Scott Ritter is an ex-Marine intelligence officer and the former head of UN weapons inspections units in Iraq. He correctly predicted that no weapons of mass destruction would be found after the invasion and is now a fierce critic of the Bush administration’s war policies. But he’s also a critic of the antiwar movement, saying it’s too disorganized and extreme to wean American hearts and minds from the prevailing “pro-war” mentality. When he addresses antiwar groups, he says, he sees crowds of “extreme progressive liberals,” but no cops, no firefighters, no steelworkers. “I don’t see America,” Ritter complains.
He’ll be here on April 25 for N.C. Peace Action’s awards dinner. See Act Now on page 15 for details.
INDEPENDENT: You’ve said the antiwar movement is losing and is on the verge of complete collapse, and Americans are addicted to violence. Yet it does seem Americans are catching on to the futility of war as a tool of foreign policy given what’s happening in Iraq.
SCOTT RITTER: I’ve talked about the superficiality of much of the antiwar sentiment about Iraq by noting that, were we winning the war, there would be absolutely no antiwar movement. The only reason people are against the war is that we’re losing it. … If somehow, miraculously, tomorrow we emerged victorious in Iraq, the majority of those who today vocalize against the war would suddenly say, Now wait a minute, maybe this isn’t a bad war. That’s why I say the antiwar movement doesn’t exist. There is an anti-losing movement.
But doesn’t the fact that we are losing a war that seemed so easy to win at first cause Americans to see that war isn’t the answer to every problem in the world?
Again, I would refute that by noting that if one takes a look at the case of Iran, many Americans are buying into the notion that Iran is a threat that needs to be confronted. If you ask them right up front, Would you support a war against Iran?, there might be some hesitancy in light of what’s happened in Iraq, but no one is calling our government to task over a fundamental policy that has the U.S. taking a leadership role in transforming the Middle East. … We’re falling for the same line that a Middle East nation, in this case Iran, represents a threat to our national security interests in the form of weapons of mass destruction, in this case an Iranian nuclear program that is stated by the Iranians to be energy related and yet is sold to the American public by the Bush administration as representative of a nuclear weapons program.
That’s why I reject out of hand the notion that Americans are somehow, because of our bad experience in Iraq, now a reflective, peace-loving society. Absolutely not.
But Iran is violating the non-proliferation regime …
No, absolutely not. Iran is actually in 100 percent compliance with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT]–a treaty to which Iran is a signatory, and which allows Iran to have a peaceful nuclear energy program, inclusive of the complete fuel cycle [including] an indigenous fuel-enrichment capability as long as that capability is placed under international inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]. Iran is in total compliance with this.
If you look at the referral of Iran from the IAEA to the Security Council that occurred recently, it doesn’t say that Iran is in violation of the NPT–far from it. It says that Iran is in compliance. It does say, however, that Iran has failed to prove that it does not have a weapons program–that’s a unique standard that exists nowhere in the law or in the spirit of the law. It’s put forward by the United States along the lines of the same standard that we set for Saddam Hussein prior the invasion, that the onus was on Iraq to prove that it didn’t have weapons of mass destruction.
We’re doing the same thing in Iran, saying that we believe the Iranians have a nuclear weapons program. We haven’t demonstrated this with anything remotely resembling fact, but as long as the Iranians can’t prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that such a weapons program doesn’t exist, we march forward as if it does.
The answer here is that the United States, not Iran, must align itself with international law.
Is that what the antiwar movement should be saying? Get with international law?
The first thing the antiwar movement needs to do is align itself with foundational values of what it means to be an American. Basically, it’s defined by the Constitution, that document that states who we are and what we are as a people. The antiwar movement needs to rally around the Constitution.
When the U.S. under Article VI enters into an international agreement that’s been ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, that is the law of the land. We are signatories to the United Nations charter, we are partners to the NPT; therefore, we are bound to those documents and we should abide by [them]. And yet we have an administration today that operates outside the framework of not only international law, but constitutional legal requirements, too.
We’re not rallying around the Constitution?
A good part of [the movement] tends to reject it–not that it embraces revolution, but the enemy is always “the system.” The antiwar movement rails against “the system,” it rails against this, that and the other thing … you know, it’s against everything, but what is it for?
You’ve volunteered as a “warrior” to help lead it …
I’m not volunteering to do anything …
Maybe I’m reading too much into what you’ve said …
What I’ve said to the antiwar movement is that it lacks a center, it lacks focus, it lacks a unifying mission statement. It’s become so wrapped up in being “antiwar” that it’s not understanding that it is in a war of ideology right now. We are at war. The antiwar movement’s at war, ironically enough. It’s at war with what I’ll call the pro-war faction, people who thinks it’s OK for the United States to carry forth in this manner. …
And what I’ve said is that it might be time for the antiwar movement to study the art of war, not in terms of waging armed conflict, but in terms of organizing for ideological conflict, because this is a war–whether you’re shootin’ bullets or shootin’ ideas. … Yet, as soon as you say that, you get a knee-jerk reaction from many, Cindy Sheehan first and foremost, that just rejects it and says no, everything is hunky-dory, we can go on as we’re doing, we’re prevailing.
Do you have a place in mind to put the initial focus? Where would you put the stick in the ground?
I’ve put my stick in the ground. I consider myself to be part of the antiwar movement, I’m not a leader of it. I’m an American who’s against the policies of war that are currently dominating our nation today. Being a warrior of Marine Corps background, I’ve used the analogy of a Marine Corps rifle company in the Korean War, when the Chinese were attacking … and the company commander took a bayoneted rifle, stuck it in the ground, turned to his company and said, We fight and we die here. No more going back. That company suffered 75 percent casualties, but it held the hill and allowed the First Marine Division to get across the bridge, thereby saving the division. I’ve put my stick in the ground. I’m rallying around myself.
You’re hoping people will rally around you?
Well, you know, if they do, they do. What I would prefer is that people come together and say, Hey, we do need an organization.