RITTER: IRAQ PRESIDENTIAL PALACE ISSUE IS PRODUCT OF AMERICAN POLITICS,
NOT INTELLIGENCE FINDINGS
Scott Ritter is a former U.N. arms inspector and author of ''Endgame:
Solving the Iraq Problem -- Once and for All.'' He spoke with Global Viewpoint
editor Nathan Gardels on Oct. 3.
NATHAN GARDELS: Iraq has agreed in Vienna with Hans Blix, the chief
U.N. arms inspector, to a new round of ''unfettered'' kinspections -- except
for the presidential palace sites, as the Bush administration demands.
Under a 1998 agreement with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, these palace
inspections must be announced ahead of time and inspectors must be accompanied
Can there be effective inspections within that constraint?
SCOTT RITTER: Absolutely. If I were running the new inspections,
I would go in and do a baseline of data and samples at the palaces right
up front. Then, I'd step back and turn on the overhead satellites and photograph
the sites all the time.
If there are any suspicious movements, I'd go right back in and take new
samples. If there are any differences, they can be readily detected. The
forensic capabilities of the U.N. inspections teams are so good they can
detect any shift from the baseline.
For years, we avoided the palaces under U.N. chief inspector Rolf Ekeus,
from 1991-1997 -- because we felt trying to get in there, with no reasonable
cause, was an unnecessary assault on the dignity and sovereignty of Iraq.
We never thought these ostentatious palaces were sites for hiding documents
or production of mass-destruction weapons. We never, ever, had any intelligence
pointing to that. Without viable intelligence, there is no cause for calling
for an inspection.
This issue of inspections of presidential palaces
is a product of American politics. In 1998, the Clinton administration
wanted to stick it in Saddam's face. They demanded ''any time, anywhere''
inspections of palaces because they knew the Iraqis would resist. They
were looking for any excuse to stick it to the Iraqis, so they said, ''We
need access to these sites.''
But the inspectors never asked for such access. We had no reason to go
there. But (Clinton's Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright and (National
Security Advisor) ''Sandy'' Berger made it an issue, so we had to go there.
The Iraqis, predictably, said no.
Kofi Annan then came in and negotiated a deal where the Iraqis designated
eight presidential sites and the conditions under which they could be
inspected: The inspectors would show up, declare the intention to inspect,
and diplomats would be brought in and escort the inspectors through the
Once inside the inspectors could do anything. There were no restrictions.
We could look at Saddam's toilet. We could go everywhere. We could take
core samples. We could take water samples. We could swab the walls for
traces of biological or chemical agents and assure ourselves that nothing
The arrangement Kofi Annan made with the Iraqis still stands. And effective
inspections can take place within its bounds.
GARDELS: When assessing a threat that may require preemptive military
action, the key questions are capability and intent. What capability do
you believe Saddam has today? What evidence is there he would allow Al
Qaeda terrorists to have access to what weapons he may have?
RITTER: Saddam is one of the most brutal dictators in the world.
We should oppose him. But military might should be used only to defend
America if it is at risk. And it is not at risk today from Saddam Hussein.
This is just not true.
I know Iraq deceived the world and tried to hide its weapons. But the
U.N. inspectors there for seven years were very good. As Rolf Ekeus agrees,
95 percent of Saddam's capability in terms of weapons of mass destruction
was dismantled by 1998 under the inspections regime. Saddam was fundamentally
Yes, there is 5 percent unaccounted for. And the U.N. Security Council
calls for 100 percent disarmament. So we need to resume inspections.
Of course, the potential is there for Saddam to reconstitute his weapons,
as I said back in 1998. But I'm an intelligence officer who worked on
the ground for many years. I know my job. Having taken Iraq down as close
to zero as you can get, there are capabilities out there that would allow
us, even without inspectors on the ground, to detect trace activity if
something was happening. Mass destruction weapons take science and technology
and effort to build, and this is detectable. Yet where is the trace evidence?
If the Bush administration has certain knowledge of new weapons production,
they are obligated to tell Americans what they know if they want us to
go to war. But the fact is they can't. They have no facts, only speculative
rhetoric. I wouldn't die for that, and neither should any other American.
What about his intent? Saddam is a bad guy who has attacked his neighbors
and killed his subjects. But is he an anti-American terrorist? Will he
give mass-destruction weapons to Al Qaeda?
There is a law on the books in Iraq since 1995 that stipulates the death
penalty for anyone proselytizing for Wahhabism -- the fundamentalist Saudi
creed in which Osama bin Laden was raised.
So the idea of Iraq suddenly becoming politically aligned with Osama bin
Laden, who issued a fatwa calling Saddam Hussein an apostate who needs
to be killed, is ludicrous. If Osama obtained mass-destruction weapons,
one of his first targets would be Iraq.
On the two counts of capability and intentions, this coming war with Iraq
GARDELS: If the issue is not about disarming Iraq's weapons capability,
what is it about in your view?
RITTER: If this current crisis were about eliminating whatever
remnants of mass-destruction weapons Saddam might have, then we should
be rushing inspectors in by the hundreds to scour Iraq and bring this
issue to closure. Iraq has agreed now to let them in. If Iraq obstructs
the work of inspectors, then we'd have a solid case for military action.
But that is not what it is about. It is about something much more frightening:
the transformation of the United States into an imperial power. This is
about the implementation of a neo-conservative strategy that has been
in the works for decades, but which now manifests itself in the National
Security Strategy presented by the Bush administration to the U.S. Congress
I've been worried about this strategy for some years now. I know the people
who wrote this document, such as (Undersecretary of Defense) Paul Wolfowitz,
and know their thinking. What they want is the unilateral application
of American military and economic power to ensure American dominance of
the globe for the foreseeable future.
Iraq is the case study for the implementation of this policy. War with
Iraq is all but inevitable. This year, probably in December, it will begin.
American soldiers will be forced to do things we thought Americans would
never do in the name of their country -- slaughter civilians on the order
of tens of thousands. We are going to fight in the cities of Iraq. We
will withdraw, and then we'll level cities.
The American people, still reeling from the shock of 9/11, are cowed into
submission. They have been struck by the politics of fear and ignorance
callously played by the Bush administration.
This is a dangerous time that will go down in history, I believe, as a
defining moment. Will America take the path of military adventurism? Or
will it respect its promise as a nation that believes in democracy and
the rule of law, not empire?
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/3/02)