, because it was an accurate statement.

The problem is, you know, maybe, you see, as an inspector, you can’t walk away from the mandate. The mandate hinges on the concept of Iraq representing a threat to international peace and security of such a great magnitude that the international community has to intervene on the sovereignty of a nation, of a member state and impose restrictions under Chapter Seven. I didn’t make that up. That’s what the community said, so as an inspector, I can’t walk away from that. I can’t walk away from that baseline of intent by the council.

So would I say the same thing, yes, because that’s what the council said. I would say to the council ‘You said that Iraq was a threat, and that Iraq will continue to be a threat until we achieve 100 percent disarmament. We haven’t achieved that. Now, you either change the rules, so that we don’t have to deal with the 100 percent issue, or if you’re going to stick to 100 percent, then you have to enforce the law. That’s the rules.

Now, if I step away from my role as an inspector, I would say things totally different, which is what I did after 1998. In 1998, I realized the inspection process had been corrupted by the United States, so I stepped away from my role as an inspector and took a broader perspective. The perspective of the inspector is a very narrow perspective. So a lot of what I was saying was very narrow. It was accurate, but it was very narrow. But when you step away and bring in a broader perspective, you can water down a lot of that rhetoric.

TS: In 2002, you wrote in the Guardian that if Iraq continues to play cat-and-mouse, then the US must take ‘decisive action’. So is that saying the same thing?
SR: I said that we have to send inspectors in and complete the mission. And if Iraq won’t let us complete the mission, then, you know, we can’t play this game. But the mission, in 2002 when I wrote that, go to my June 2000 article in Arms Control Today … that’s the article in which I make the argument for qualitative disarmament. So if you’re willing to change the benchmark upon which you are assessing Iraqis’, Iraq’s disarmament obligation to realistic standards and if you send inspectors in to, who are only focused on disarming Iraq, and if you acknowledge to the Iraqis that once they comply you’ll lift economic sanctions, and if under all those conditions the Iraqis still refuse to play the game, then you can take them out.

TS: Was Iraq ever going to comply?
SR: They did comply.

TS: Was Iraq ever going to comply to the extent that they could avoid the war?
SR: No, because the United States didn’t care. The United States had a policy of regime change that ...

TS: That was the US policy, but was Iraq willing to do …
SR: Iraq did do everything they could do. What more could Iraq do? I mean, do you want them to submit a declaration? They submitted 12,500 pages in December 2002 that have yet to be contradicted on a point of fact. That have yet to be contradicted on a point of fact. They told the truth. And the truth was irrelevant.

Colin Powell told the lies. It’s not Iraq that lied. Colin Powell sat before the Security Council on 5 [25?] February and said things, not a single one of which has been sustained. Tony Blair published dossier after dossier; again, not a single point in those dossiers has been sustained. It’s the United States and Great Britain that didn’t tell the truth. Hans Blix testified before the Security Council about the potential existence of weapons that today he claims don’t exist. Hans Blix was less than honest before the council. It was the Iraqis who in the recent years have told the truth time and time again.

Now you would be loathe, as I had been before the war, to take what they say at face value, but to be dismissive of it is absurd. Iraq did everything that they could. What more could Iraq have done? They let them in the presidential palaces. They allowed the U2 aircraft to overfly their territory. They let the inspectors come in with any sensor, any sensor they wanted. What more could they have done?

TS: Stephen Hayes [of the Weekly Standard] says you were bought off by Shakira al-Khafaji.
SR: I accepted $400,000. Shakira al-Khafaji is an American citizen – an Iraqi-American citizen … an American citizen of Iraqi origin, but never forget that he’s an American citizen. He’s beholden to American law just like I am, just like Mr Hayes is. When I undertook to make a documentary film … It costs money to make a film. I just would – as I encouraged Mr Hayes, I would – and I’ll say this right off the bat: Everything I’m telling you, I told Mr Hayes. ... What I would ask Mr Hayes is to publish the totality of the two-hour interview that we had so that the world can see how disingenuous and just how poor of a journalist he truly is.

