Scott Ritter, a 10-year veteran of Marine Corps intelligence and the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion, was in Memphis this week to deliver a lecture at Christian Brothers University. Ritter, an expert on the Middle East who described Saddam Hussein as a "defanged tiger," and advised against the U.S. attacking Iraq, sat down with the Flyer's Chris Davis to discuss Iraq, Iran, Fox news, the failure of the Surge, and other subjects.
Flyer: You have been a paid commentator for the Fox News Channel, have you not?
Scott Ritter: I have.
Then how can I possibly expect you to have any credibility on anything?
I think it gives me the greatest credibility. It shows Im willing to use any forum necessary to get the message out. And the fact that Fox shut me down after two months and terminated my contract after six demonstrates that I am unwilling to change my message, even when my paymaster requires. It so it gives me nothing but credibility.
Did you feel pressured at Fox to deliver a message rather than state your opinion or report unbiased facts?
Look, it was a curious relationship. I was surprised that they signed me up. It was in 2001, right after 9/11. And I was pretty much on record with points of view that werent in step with the neoconservative agenda. They wanted regional expertise, I guess, and they got that. But it wasn't what they wanted. During the first couple of interviews [on air personalities] would just be blinking, and you could tell they were thinking "this isn't what we wanted. They never pressured me to change my message though; they just changed their approach to dealing with me.
I went from being "one of the guys" and "part of the team" to being a studio prop. Id come in and theyd gang up to beat me down. I'd become the focal point of their rage.
That didn't work, because if youre going to come after me on this issue, youd better come armed for bear.
But at the time, you admitted Iraq wasn't in full compliance and there were remnants of weapons and weapons programs scattered here and there.
That's what they wanted, sure. But what they didn't want was a nuanced argument based on fact. I wasn't willing to take one piece of information, blow it way out of proportion and run with it. They wanted to turn every little thing into a proof that Saddam Hussein was the personification of evil, and after 9/11 we could no longer tolerate it, so we must rally 'round the cause and take out this nexis of terror. And I'm there saying, "but that's not really what's happening."
Regime change in Iraq wasn't a new idea. It's not something that flew into D.C. with George W. Bush.
George Herbert Walker Bush invented regime change in Iraq and Bill Clinton inherited it, and ran with it. The CIA made four concerted efforts to assassinate Saddam Hussein under Clinton's leadership. So it's not like this was a passive program; it was an active program. George W. just perfected it. He alone among the presidents did what he said he would do. Surprise. And here we are criticizing him for it. Yep, I'm being a little facetious here.
And I really am tired of all the Clinton Democrats running around getting all-sanctimonious over Iraq. It was them who killed 1.5 to 2.2 million Iraqis through sanctions. Sanctions that Madeline Albright, their illustrious Secretary of State, when confronted with the fact of 500,000 dead Iraqi children, said it was a price she was willing to pay.
These Clinton supporters say George W. Bush is the most evil thing on the face of the Earth. Well, no, he was just a whole lot better than Clinton at doing evil things.
Has this always been regime change and the oil fields in Iraq, or is Iraq the primary target in order to get us closer to Iran?
There's a different ultimate agenda. The neoconservatives who formulate and implement policy are all Cold War [veterans]. This is more about America establishing itself in a post-Cold War environment than it is about Iraq and Iran, which are both facilitators for the policy of global domination. Iran is afterthought.
A lot of people talk about the Israeli lobby, and think that Israel is behind a lot of this. But I've studied it up close. I spent four years going back and forth to Israel. I know Israeli intelligence and all the players in AIPAC, inside and out. And I know the American political system. Rather than Israel dictating policy to the United States, a cabal of neoconservatives have used the Israeli lobby as a facilitator.
If this was all about Israel dictating policy, we'd have skipped Iraq and gone straight to Iran. But this is not, and it never has been about Israel, or Iran, or Iraq. It's about America imposing its will on areas of the would that we believe to be in our national security interests. The big picture in the Middle East isn't Iran or Iraq. The big picture in the Middle East is China. People don't understand that. They don't know whats going on right now.
