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Scott Ritter on Iran and the Return of a Draft

<b>Interview</b>: Former U.N. weapons inspector and critic of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East talks about Iraq, Iran and the prospects for the return of a draft.
 
 
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When Scott Ritter speaks about Iraq, he does so from a position of authority. As the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, Ritter worked for seven years to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, confronting deceptive Iraqis in what were often heated meetings that eventually resulted in the former Marine facing accusations of being a U.S. spy. By 2001, Ritter arose as one of the harshest critics of the Bush administration, claiming that it had exploited the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to pursue the "immoral" and "illegal" war on Iraq, a war based on the deliberate distortion of the country's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. Nowadays, Ritter is busy traveling around the country as part of a tour in support of his new book "Iraq Confidential."

On April 20, Ritter came to speak at the Coronado Democratic Club, where he discussed his experience as a weapons inspector, the case for war on Iraq, the nuclear standoff with Iran, and his thoughts on the general direction of U.S. foreign policy, a policy he describes as the pursuit of nothing less than "global domination." After the lecture, I sat down with Ritter and discussed the case for war on Iraq, the prospects for the return of a draft and the possibility of a bombing campaign directed at Iran.

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation:

Charles Davis: As someone intimately familiar with Iraq from your experience as chief U.N. weapons inspector, what was your response to then Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. in February 2002 in regard to Iraq's alleged failure to disarm?

Scott Ritter: I was supposed to address the International Foreign Correspondents Association, and we delayed it so that we could see Colin Powell's presentation. And I watched it, and without even having to sit down [and research it], I just went up and gave a presentation that debunked Colin Powell point by point by point. And I thought for sure that the world would see through this thing, but you read the editorials the next day, and it's all "brilliant," "slam dunk," "home run." It's an embarrassment.

CD: Do you think the media bears a lot of the burden for the invasion of Iraq?

SR: I think they're culpable. And Judith Miller, Bob Woodward, and others represent the worst manifestation of the disease that affects the media. One of the big problems with the media, especially the Washington, D.C. aspect of it, is you become addicted to your sources of information. In Washington, D.C., the sources are government, so you pretty much become an extension of the government. So nobody is willing to trade their access in exchange for telling the truth. Now [sometimes] the government is so egregious in what it does that the media has no choice [but to report the truth]. But as we saw with Iraq, the media made no effort to credibly go after the Bush administration's case. And in the case of the New York Times , the newspaper of record, you have the media allowing this woman, Judy Miller, to write front-page stories that were dictated to her by the White House? The violation of journalistic ethics also extended not just to her, but the whole New York Times that allowed her to do this without challenging her. The New York Times became basically a cheerleader for war. CNN was a cheerleader for war. Every news service was a cheerleader for war.

CD: Now during the Vietnam War, college campuses were basically the focal point of [anti-war] protests. Why is it that when you walk on a college campus now, most kids are talking about iPods rather than the war?

SR: Well, one of the problems in Vietnam is that you could be drafted, so it was a lot more personal. And I don't think there's that level of fear [today].

CD: Do you think that anti-war sentiment would be greater if people knew that their children were susceptible to being drafted?

SR: Absolutely.

CD: Would you support a draft, like Charles Rangel (D-NY) is doing?

SR: No, because Rangel is supporting a draft for political reasons. To me the military is about national defense, national security, and our military today is equipped with some of the finest technology the world's ever seen. It's horrible technology, but from a military perspective, it's good stuff. It requires a lot of training. When you talk about conscripting people, you're talking about what, a two-year term? You can't even train a good infantryman in two years, and so I wouldn't be in favor of a draft because it turns our military it dumbs it down. I know where Rangel is coming from, but see, why is it you have to have a son or daughter in the military before you care about the men and women in the military? We should get Americans to understand that [this] is our military, every man and woman in that military belongs to us. It's our responsibility. They don't have to be our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins, our relatives, our friends -- they're Americans. So we should have ownership of these people, and we shouldn't allow them to go out and die in a cause that's not worthy of the sacrifice. I just think it's a cop-out to say that we have to have a draft before America cares. America should care without a draft.

