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Scott Ritter's Crusade

Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Air Sick, Jul/Aug 02

Don't get Scott Ritter started. He'll pull his wide shoulders back, rise to his full six-foot, four-inch height, and in no uncertain terms tell you that the Saddam Hussein he sees is based on facts, not some simplistic, black and white notion of good and evil. Those "facts" include his belief that the Iraqi dictator has been stripped of virtually all his tools to wage war outside his borders.

It is a view shaped by Ritter's certainty that either Hussein's weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear -- have been destroyed or he is incapable of doing anything with whatever small quantities remain intact. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He's a sharp critic of the Bush Administration's policy in the Middle East. "They are going to continue to push the fear buttons and continue to play on the ignorance of the American public in regards to Iraq," Ritter argues.

"The Bush Administration will refuse to engage in debate. In fact, in the war on terror, it's un-patriotic to debate. If you question any of the motives of the administration, you're unpatriotic, you're treasonous even." He also hates the inconsistencies in the war on terror policy. He cites President Bush's condemnation of all nations that support terrorists. But then Ritter points out that we continue to court the Saudi Arabians, even though at least some of al Qaeda's funding apparently comes from members of the Saudi royal family. Don't think he's just a Republican basher.

The Clinton Administration gets its fair share of Ritter's vitriol for manipulating the Iraqi arms inspection process and creating the impasse with Iraq that exists today. "They did something horrific. They used the inspection process to force a confrontation with Iraq," Ritter says. He believes the December 1998 bombing campaign used information developed by the inspectors to specifically target sites used by Hussein's presidential security, a group charged with protecting him. "No wonder the Iraqis aren't interested in reopening the inspection process," he adds.

There just aren't many good guys in Scott Ritter's worldview today. And, he's not afraid to say it. But that's a posture that he's been taking for years. He delivered an analysis of the Iraqi army prior to the Gulf War that went against the conventional wisdom that the army would put up a strong fight; he'd predicted the Iraqis would surrender and they did. He has testified before Congress more than once, saying that the U.S. government was at least in part responsible for the breakdown in the weapons inspection process in Iraq. And, he continues to question the motives of people who have turned Saddam Hussein and Iraq into a singular, overwhelming threat to world peace.

The Ritter opinions on the Middle East and Iraq aren't getting much of a hearing in Washington, at least not inside the White House. Nor are they views that many Americans share, nor would believe were coming from the mouth of a former U.S. Marine major. Ritter rejects any and all criticism that he shouldn't be such a vocal critic. "It is my duty, my patriotic duty, based on my seven years of first-hand knowledge about the truth of hold my government accountable for actions it is taking that are in deviation from the truth, from the record, from the facts. It's the most patriotic thing I can think of doing." And, he believes his role is to at least bring the United States to a point that whatever it eventually does in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, it be based on both international law and the laws of this country.

It's easy to find people who disagree with Ritter, including his former boss, Ambassador Richard Butler, who was the former chairman of UNSCOM, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Butler, an Australian who headed the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq from 1997 until it left the country in 1998, is quite adamant that he was convinced that Hussein was effectively concealing his weapons of mass destruction. Today, he has been quoted as saying that either Ritter was lying to him in 1997, or he's lying today. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. late last year, Butler insisted it is legitimate to assume that the Iraqis still have some weapons of mass destruction capability. "...They threw us out in 1998 because we wanted to get all of [the weapons] and we didn't. They've been without inspections for three years ... and reports suggest that they're back in business," Butler said. Ambassador Butler declined to be interviewed for this story.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been determined to paint Iraq as a rogue state and Hussein as a rogue leader, who deserves to be deposed to preserve the security of the United States. In a broadcast interview in February, Rumsfeld said, "There's no question but that Saddam Hussein and his regime have had an enormous appetite for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons over a sustained period of time. There's nothing new about this. They have been, in varying degrees, successful in developing those types of capabilities. The absence of inspectors makes their ability to continue that process, obviously, easier for them. ...You can begin with the correct assumption that he has a very strong desire to have all of those capabilities. That existed prior to the Gulf War. It existed during the Gulf War. And it existed after the Gulf War. Indeed, we know he's had the continued effort with respect to the development of ballistic missiles." It is also generally believed in Washington that the Department of Defense and the Pentagon are drawing up plans to invade Iraq, although no timetable has been set.

The drumbeat against Hussein hasn't been quieted by the Iraqi leader, or by revelations late last year of an Iraqi defector. Hussein, according to Rumsfeld, gives the families of suicide bombers in Israel a $25,000 payment. And, Hussein publicly voices strong support for the terror campaign against Israel. Another case late last year raised suspicions about Hussein's weapons programs. In an extensive interview with The New York Times' Judith Miller last December, a defector detailed Hussein's ongoing efforts to hide his weapons of mass destruction projects in nongovernment buildings, such as private villas and a hospital in Baghdad. Although subsequent suspicions were raised about the defector's reliability, the reports nonetheless triggered numerous allegations in support of the idea that Hussein had renewed efforts to build up his mass weapons programs.

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