It's about leveraging control over Middle-Eastern and central-Asian oil, in order to dictate the pace of China's economic growth over the next 30 years. Because China's the biggest threat in the eyes of the neoconservatives. It's this massive Chinese economy that's been expanding by leaps and bounds thats going to threaten American global economic hegemony. Now I'm not saying this is what I believe, I'm just saying it's what's in the minds of these neoconservatives.
You deal with China indirectly at this point in time because you don't want direct confrontation.
Do you ever want direct confrontation with China?
Well, you've got to remember -- we're dealing with lunatics here. And I'm not talking about Chinese lunatics; I'm talking about American lunatics.
America is exceptional, Mr. Ritter, we have no lunatics.
I'm in the middle of writing a book about American disarmament. And it's kept me deeply depressed. Because in order to study disarmament, you first have to study American armament.
We've been the most irresponsible nuclear power the world has ever seen. Some people may say, "but we've only used nuclear weapons once." But that's not true. You don't just use nuclear weapons by dropping them. When you realize how many times we've put them on the table and considered using them, it's incredible.
When the Soviet Union realized that the nuclear arms race was breaking their economy, they began mass manufacture of chemical and biological agents. And that's the great modern threat, right? We went to Iraq looking for nukes and other even scarier WMD.
It's ironic that the demon of the modern democratic party, the one President the Democrats love to hate more than George W. Bush -- Ronald Wilson Reagan -- was actually the most responsible President we've had regarding nuclear weapons since Eisenhower.
He sat down with Gorbachev and we got incredibly close to eliminating all nuclear weapons. We got rid of two classes of nuclear weapons and were moving in the direction of greater arms reduction.
But not really. In terms of sheer numbers our nuclear arsenal kept growing. We'd eliminate one thing the make more of something else. It was a shell game. Same with Carter and S.A.L.T. It all turned onto a bait-and-switch, right? Have we ever actually significantly reduced the number of nuclear arms with intent to permanently shrink the arsenal?
Well no, not yet. But Reagan was at least moving in that direction. He's the only president who considered going down [in number of nuclear weapons]. But we have built new classes of weapons. Nuclear weapons are now a part of our defense policy, and we even consider the use of nuclear weapons in a non-nuclear environment.
Well, we need some bunker busters don't we?
Well, uh ... Sure we do. What bunkers do you want to bust? I'd like to think that the best bunker buster is a diplomat.
This silly season has gone on for so long. Facts and reason are shouted down. Nationalism is conflated with patriotism. How do you get out of bed in the morning?
The driving force for continuing anything is hope. You hope this is an aberration. You hope it's a 20-year, or 60-year, or 100-year aberration. You hope we get past it and learn from our mistakes. You start to ask, "maybe this isn't an aberration, maybe this is who we are."
How do you keep your cool when people like Sean Hannity go on national television and say you're an America-hater who was paid off by the Iraqi government to whitewash the situation over there?
I gave Sean Hannity the chance to say whatever he wanted to my face. He didn't say that.
Have we done something that can't be undone in Iraq?
Iraq is already undone. Remember this: There is nothing in Iraq that constitutes a genuine threat to the United States of America. Iraq is purely a domestic war. It's a war that's being fought right here in America. As soon as our politicians decide there's nothing to be gained politically from staying in Iraq, we'll cut and run. We'll dump Iraq like we dumped Vietnam.
Haven't we reached that point? Or gotten close?
No. There are still too many politicians in D.C. who've invested too much political capital into Iraq. The American people have to get completely fed up with the war, and we're not there yet. The majority of Americans are frustrated and don't like the war but it's a superficial frustration. Right now, we have these misleading statistics. People don't realize that April was the bloodiest month in Iraq in the last seven months. The surge is over. It's lost. It's gone. Every benchmark of success the surge was based on has collapsed.