CD: So I take it that you feel that if there is a war with Iran, there would not be a return of the draft to meet the manpower [shortages] that we currently have?

SR: No, because they're not planning a manpower intensive war. We would have a problem if, while bogged down in Iran, North Korea started causing a problem. The problem is, when we exhaust our manpower, we only have one level to draw back on, and that's nuclear weapons, so it's a very dangerous situation. Rather than a draft though, I'm all in favor of increasing the size of our land army. [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld has been behind the reduction of our conventional military. I'm for expanding our conventional military, because I think having a larger, stronger conventional military gives us the confidence to deal with problems around the world. When you operate from a position of strength, diplomacy now becomes a much more viable option, and there's less tendency to talk about nuclear weapons, etc. I'm for increasing the size of the army by two divisions, allowing the Marine Corps to ramp up to three full-strength divisions, and paying for it by getting rid of silly things such as National Missile Defense, and also reducing our nuclear weapons.

CD: I read some of your articles in the past, and you seem to imply that you feel a war with Iran is already going on right now, with special forces already in the country.

SR: Well, warlike actions are already taking place. We're not at conventional war yet, but we are violating the sovereignty of Iran in ways that constitute acts of war. So that's why I say we have a state of war. We have a policy of regime change that's in place today. That is a warlike policy.

CD: So we're seeing déjà vu with [the buildup to war on] Iraq. Do you believe that war [with Iran] has already been decided, and that [the administration] will just use the pretext of another terrorist attack?

SR: Yeah, well I don't know if they'll use the pretext of another terrorist attack. But I do think that policy has already been decided upon. I think this president has made a decision that we will remove the Iranian regime from power. That is the policy. How we do that, and when we do that is yet to be finalized, but we know where we want to go. This is why this president who speaks of wanting diplomacy, of wanting a diplomatic solution -- that's why he'll never engage with direct talks with the Iranians. You don't negotiate with that which you're trying to remove from power.

CD: You said that you think the anti-war movement should support Democrats in 2006, but a Democratic Senate authorized a military resolution authorizing force against Iraq in 2002. So what makes you feel that a Democratic majority won't simply put a respectable face on what is an "American empire?" You see a lot of Democrats out-hawing Republicans now, and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) are some of the [biggest] hawks on Iran.

SR: Right. I'm not a political analyst or expert on domestic American politics. In just grossly simplified terms, the potential of friction, the friction of government by having an empowered opposition, at least give us the hope of somebody speaking and doing something. Maybe the Democrats would just continue the policy of the Republicans, but what do we have to lose by trying to create friction? That's all I'm hoping. I'm not here to endorse the Democratic Party platform; I'm not here to endorse Hillary Clinton. I'm just saying that if the Democrats take charge of the House I can tell you that, for instance, [John] Conyers (D-MI), who heads the House Judiciary Committee, suddenly can subpoena people and demand that they appear before a committee that meets in the main meeting room, not down in the basement. It empowers a voice of opposition, it creates friction, and maybe from that friction we can stop this mad rush to war. That's all I'm saying. It's the House that I'm focused on; the Senate I've given up on. I mean, look, you've got Hillary, you've got Biden. These guys are more hawkish than, like you said, many neoconservatives. The House is where our focus will have to be.

CD: Even if we had a Democratic majority, a lot has been talked about how Bush believes in the "unitary executive theory," where he can basically go on and just authorize [military action] himself. Do you think he will even consult Congress if we start a bombing campaign on Iran?

SR: No, unless the Democrats are able to take over the House and compel him to do this, then no, Bush has no intention. [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice has already let the cat out of the bag where she said she will say nothing that ties the hands of the chief executive, commander-in-chief to do that which he feels is necessary for the security of the United States of America.

CD: All options are on the table.

SR: Yeah, except consulting Congress.

Charles Davis is a student at the University of San Diego where he is studying journalism. You can read more of his articles on his website.