TS: What did he leave out?
SR: Well, he left out all the good details, such as I didn’t receive $400,000. A production company received an investment which was in the form of a letter of credit – a loan, an interest-bearing loan, because this was a business arrangement. Shakira al-Khafaji was investing in a movie, which we believed that we could – that I believed that I could make and then market and then generate not only a good message but a profit. The investment was made into my production company to underwrite the expenses of a documentary film, a feature-length documentary film that involved international travel, you know, major editing. Normally, the budgets for these films run from $500,000 to $1.5 million. Shakira al-Khafaji could only come up with $400,000. I say ‘only’ because it may sound like a lot of money, but in the film business, it’s no money at all.

Not only is that the case, meaning that I did not profit from this movie, that money didn’t go into my pockets, that money didn’t buy me anything, it was totally expended, you know, making the movie. In fact, the movie finally, the ultimate budget of the movie was $458,000, and I’m the one who had to cough up the $58,000. I still carry $32,000 in debt on this movie. So Stephen Hayes’s article, the whole point of it was that I somehow profited from this, that I made money. I didn’t make a cent. I lost money on this venture, so it’s a pretty piss-poor way of getting rich off of a, you know, selling people out.

And you know the other thing is, where’s the movie wrong? I asked Mr Hayes, ‘Have you seen the movie?’ He hadn’t. ‘What problem do you have with the movie, Mr Hayes? Because it’s the most accurate movie made.’ Today it stands alone, of any documentary made on Iraq and the disarmament obligation. It was the only one that accurately portrayed what’s going on. And it wasn’t a pro-Saddam movie. It was actually a very anti-Iraq movie. It just spoke about the truth.

And then, I went to the FBI before I even made this movie, once the offer of investment was made, because Shakira al-Khafaji is an Iraqi, of Iraqi origin, and because he had ongoing contact in Iraq. I stipulated in the contract that there could be no there could be no influence by Shakira al-Khafaji in the editing of this movie, that if he was going to invest, he was investing in the blind hope that I would make a movie that was to his satisfaction but he could not dictate any of the terms. Furthermore, there could be no interest, direct or otherwise, by the Iraqi government in this. That $400,000 had to be Shakir al-Khafaji’s money. It couldn’t be a quid pro quo where he invests and the Iraqi government compensates him down the stream. And he had to sign documents certifying that this was the case. He did so.

And then I went to the FBI and the Treasury Department and had them investigate this, to find out if there was a quid pro quo … going on. And the FBI couldn’t find any evidence of any wrongdoing, and they have never found any evidence of wrongdoing. I opened up my books to the FBI so that they could edit this. So my point is that Mr Hayes wrote a completely deceptive article putting out premises spoken or hinted, alluded to that I was somehow bought off by the Iraqi government when it’s absurd. That never took place.

TS: Your visit to the Iraqi assembly in 2002 didn’t help any.
SR: The job wasn’t to earn friends. The job was to try and stop a war. The best way to stop a war was, as I clearly stated, to get weapons inspectors back in. The United States had walked away from the inspection process, was making no effort whatsoever to get weapons inspectors back in. George Bush and Tony Blair were going to meet in Crawford, Texas on September 8 and have a war council right before the president spoke to the Security Council on September 12. So my intervention in Iraq, speaking out the way I did, not only to the National Assembly – remember, I wasn’t speaking to the National Assembly, I was using the National Assembly to address Saddam Hussein, and address the world – it was a pre-emptive strike of my own against George Bush and Tony Blair’s war council.

And it succeeded, not only succeeded in disrupting the war council, but five days after I made the presentation, four days after I intervened with [Vice President Ramadan], [the foreign minister], [the oil minister], [Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister] and all of them said the next council meeting they would seek to prevail on the president to have him, the president of Iraq, to reverse his decision about inspectors, to allow inspectors back in, to invite them in, without any preconditions. On September 13, that’s exactly what the Iraqi president did. So, um, what problem does anyone have with this meeting again?

