"We say that we care about the war, but we don't even really know what we're fighting for." — Scott Ritter
William Scott Ritter, Jr. (born July 15, 1961) was an important United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and later a critic of United States foreign policy in the Middle East. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Ritter stated that Iraq possessed no significant weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities. He became a popular anti-war figure and talk show commentator as a result of his stance.
Ritter was born into a military family in 1961 in Gainesville, Florida. He graduated from Kaiserslautern American High School in 1979, and later from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in the history of the Soviet Union and departmental honors. In 1980 he served in the U.S. Army as a Private. Then in May 1984 he was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps. He served in this capacity for about 12 years. He served as the lead analyst for the Marine Corps Rapid Deployment Force concerning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran–Iraq War. Ritter's academic work focused on the Basmachi resistance movement in Soviet Central Asia during the 1920s and 1930s, and on the Basmachi commanders Fazail Maksum and Ibrahim Bek. During Desert Storm, he served as a ballistic missile advisor to General Norman Schwarzkopf. Ritter later worked as a security and military consultant for the Fox News network.
UN Weapons inspector
Ritter served from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was charged with finding and destroying all weapons of mass destruction and WMD-related manufacturing capabilities in Iraq. He was chief inspector in fourteen of the more than thirty inspection missions in which he participated.
In January 1998, his inspection team in Iraq was blocked from some weapons sites by Iraqi officials stating that information obtained from these sites would be used for future planning of attacks. UN Inspectors were ordered out of Iraq by the United States Government, shortly before Operation Desert Fox attacks began in December 1998, using information which had been gathered for the purpose of disarmament to identify targets which would reduce Iraq's ability to wage both conventional and possibly unconventional warfare. UN Weapons Inspectors were thereafter denied access to Iraq. He spoke on the Public Broadcasting Service show, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:
I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measured in months, reconstitute chemical and biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their developing of nuclear weapons. program.
When the United States and the UN Security Council failed to take action against Iraq for their ongoing failure to cooperate fully with inspectors (a breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1154), Ritter resigned from the United Nations Special Commission on August 26, 1998.
In his letter of resignation, Ritter said the Security Council's reaction to Iraq's decision earlier that month to suspend co-operation with the inspection team made a mockery of the disarmament work. Ritter later said, in an interview, that he resigned from his role as a United Nations weapons inspector over inconsistencies between United Nations Security Council Resolution 1154 and how it was implemented.
The investigations had come to a standstill, were making no effective progress, and in order to make effective progress, we really needed the Security Council to step in a meaningful fashion and seek to enforce its resolutions that we're not complying with.
On September 3, 1998, several days after his resignation, Ritter testified before the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services and the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and said that he resigned his position "out of frustration that the United Nations Security Council, and the United States as its most significant supporter, was failing to enforce the post-Gulf War resolutions designed to disarm Iraq."
Opinions on U.S. policy toward Iraq
Following his resignation from UNSCOM, Ritter continued to be an outspoken commentator on U.S. policy toward Iraq, particularly with respect to the WMD issue. He became a popular anti-war figure and talk show commentator.
Commentary in the post-inspection period
Scott Ritter speaks at SUNY New Paltz on March 16, 2006.
In 1999, Ritter wrote Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem — Once and For All in which he reiterated his claim that Iraq had obstructed the work of inspectors and attempted to hide and preserve essential elements for restarting WMD programs at a later date. However, he also expressed frustration at alleged attempts by the CIA to infiltrate UNSCOM and use the inspectors as a means of gathering intelligence with which to pursue regime change in Iraq – a violation of the terms under which UNSCOM operated, and the very rationale the Iraqi government had given in restricting the inspector's activities in 1998.
In the book's conclusion, Ritter criticized the current U.S. policy of containment in the absence of inspections as inadequate to prevent Iraq's re-acquisition of WMD's in the long term. He also rejected the notion of removing Saddam Hussein's regime by force. Instead, he advocated a policy of diplomatic engagement, leading to gradual normalization of international relations with Iraq in return for inspection-verified abandonment of their WMD programs and other objectionable policies.
Ritter again promoted a conciliatory approach toward Iraq in the 2000 documentary In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq, which he wrote and directed. The film tells the history of the UNSCOM investigations through interviews and video footage of inspection missions. In the film, Ritter argues that Iraq is a "defanged tiger" and that the inspections were successful in eliminating significant Iraqi WMD capabilities. (For more see below under "Documentary".)
