Friday, January 27, 2006

Scott Ritter's speech

I was listening on public radio to a great speech by Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector and former US marine. Ritter has been a leading critic of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq.

His speech was very interesting. It dealt not primarily with the aggression against Iraq but with the history of US policy toward Iraq since 1990. His monologue is about half an hour long followed by a question and answer session of the same length.

He says that the assertion that there was "an intelligence failure" with regard to WMDs is fraudulent. He says that it was known in the early 90s that Saddam had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction in the summer of '91, shortly after the end of Gulf War I. Yet the ruse that Iraq still had WMDs was maintained because disarmament had been the pretext to maintain sanctions against the country. The real objective of US policy from the get go was not disarmanent, but regime change.

Except the objective wasn't really regime change but dictator change. Ritter argues that the US government did not necessarily want a complete removal of the Baathist regime in the country, only the removal of the man Saddam Hussein. He claims that Saddam's continued hold on power represented zero threat to US national security or international stability. Iraq's military had been annihiliated during Gulf War I and its weapons of mass destruction destroyed a few months later. Economic sanctions denied Iraq the revenue to seriously rebuild or restart either. Yet, Saddam Hussein's continued hold on power was politically embarassing to President George H.W. Bush, who'd launched a war against a man he'd described as the Hitler of the Middle East. You don't call someone the Hitler of the Middle East if you merely want to remove him from a neighboring country; you do so to remove him from his own country.

Ritter says the real intention of successive US administrations was never disarmament, particularly since Saddam's Iraq was never a threat to any other country after Gulf War I. The disarmament ruse created by Pres. Bush I that was unchalleneged by Pres. Clinton and obviously Pres. Bush II. Revelation that disarmament was complete would've compelled the US (by its own logic) to order sanctions lifted, thus undermining the possiblity of internal regime change.

Ritter concedes that Iraq's disarmament in the summer of 1991 may not have been evident immediately, but it was clearly to inspectors on the ground by 1995. Sanctions were maintained through the US invasion in 2003.

He says the "intelligence failure" assertion is patently false because the assertions presume that they were trying to get it right and simply failed. He cites a former CIA director (though I could be wrong, I inferred it to be James Woolsey) who said something like, "We think Iraq has 15-20 missles and nothing will convince us otherwise."

Basically, the 'don't let facts get in the way of pre-conceived notions' mentality pre-dated Pres. Bush II.

Ritter is also very critical of the Clinton administration for maintaining the disarmament ruse. He also noted with contempt an infamous comment by then UN-ambassador Madeleine Albright.

When told by a 60 Minutes reporter that some half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of US sanctions against Iraq, Albright pointedly did not deny the figure. (And this was only through the first four years of the twelve that sanctions were imposed)

Instead, Albright said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Ritter noted acerbically that it wasn't Sec. Albright who had to pay that price.

He also lambasted formerly pro-war Democrats who now sanctimoniously claim that they were deceived by the administration. They knew better, Ritter claims. They knew better at the time.

I have come to have a great deal of respect for Scott Ritter, citizen. Ritter has been a tireless warrior to make the truth heard. He did so even at a time several years ago when the truth was decreed unpatriotic, a decree enforced with an almost McCarthyistic zeal. (And I don't use that adjective lightly) He has been courageous and unflinching in the face of vitriol and smear, unlike the Democrats mentioned above. There's hardly any westerner with more detailed, first-hand knowledge of the history of Iraq's weapons programs than he, which is why the smear hasn't stuck.

He patiently lays out the facts, the chronology, the things we've forgotton about (or never knew about) and first-hand observations in a rational, mostly dispassionate but firm manner. He avoids sensationalism. He avoids partisan politics. His speeches are refreshingly free of hysterical rants, juvenile taunts and ad hominem. He makes his criticism of the long-standing US policy in Iraq in a dignified, statesmanlike way sadly rare on all sides of the political spectrum.

The speech and Q&A is definitely worth a listen.


Anonymous said...

If 'smear' is a reference to the reporting on the sex charges Ritter faced and weaseled out of, I don't think it's a fair characterization.

Brian said...

Ritter was being smeared long before the alleged incident and well after.