COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
WHY DOES BUSH WANT WAR WITH IRAQ? SO HE CAN GET RE-ELECTED
[William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, Mass. His new book, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, will be published soon by Pluto Press. The following first appeared on the website of Truthout.org and appears here with the permission of the author.]
Room 295 of the Suffolk Law
School building in downtown Boston was filled to capacity on July 23 with peace
activists, aging Cambridge hippies and assorted freaks.
One of the organizers for
the gathering, United For Justice With Peace Coalition, handed out green pieces
of paper that read, "We will not support war, no matter what reason or
rhetoric is offered by politicians or the media. War in our time and in this
context is indiscriminate, a war against innocents and against children."
Judging from the crowd, and from the buzz in the room, that pretty much summed
Scott Ritter, former U.N.
weapons inspector in Iraq, offered a stark contrast when he entered the room.
There at the lectern stood this tall lantern-jawed man, every inch the 12-year
Marine Corps veteran he was, who looked and spoke just exactly like a
bulldogging high school football coach. A whistle on a string around his neck
would have perfected the image.
"I need to say right
out front," he said minutes into his speech, "I'm a card-carrying
Republican in the conservative-moderate range who voted for George W. Bush for
President. I'm not here with a political agenda. I'm not here to slam
Republicans. I am one."
Yet this was a lie---Scott
Ritter had come to Boston with a political agenda, one that impacts every single
American citizen. Ritter was in the room that night to denounce, with roaring
voice and burning eyes, the coming American war in Iraq. According to Ritter,
this coming war is about nothing more than domestic American politics, based
upon speculation and rhetoric and entirely divorced from fact. According to
Ritter, that war is just over the horizon.
"The Third Marine
Expeditionary Force in California is preparing to have 20,000 Marines deployed
in the (Iraq) region for ground combat operations by mid-October," he said.
"The Air Force used the vast majority of its precision-guided munitions
blowing up caves in Afghanistan. Congress just passed emergency appropriations
money and told the Boeing company to accelerate their production of the GPS
satellite kits that go on bombs that allow them to hit targets while the planes
fly away, by Sept. 30, 2002. Why? Because the Air Force has been told to have
three air expeditionary wings ready for combat operations in Iraq by
"As a guy who was part
of the first Gulf War," said Ritter, who served under General Norman
Schwarzkopf, "when you deploy that much military power forward---disrupting
their training cycles, disrupting their operational cycles, disrupting
everything, spending a lot of money---it is very difficult to pull them back
without using them."
"You got 20,000
Marines forward deployed in October," said Ritter, "you better expect
war in October."
His purpose for coming to
that room was straightforward. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired
by Democrat Joe Biden, has convened a hearing, which began Wednesday, July 31.
The Committee will call forth witnesses to describe the threat posed to America
by Iraq. Ritter fears that a lot of crucial information will not be discussed in
that hearing, precipitating a war authorization by Congress based on political
expediency and ignorance. Scott Ritter came to that Boston classroom to exhort
all there to demand of the Senators on the Committee that he be allowed to stand
as a witness.
Ritter began his comments
by noting the interesting times we live in after Sept. 11. There has been much
talk of war, and much talk of war with Iraq. Ritter was careful to note that
there are no good wars---as a veteran, he described war as purely awful and
something not to be trivialized---but that there is such a thing as a just war.
He described America as a good place, filled with potential and worth fighting
for. We go to just war, he said, when our national existence has been
According to Ritter, there
is no justification, in terms of national security, international law or basic
morality, to justify this coming war with Iraq. When asked pointedly what the
mid-October scheduling of this conflict has to do with the midterm Congressional
elections that will follow a few weeks later, he replied, simply,
"This is not about the
security of the United States," said this card-carrying Republican while
pounding the lectern. "This is about domestic American politics. The
national security of the United States of America has been hijacked by a handful
of neo-conservatives who are using their position of authority to pursue their
own ideologically-driven political ambitions. The day we go to war for that
reason is the day we have failed collectively as a nation."
Ritter was sledding up a
pretty steep slope with his argument. After all, Saddam Hussein has been
demonized for 12 years by American politicians and the media. He did gas his own
people. And the U.S. has already fought one war to keep him under control.
Ritter's owed his presence in Iraq to Hussein's pursuit of chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons of mass destruction, along with the ballistic missile
technology that could deliver these weapons to all points on the compass.
According to the Bush
administration, Hussein has ties to the Al-Qaeda terrorists that brought down
the World Trade Center. The White House is certain that Hussein will use these
terrorist links to deliver a lethal blow to America, using any number of the
aforementioned weapons. The argument, propounded by Bush administration
officials on any number of Sunday news talk shows, is that a pre-emptive strike
against Iraq, and the unseating of Saddam Hussein, is critical to American
national security. Why wait for them to hit us first?