That was actually the most American thing that I could do, especially as a 12-year veteran of the Marine Corps who’s gone to war for my country and understands what war is, and understands the price that Americans and Marines are going to pay in war, understanding that every marine, soldier, sailor and airman took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America that key to the constitution is every article. You can’t be selective in the articles that you choose to embrace. Article Six says that when you enter into an international agreement or treaty with another party that’s been ratified by the United States Senate, that is the law of the land. Understand that we are signatory to a United Nations charter, I think as an American I had an obligation to go to Iraq and try to get the Iraqis to let weapons inspectors back in so that the United States could once again be given a chance to adhere to international law by supporting a properly mandated inspection regime.

TS: You said that truth was on the side of the Iraqis.
SR: And history has shown that to be absolutely correct.

TS: Do you still believe the truth is on the side of Iraq and do you support the insurgency?
SR: That’s the first tough question you asked. … As an American, I will never support a situation where American troops are subjected to hostile fire and I won’t support their absolute right to fight back and to take out any threat. I was against the no-fly zones, and I lobbied against the no-fly zones, but every time the Iraqis fired on an American jet, I would never speak out against the American fighter pilots’ right to bomb targets to protect themselves. What I said was they shouldn’t be there to begin with, that the best way that we can protect those fighter pilots is to get them out of the no-fly zones, because the no-fly zones were inherently illegal. But I’m not going to sit there and say I support the Iraqis’ right fire on them. I would implore the Iraqis not to fire on them because if you do, I’m going to support our right to bomb the hell out of you in return.

But what I would say is that international law is on the side of the Iraqis, was on the side of the Iraqis defending their sovereign airspace from illegal overflights. International law is on the side of the Iraqis today. All I would ask Americans is to remember how we felt about what we call a British occupation when we fought our revolution. We fought a revolution to free ourselves from an occupation, what we determined to be an occupation, that we are occupying Iraq today. If a foreign power came to the United States and did to us what we’re doing to Iraq, we’d resist and we have to understand that the Iraqis have an inherent right to resist an illegal occupation, an illegitimate occupation. And that’s what this is: an illegal and illegitimate occupation.

So while I don’t support the insurgency, I understand the insurgency, and I understand the legitimacy of the insurgency, and I understand that they will continue to resist us as long as we’re there. But my support goes to the American soldiers. That’s what I support. I support them.

My opposition to the war has always been … you know, key to that has always been my support of the American forces that would have to fight a war should we go to war. And understanding the cost that they would bear. So I want them out. Iraq’s on fire, it’s burning, from top to bottom, left to right, and the only way to put out that fire is to remove the fuel from the fire. The fuel that feeds that fire is the presence of American troops. Get ‘em out.

TS: But if you remove them, doesn’t the country just devolve into a--
SR: It’s already devolved in Iraq.

TS: But won’t Saddam Hussein come back to power and we’re at square one again?
SR: Well, square one was a whole lot better. People who say that Iraq is better today under American occupation, better than it was under Saddam are wrong. America was much better off under Saddam than it is under American occupation.

TS: A lot of people would disagree with that.
SR: I would challenge them on any point.

TS: The Kurds?
SR: The Kurds. How are they better off today?

TS: Now there’s no one out there trying to systematically eliminate them.
SR: Well, actually under Saddam the Kurds had the greatest amount of autonomy of any Kurdish nation anywhere in the world. I’m not going to defend Saddam’s policies, but the Kurds today are in a very precarious situation where because of the instability in Iraq the Turkish government may intervene and occupy, so I’d say that the Kurds are actually under a tremendous amount of threat to have their civil liberties disrupted, not from Baghdad, but from Ankara, thanks to the instability that’s inherent in Iraq today due to the American intervention, in Iraq, in the greater part of Iraq today. If you go back eight months prior to the invasion, how many doors were being kicked in every night, people dragged off into the streets? Was there electricity? Were students going to school? Were hospitals operating?