Iraq War predictions
Just after the coalition invasion of Iraq had been launched, but prior to troops arriving in Baghdad, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Parliament of the United Kingdom that the United States and the United Kingdom believed they had "sufficient forces" in Iraq. At that very time Ritter offered an opposing view on Portuguese radio station TSF: "The United States is going to leave Iraq with its tail between its legs, defeated. It is a war we can not win ... We do not have the military means to take over Baghdad and for this reason I believe the defeat of the United States in this war is inevitable ... Every time we confront Iraqi troops we may win some tactical battles, as we did for ten years in Vietnam, but we will not be able to win this war, which in my opinion is already lost," Ritter added.
U.S. forces swiftly took Baghdad, but characterizing the result as "winning the war" remains controversial. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, Ritter appeared on the Sean Hannity show debating the validity of the invasion and his involvement in the Weapons Inspection program.
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Despite identifying himself as a Republican and having voted for George W. Bush in 2000, by 2002 Ritter had become an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's claims that Iraq possessed significant WMD stocks or manufacturing capabilities, the primary rationale given for the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. His views at that time are well summarized in War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You To Know a 2002 publication which consists largely of an interview between Ritter and anti-war activist William Rivers Pitt. In the interview, Ritter responds to the question of whether he believes Iraq has weapons of mass destruction:
There's no doubt Iraq hasn't fully complied with its disarmament obligations as set forth by the Security Council in its resolution. But on the other hand, since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed: 90-95% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capacity has been verifiably eliminated ... We have to remember that this missing 5-10% doesn't necessarily constitute a threat ... It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons program which in its totality doesn't amount to much, but which is still prohibited ... We can't give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can't close the book on their weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously, we can't reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de-facto retention of a prohibited capacity worthy of war. (page 28)
We eliminated the nuclear program, and for Iraq to have reconstituted it would require undertaking activities that would have been eminently detectable by intelligence services. (page 32)
If Iraq were producing [chemical] weapons today, we'd have proof, pure and simple. (page 37)
[A]s of December 1998 we had no evidence Iraq had retained biological weapons, nor that they were working on any. In fact, we had a lot of evidence to suggest Iraq was in compliance. (page 46)
He later stated in another address;
I think [The Bush Administration] has stated that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and that's as simple as they want to keep it. They don't want to get into the nitty-gritty things such as if you bury a Scud missile to hide it from detection, there is a little thing called corrosion. Where do you hide the fuel, how do you make this stuff up, how do you align it. Because when you disassemble it, there is a process called re-alignment. There is a factory involved in that. And then you have to test launch it to make sure that the alignment works, and that's detectable, and they haven't done that. There is a lot of common sense things that go into consideration of whether or not Iraq has a operational weapons of mass destruction capability.
In 2002, he heavily criticized the Bush administration and Media outlets for using the testimony of alleged nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza as a rationale for invading Iraq;
We seized the entire records of the Iraqi Nuclear program, especially the administrative records. We got a name of everybody, where they worked, what they did, and the top of the list, Saddam's "Bombmaker" was a man named Jafar Dhia Jafar, not Khidir Hamza, and if you go down the list of the senior administrative personnel you will not find Hamza's name in there. In fact, we didn't find his name at all. Because in 1990, he didn't work for the Iraqi Nuclear Program. He had no knowledge of it because he worked as a kickback specialist for Hussein Kamel in the Presidential Palace.
He goes into northern Iraq and meets up with Ahmad Chalabi. He walks in and says, I'm Saddam's "Bombmaker". So they call the CIA and they say, "we know who you are, you're not Saddam's "Bombmaker", go sell your story to someone else." And he was released, he was rejected by all intelligence services at the time, he's a fraud.
And here we are, someone who the CIA knows is a fraud, the U.S. Government knows is a fraud, is allowed to sit in front of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and give testimony as a expert witness. I got a problem with that, I got a problem with the American media, and I've told them over and over and over again that this man is a document-able fraud, a fake, and yet they allow him to go on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and testify as if he actually knows what he is talking about.
In the Pitt interview, Ritter also remarked on several examples of members of the Bush or Clinton administration making statements he "knew to be misleading or false" with regard to Iraqi WMD's.
Later statements on Iraq
In February 2005, writing on Al Jazeera's website, Ritter wrote that the "Iraqi resistance" is a "genuine grassroots national liberation movement," and "History will eventually depict as legitimate the efforts of the Iraqi resistance to destabilise and defeat the American occupation forces and their imposed Iraqi collaborationist government."
In an October 19, 2005 interview with Seymour Hersh, Ritter claimed that regime change, rather than disarmament, has been the primary objective of President George H. W. Bush, and later of President Clinton and the second President Bush, in imposing and maintaining economic sanctions on Iraq after the Gulf War. Said Ritter:
The United States needed to find a vehicle to continue to contain Saddam because the CIA said all we have to do is wait six months and Saddam is going to collapse on his own volition. That vehicle is sanctions. They needed a justification; the justification was disarmament. They drafted a Chapter 7 resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for the disarmament of Iraq and saying in Paragraph 14 that if Iraq complies, sanctions will be lifted. Within months of this resolution being passed — and the United States drafted and voted in favor of this resolution — within months, the President, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, are saying publicly, not privately, publicly that even if Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm, economic sanctions will be maintained until which time Saddam Hussein is removed from power.