"If I were an
American, uninformed on Iraq as we all are," said Ritter, "I would be
concerned." Furthermore, continued Ritter, if an unquestionable case could
be made that such weapons and terrorist connections existed, he would be all for
a war in Iraq. It would be just, smart, and in the interest of national defense.
Therein lies the rub: According to Scott Ritter, who spent seven years in Iraq with the UNSCOM weapons inspection teams performing detailed investigations into Iraq's weapons program, no
is now no Iraqi threat
worthy of the deaths
of American servicemen
such capability exists.
Iraq simply does not have weapons of mass destruction or maintain threatening
ties to international terrorism. Therefore, no premise for a war in Iraq exists.
Considering the American military lives and the Iraqi civilian lives that will
be spent in such an endeavor, not to mention the deadly regional destabilization
that will ensue, such a baseless war must be avoided at all costs.
administration has provided the American public with little more than
rhetorically laced speculation," said Ritter. "There has been nothing
in the way of substantive fact presented that makes
the case that Iraq possesses these weapons or has links to international terror,
that Iraq poses a threat to the United States of America worthy of war."
The basis for the coming
October war is the continued existence of a weapons program that threatens
America. Ritter noted explicitly that Iraq did possess these weapons at one
time---he spent seven years there tracking them down. At the outset, said
Ritter, they lied about it. They failed to declare the existence of their
biological and nuclear programs after the Gulf War, and declared less than 50
percent of their chemical and missile stockpiles. They hid everything they
could, as cleverly as they could.
After the first lie, Ritter
and his team refused to believe anything else they said. For the next seven
years, they meticulously tracked down every bomb, every missile, every factory
designed to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry. They went to
Europe and found the manufacturers who sold them the equipment. They got the
invoices and shoved them into the faces of Iraqi officials. They tracked the
shipping of these materials and cross-referenced this data against the invoices.
They lifted the foundations of buildings destroyed in the Gulf War to find
wrecked research and development labs---at great risk to their lives---and used
the reams of paperwork there to doublecheck what they had already determined.
Every weapon or facility
they found was later destroyed in place.
After a while, the Iraqis
knew Ritter and his people were robotically thorough. Fearing military
retaliation if they hid anything, the Iraqis instituted a policy of full
disclosure. Still, Ritter continued his investigation. By the time he was
finished, Ritter was sure that he and his UNSCOM investigators had stripped Iraq
of 90-95 percent of all their weapons of mass destruction.
What of the missing 10
percent? Is this not still a threat? Ritter believes that the ravages of the
Gulf War accounted for a great deal of the missing material, as did the
governmental chaos caused by sanctions. The Iraqis' policy of full disclosure,
also, was of a curious nature that deserved all of Ritter's mistrust. Fearing a
U.S. attack, Iraq instituted a policy of destroying whatever Ritter's people had
not yet found, and then pretended it never existed in the first place. Often,
the dodge failed to fool UNSCOM.
Ritter told a story about
running down 98 missiles the Iraqis tried to pretend never existed. UNSCOM got
hold of the documentation describing them, and demanded proof that they had, in
fact, been destroyed. He was brought to a field where, according to Iraqi
officials, the missiles had been blown up and then buried. At this point, Ritter
and his team became "forensic archaeologists," digging up every single
missile component they could find there.
After sifting through the
bits and pieces to find parts bearing serial numbers, they went to Russia, who
sold Iraq the weapons in the first place. They cross-referenced the serial
numbers with the manufacturer's records, and confirmed the data with the
shipping invoices. When finished, they had accounted for 96 of the missiles.
Left over was a pile of metal with no identifying marks, which the Iraqis
claimed were the other two missiles.
Ritter didn't believe them,
but could go no further with the investigation.
This story was telling in
many ways. Americans mesmerized with stories of lying Iraqis who never told the
weapons inspectors the truth about anything should take note of the fact that
Ritter was led to exactly the place where the Iraqis themselves had destroyed
their weapons without being ordered to. The pile of metal left over from this
investigation that could not be identified means Iraq, technically, could not
receive a 100 percent confirmation that all its weapons were destroyed. Along
with the other mitigating factors described above, it seems clear that 100
percent compliance under the UNSCOM rules was impossible to achieve. 90 to 95
percent, however, is an impressive record.