All the things that we claim to be doing today in Iraq were already functioning fully under Saddam. Is Saddam a good guy? No. I’m not defending the reign of Saddam, but what I’m saying is that at least they had an Iraqi leader governing a sovereign Iraq state, as opposed to an illegitimate, illegal American occupier which is ... you know, the occupation is not only against international law in terms of the occupation. The economic rape, the ongoing economic rape of Iraq is in violation of the Geneva accords, and we have American soldiers – as an American, this is what everything should hinge on – American soldiers committing these crimes. And, you know, I’m not going to tolerate Iraqis committing crimes against Iraqis, but at least it’s them committing crimes against their own people. My soldiers aren’t doing that.

So I would say that, you know, we have to go back to the basics. Before we talk about keeping American troops there, we have to ask the question, do they belong there? See, the foundation of our presence in Iraq is corrupt. You can’t talk about continuing that presence.

TS: But doesn’t someone belong there to help Iraq get back on its feet?
SR: Well, look, it’s been eight months. I don’t think that the people that served in the Iraqi army have forgotten all their skills. And it wouldn’t take too much, it would cost considerably less than $87 billion to reconstitute the Iraqi army and turn security responsibilities over to them. The problem is that reconstituting the Iraqi army, you’d have to re-invigorate the Baathists. And that’s what it hinges on right now: allowing the people that ran Iraq to come back and run Iraq. That’s the solution. It’s the only solution. I don’t mean Saddam, I mean the Baathists. And the British government recognizes that and that’s the kind of proposal they’re putting forward – is to re-legitimize the Baath party and give them a say in how the country’s run.

TS: Wouldn’t that be something like in 1946 handing Germany back over to the Nazis?
SR: Well, no. Comparing the Baathists with the Nazis is an irresponsible extension. Comparing the neo-conservative administration of George W. Bush would be more apt in terms of global hegemony and the use of military force to violate the sovereignty of states and have a total disregard to international law. That would be a comparison that would be more accurate, but to call Saddam Nazi Germany? I mean, where are the jackboots of Iraq all over the world? How did Iraq threaten anybody other than their own people? People who – I mean, I’m not saying it was a bastion of democracy. Of course it wasn’t.

But you know we’re not even building democracy in Iraq today. We’re walking away from democracy in Iraq today, recognizing that we can’t bring in a western-style liberal-oriented democracy. We’re making shortcuts now in bringing … what? Stability. Under Saddam, Iraq had stability. It was stable not only internally, but stable externally, with the controls put on by the United Nations. So, you know, we can’t talk about continuing the presence. That’s like saying – that’s the argument made in 1967 as to why we have to keep American troops in Viet Nam. ‘Oh, pull the Americans out of Vietnam and there’s the domino effect. The commies will take over the entire area.’ So we stayed in Vietnam. Imagine how much smaller the Vietnam war memorial would be if we recognized and acted on our knowledge that this was a failed war in Vietnam in ’67 and we’d gotten out. I mean, the communists won anyways, right?

The Baathists are going to win this war. We lost this war already. We can’t win this war. It’s a war that cannot be won. So why not recognize that now and do our best to mitigate our losses? How big do we want this war memorial to be for Iraq. I’d like it to be, have it as small as possible.

TS: You compared 9-11 to the Reichstag fire. Are you saying the Bush administration orchestrated 9-11?
SR: No, and I admit very clear that I’m not saying the Bush administration orchestrated 9-11. What I said is that the Bush administration has used 9-11 in the way that Adolf Hitler used the Reichstag fire: to prey upon the fear and ignorance of the American people to get them to permit infringements on the rule of law and on individual civil liberties. That George Bush has used 9-11 to promote the Islamic threat the way that Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag to promote the communist threat.