That is proof positive that disarmament was only useful insofar as it contained through the maintenance of sanctions and facilitated regime change. It was never about disarmament, it was never about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. It started with George Herbert Walker Bush, and it was a policy continued through eight years of the Clinton presidency, and then brought us to this current disastrous course of action under the current Bush Administration.
In March 2007, in "Calling Out Idiot America," Ritter posted a quiz on Iraq to be taken by citizens:
If the reader can fully answer the question raised, then he or she qualifies as one capable of pointing an accusatory finger at Congress as its members dither over what to do in Iraq. If the reader fails the quiz, then there should be an honest appraisal of the reality that we are in way over our heads regarding this war, and that it is irresponsible for anyone to make sweeping judgments about the ramifications of policy courses of action yet to be agreed upon. Claiming to be able to divine a solution to a problem improperly defined is not only ignorant but dangerously delusional.
Ritter has also been harshly critical of Bill Clinton for politicizing the inspection process during his presidency and of Hillary Clinton for obfuscating that record.
From January 1993 until my resignation from the United Nations in August 1998, I witnessed first hand the duplicitous Iraq policies of the administration of Bill Clinton, the implementation of which saw a President lie to the American people about a threat he knew was hyped, lie to Congress about his support of a disarmament process his administration wanted nothing to do with, and lie to the world about American intent, which turned its back on the very multilateral embrace of diplomacy as reflected in the resolutions of the Security Council Hillary Clinton so piously refers to in her speech, and instead pursued a policy defined by the unilateral interests of the Clinton administration to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Opinions on U.S. policy toward Iran
On February 18, 2005 Scott Ritter told an audience in Olympia, Washington that George Bush had signed-off on preparations to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, and that these preparations would be completed by June 2005. On the same occasion, he also made reference to the Iraqi elections, saying that the United States had manipulated the 2005 parliamentary election, changing the percentage of United Iraqi Alliance votes from 56% to 48%.
Ritter reiterated and clarified his statements about Iran in a March 30, article published by Al Jazeera.
In a June 20, 2005, article published by Al Jazeera, after noting that the Iraq war, which supposedly began in March 2003, in fact began with military operations authorized by the president in late August 2002 and executed in September 2002, Ritter wrote: "The reality is that the U.S. war with Iran has already begun."
On October 21, 2005, Ritter was interviewed by Amy Goodman of the radio and TV show "Democracy Now!" and commented on his earlier statements about United States policy toward Iran, as they had been reported by some sources.
I was very clear, based upon the information given to me, and it's 100% accurate, that in October 2004, the President of the United States ordered the Pentagon to be prepared to launch military strikes against Iran as of June 2005. That means, have all the resources in place so that if the President orders it, the bombing can begin. It doesn't mean that the bombing is going [to] begin in June. And a lot of people went, "Ah, you said they were going to attack in June." Absolutely not.
Although there were no air strikes against Iran by the United States in June 2005, there were bomb blasts in the southern west Iranian city of Ahwaz on June 12, 2005. Some believe the attacks were carried out by the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK) organization. Scott Ritter as well as other sources have claimed that the United States, after the invasion of Iraq, have been working with Mojahedin-e-Khalq to continue covert operations in Iran.
Ritter has also made the following two statements regarding military intervention in Iran
The real purpose of the EU-3 intervention — to prevent the United States from using Iran's nuclear ambition as an excuse for military intervention — is never discussed in public.
The EU-3 would rather continue to participate in fraudulent diplomacy rather than confront the hard truth — that it is the United States, and not Iran, that is operating outside international law when it comes to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.
On February 6, 2006, in the James A. Little Theater in Santa Fe, Ritter stated about a U.S. war with Iran: "We just don't know when, but it's going to happen," and said that after the U.N. security Council will have found no evidence of WMD, Bolton "will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves." and continued "How do I know this? I've talked to Bolton's speechwriter,"
In an interview with Amy Goodman broadcast on Democracy Now! on October 16, 2006, Ritter again reaffirmed the U.S.'s state of undeclared war vis-à-vis Iran.
Ritter published "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change" in 2006. One editorial review stated: "This book offers Ritter's "national intelligence assessment" of the Iranian imbroglio. He examines the Bush administration's regime-change policy and the potential of Iran to threaten U.S. national security interests."
In his book Ritter claimed that Israel was pushing the Bush administration into war with Iran. He also accused the U.S. pro-Israel lobby of dual loyalty and outright espionage.