The fact that chemical and
biological weapons ever existed in the first place demands action, according to
the Bush administration. After all, they could have managed to hide vast amounts
of the stuff from Ritter's investigators. Iraq manufactured three kinds of these
nerve agents: VX, Sarin and Tabou. Some alarmists who want war with Iraq
describe 20,000 munitions filled with Sarin and Tabou nerve agents that could be
used against Americans.
The facts, however, allay
the fears. Sarin and Tabou have a shelf life of five years. Even if Iraq had
somehow managed to hide this vast number of weapons from Ritter's people, what
they are now storing is nothing more than useless and completely harmless goo.
The VX gas was of a greater
concern to Ritter. It is harder to manufacture than the others, but once made
stable, it can be kept for much longer. Ritter's people found the VX
manufacturing facility that the Iraqis claimed never existed totally destroyed,
hit by a Gulf War bomb on Jan. 23, 1991. The field where the material they had
manufactured was subsequently buried underwent more forensic archaeology to
determine that whatever they had made had also been destroyed. All of this,
again, was cross-referenced and meticulously researched.
"The research and
development factory is destroyed," said Ritter. "The product of that
factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been destroyed. More
importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was going to be used for
their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was identified by the special
commission---still packed in its crates in 1997---and destroyed. Is there a VX
nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life."
This is, in and of itself,
a bold statement. Ritter himself and no weapons inspection team has set foot in
Iraq since 1998. Ritter believed Iraq technically capable of restarting its
weapons manufacturing capabilities within six months of his departure. That
leaves some three and one half years to manufacture and weaponize all the
horrors that has purportedly motivated the Bush administration to attack.
capable," however, is the important phrase here. If no one were watching,
Iraq could do this. But they would have to start completely from scratch, having
been deprived of all equipment, facilities and research because of Ritter's
work. They would have to procure the complicated tools and technology required
through front companies, which would be detected. The manufacture of chemical
and biological weapons emits vented gasses that would have been detected by now
if they existed. The manufacture of
"If Iraq was producing
weapons today, we would have definitive proof," said Ritter, "plain
And yet we march to war,
and soon. A chorus of voices was raised in the room asking why we are going.
What motivates this, if not hard facts and true threats? According to Ritter, it
comes down to opportunistic politics and a decade of hard anti-Hussein rhetoric
that has boxed the Bush administration into a rhetorical corner.
Back in 1991, the UN
Security Council mandated the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Sanctions were placed upon Iraq to pressure them to comply. The first Bush
administration signed on to this, but also issued a covert finding that mandated
the removal of Saddam Hussein. Even if all the weapons were destroyed, Bush Sr.
would not lift the sanctions until Hussein was gone.
Bush Sr., and Clinton after
him, came to realize that talking about removing Hussein was far, far easier
than achieving that goal. Hussein was, and remains, virtually coup-proof. No one
could get close enough to put a bullet in him, and no viable intelligence
existed to pinpoint his location from day to day. Rousing a complacent American
populace to support the massive military engagement that would have been
required to remove Hussein by force presented insurmountable political
obstacles. The tough talk about confronting Hussein continued, but the Bush and
Clinton administrations treaded water.
This lack of results became
exponentially more complicated. Politicians began making a living off of
demonizing Hussein, and lambasting Clinton for failing to have him removed. The
roots of our current problem began to deepen at this point, for it became
acceptable to encapsulate a nation of 20 million citizens in the visage of one
man who was hated and reviled in bipartisan fashion. Before long, the American
people knew the drill---Saddam is an evil threat and must be met with military
In 1998, the
Republican-controlled Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act. The weight of
public American law now demanded the removal of Saddam Hussein. The American
government went on to use data gathered by UNSCOM, narrowly meant to pinpoint
possible areas of investigation, to choose bombing targets in an operation
called Desert Fox. Confrontation, rather than resolution, continued to be the
rule. By 1999, however, Hussein was still in power.
"An open letter was
written to Bill Clinton in the fall of 1999," said Ritter, "condemning
him for failing to fully implement the Iraqi Liberation Act. It demanded that he
use the American military to facilitate the Iraqi opposition's operations inside
Iraq, to put troops on the ground and move on up to Baghdad to get rid of
Saddam. Who signed this letter? Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Armitage, Robert Zoellick, Richard Perle, and on and on and on."
The removal of Saddam
Hussein became a plank in the GOP's race for the presidency in 2000. After
gaining office, George W. Bush was confronted with the reality that he and many
within his administration had spent a great amount of political capital
promising that removal. Once in power, however, he came to realize what his
father and Clinton already knew---talking tough was easy, and instigating
pinprick military confrontations was easy, but removing Hussein from power was
not easy at all. His own rhetoric was all around him, however, pushing him into
that corner which had only one exit. Still, like the two Presidents before him,
he treaded water.