TS: Was he waiting for 9-11 to happen?
SR: I think the evidence indicates that that is a distinct possibility. We won’t know until we have a full investigation carried out. And that investigation must include the 900 pages of documents that the White House won’t release to Congressional committees. What is the White House afraid of?

TS: What’s on those pages?
SR: What the president knew and when he knew it. How he knew it.

TS: Conjecture?
SR: I think you’ll find that the president knew Al-Qaida was planning to attack the United States. He knew they were planning to attack the United States using hijacked aircraft, that he knew some of the identities of the hijackers. This is all in the presidential daily briefing, documents that won’t be released. ...

I think the damning thing is that president should have known, but this is a president that was disengaged on that issue. We’ll find out that the president was, you know, basically derelict in his duty. But … that’s what we’re going to find. There was a certain level of incompetence at the White House. The White House had a passive approach to this. Notice what the neo-conservatives have done in the aftermath of 9-11 – transferred blame to Bill Clinton, you know, and basically… People have published books that accuse Bill Clinton of being the one who allowed Osama bin Laden to walk away scot-free. I think these documents will show that George W. Bush did the same thing. Then you have to ask yourself, to what end?

You know, I get a little disturbed when I hear Condoleeza Rice speak of 9-11 as a historical opportunity. To me it was a national tragedy. You know, the death of nearly two to three thousand Americans is a national tragedy, it’s not a historical opportunity. But when she says ‘historical opportunity’ and then you associate that statement with some baseline documents such as the Project for the New American Century’s concepts on the direction that defense could go, the fact that their doctrinaire document is almost a mirror-image of the current national security strategy of the United States of America and that the Project for the New American Century’s thesis was endorsed by people who hold some of the most senior positions in the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney. And they spoke of the need for a Pear Harbor-type moment that would allow, that would trigger their ability to enact these. I get a little concerned that maybe their passivity was because they wanted something to occur that they could act on. Look how quickly they put forward the Patriot Act. This means the heart of that legislation was in place and waiting in the wings prior to 9-11. Look how quickly they started working on putting forward the national security strategy [unintelligible]. We know that that was in the wings waiting for 9-11.

So I’m convinced that the Bush administration was waiting for an event to trigger, that would enable them to move forward in the direction that they have. I don’t believe they thought for one moment that the World Trade Center would come down and the Pentagon would be attacked. I think they thought the attack would be in terms of striking against American interest targets in Africa or maybe new embassies or something. But the bottom is that they were passive.

TS: Is Iran next?
SR: Syria’s next. Because, as the Bush administration said, this is not – and as they pretty much acknowledged, that was not about WMD. That was always a fraud.

TS: When did they acknowledge it was a fraud?
SR: Paul Wolfowitz has said in interviews that that was just an issue that was picked because it was the one that could be sold to the American people. But this is about a larger purpose, which is bringing American-oriented stability to the Middle East, transformation of the region away from centuries-old feudalistic and theocratic roots to this new, pro-American, western-oriented liberal democracy. It’s about regional transformation. You can’t transform a region as long as you have an illegitimate Baathist regime in Damascus. You can’t transform a region as long as you have an illegitimate Islamic theocracy in Tehran. So, Syria’s next.

TS: Because of the Baathist connection?
SR: Syria’s next because it’s the easiest target. It’s the easiest target. Iraq was the easiest target to get the whole show rolling. It was a defenseless nation. No ability to defend itself. Look how quickly it fell. Now, that can defend itself from a conventional standpoint. Well, they’re defending themselves today. They’re not defeated, and that’s why this whole thing is going to fall apart. Because Iraq’s not playing according to the scenario. They didn’t welcome us with open arms. The Shii’a didn’t rise up and throw flowers before the American vehicles. And today the Iraqis are resisting and the resistance is growing. Because of that, you won’t want to move on to the tough target, Iran, you’ll go in on the easiest target, and the easiest target is Syria. Because Syria secures Israel’s northern flank.

Read more about Ritter in these articles. Here is a piece he wrote for the Prague Post.


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