Then came Sept. 11. Within days, Bush was on television claiming that the terrorists must have
Rumsfeld's logic: 'The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.' Huh?
had state-sponsored help,
and that state sponsor must be Iraq. When the anthrax attacks came, Bush blamed
Iraq again. Both times, he had no basis whatsoever in fact for his claims. The
habit of lambasting Iraq, and the opportunity to escape the rhetorical box 12
years of hard-talking American policy, were too juicy to ignore.
The dearth of definitive
proof of an Iraqi threat against America began to go international. Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld appeared before NATO not long ago and demanded that they
support America's looming Iraq war. Most of the NATO nations appeared ready to
do so---they trusted that America's top defense official would not come before
them and lie. But when they tried to ask questions of him about the basis for
this war, Rumsfeld absolutely refused to answer any of them. Instead, he offered
this regarding our utter lack of meaningful data to support a conflict:
"The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence."
Scott Ritter appeared
before NATO some days after this at their invitation to offer answers to their
questions. Much of what he told them was mirrored in his comments in that Boston
classroom. After he was finished, 16 of the 19 NATO nations present wrote
letters of complaint to the American government about Rumsfeld's comments, and
about our basis for war. American UN representatives boycotted this hearing, and
denounced all who gave ear to Ritter.
Some have claimed that the
Bush administration may hold secret evidence pointing to a threat within Iraq,
one that cannot be exposed for fear of compromising a source. Ritter dismissed
this out of hand in Boston. "If the administration had such secret
evidence," he said, "we'd be at war in Iraq right now. We wouldn't be
talking about it. It would be a fait accompli." Our immediate military
action in Afghanistan, whose ties to Al Qaeda were manifest, lends great
credence to this point.
Ritter dismissed oil as a
motivating factor behind our coming war with Iraq. He made a good defense of
this claim. Yes, Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves on earth, a juicy
target for the petroleum-loving Bush administration. But the U.S. already buys
some 68% of all the oil produced in Iraq. "The Navy ships in the Gulf who
work to interdict the smuggling of Iraqi oil," said Ritter, "are
fueled by Iraqi oil." Iraq's Oil Minister has stated on camera that if the
sanctions are lifted, Iraq will do whatever it takes to see that America's oil
needs are fulfilled. "You can't get a better deal than that," claimed
His thinking on this aspect
of the coming war may be in error. That sort of logic exists in an
all-things-being-equal world of politics and influence, a world that has ceased
to exist. Oil is a coin in the bargaining, peddled as influence to oil-state
congressmen and American petroleum companies by the Iraqi National Congress to
procure support for this baseless conflict. Invade, says the INC, put us in
power, and you will have all you want. There are many ruling in America today,
both in government and business, who would shed innocent blood for this
Ritter made no bones about
the fact that Saddam Hussein is an evil man. Like most Americans, however, he
detests being lied to. His work in Iraq, and his detailed understanding of the
incredible technological requirements for the production of weapons of mass
destruction, leads him to believe beyond question that there is no basis in fact
or in the needs of national security for a war in Iraq. This Marine, this
Republican who seemed so essentially hawkish that no one in that Boston
classroom would have been surprised to find wings under his natty blue sportcoat,
called the man he cast a Presidential vote for a liar.
"The clock is
ticking," he said, "and it's ticking towards war. And it's going to be
a real war. It's going to be a war that will result in the deaths of hundreds,
if not thousands, of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It's a
war that is going to devastate Iraq. It's a war that's going to destroy the
credibility of the United States of America. I just came back from London, and I
can tell you this---Tony Blair may talk a good show about war, but the British
people and the bulk of the British government do not support this war. The
Europeans do not support this war. NATO does not support this war. No one
supports this war."
It's a certainty that few
in the Muslim world support another American war with Iraq. Osama bin Laden used
the civilian suffering in Iraq under the sanctions to demonstrate to his
followers the evils of America and the West. Another war would exacerbate those
already-raw emotions. After 9/11, much of the Islamic world repudiated bin Laden
and his actions. Another Iraq war would go a long way to proving, in the minds
of many Muslims, that bin Laden was right all along.
Ritter wants the inspectors
back in Iraq, doing their jobs. He wants to try to keep American and Iraqi blood
from being spilled in a military exercise promulgated by right-wing ideologues
that may serve no purpose beyond affecting the outcome of the midterm
Congressional elections in Nov. 2002.
"This is not
theory," said Ritter in Boston as he closed his comments. "This is
real. And the only way this war is going to be stopped is if Congress stops this
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