Scott Ritter: Anti-War Problem Child

The conservative "realist" school of foreign policy does not lack for sinister fools, but Scott Ritter owns a coveted place near the top of any list. He is a stalwart Republican who has nevertheless become the doyen of the antiwar community for his correct prediction about the neutered state of Saddam Hussein's prewar WMD capability. Yet lest one instance of being right lend him a reputation of defense policy soundness, there are many items in his resume that must be weighted against any comment he offers in the field of international relations.

Ritter resigned from his position as the UN weapons inspector for Iraq, which he held from 1991 to 1998, because he thought that the erstwhile US policy of containment was insufficient in preventing Saddam Hussein from developing WMD. Ritter's team had been denied access in 1998 to various weapons-making facilities in Iraq, and so he was well poised to pass judgment that the regime had something to hide -- whether actual WMD material or a proven desire to manufacture it at a later date.

Ritter was always doggedly opposed to the military removal of the Iraqi dictator; instead, he advocated the resumption or "normalization" of US-Iraqi relations - despite the Ba'ath's unequaled record of genocide, foreign aggression, and domestic totalitarianism. When Ritter resigned from his UN post in frustration, he told interviewer Elizabeth Farnsworth:

"The investigations had come to a standstill, were making no effective progress, and in order to make effective progress, we really needed the Security Council to step in a meaningful fashion and seek to enforce its resolutions that we're not complying with."

And:

Iraq still has prescribed weapons capability. There needs to be a careful distinction here. Iraq today is challenging the special commission to come up with a weapon and say where is the weapon in Iraq, and yet part of their efforts to conceal their capabilities, I believe, have been to disassemble weapons into various components and to hide these components throughout Iraq.

A year later, he published a book entitled Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem - Once and For All, in which he restated the failure of the international community to get Baghdad to start complying with the law and acting transparently.

Then, in 2000, Ritter co-wrote and directed a documentary "In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq," in which, despite his prior minatory rhetoric, he attempted to show that country was actually a "defanged tiger." The film was financed by an Iraqi businessman named Shaker Al-Khafaji using pilfered money from the oil-for-food program.

In 2002, during the lead-up to the war he fervently opposed, Ritter refused to elaborate for Time magazine on the "horrific" conditions of the children's prison he inspected at the General Security Services headquarters in Iraq, fearing that the gruesome details would "be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace." In that same interview, he clearly contradicted himself and lied about his former position:

In 1998, you said Saddam had "not nearly disarmed." Now you say he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Why did you change your mind?

I have never given Iraq a clean bill of health! Never! Never! I've said that no one has backed up any allegations that Iraq has reconstituted WMD capability with anything that remotely resembles substantive fact.

(This may be interpreted charitably as Ritter's ex post facto admission that he himself had no substantive evidence for his prior claim.)

Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Ritter has said in public that he believes life was better under Saddam Hussein and that the current Iraqi "resistance," consisting of Shia sectarian death squads, Sunni revanchists, and the imperialist beheaders of Al Qaeda, is a "genuine grassroots national liberation movement." To which he adds: "History will eventually depict as legitimate the efforts of the Iraqi resistance to destabilize and defeat the American occupation forces and their imposed Iraqi collaborationist government."

Finally, Ritter clangorously foretold, based on what he claimed was recherche inside information, that the Bush administration would bomb Iran in 2005. (He now says it will do so any day.)

Again, such a dubious curriculum vitae must be weighted against Ritter's past, present and future pronouncements. An honest observer, whatever his politics, will admit that the former weapons monitor has lost all claims to objectivity, if he ever had them. So it comes as no surprise that in his latest Comment is Free post for the Guardian, Ritter exculpates Syria for its development of an undisclosed nuclear reactor, which was powdered by Israel in September of last year:

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity "as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility". There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

What Ritter does not say in his briefest mention of the "Syrian-North Korean nexus" is the full extent of that US intelligence. As reported by theFinancial Times, the CIA has images that show North Korean nuclear scientists working in the now-extinct Syrian facility, which was located in near the town of Al Kibar:

One photograph shows a North Korean nuclear scientist Chon Chibu standing beside his Syrian counterpart. Mr Chon, who worked at North Korea's Yongbyon plutonium reactor, has previously dealt with US officials. While the date of the photography was unclear, the official said a car in the background suggested it was sometime after mid-2005. The US believes North Korea provided designs for the Syrian reactor, which was a "dead ringer" for Yongbyon. The official said Washington was unsure whether any North Koreans were killed in the Israeli air strike.

Yongbyon, of course, is where Kim Jong Il's got the fissile material for his nuclear arsenal. Now you may wish to believe that Syria's intentions were pure (aren't they always?) and that it sought only to construct a reactor for peaceful purposes. But then you must ask yourself: Why could it not do so without the help of the peninsular A.Q. Khan? And why would it choose to construct a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor whose only design precursor in the past 35 years was not used for "peaceful" purposes? (The Al Khibar reactor seems to have been a smaller version of its North Korean counterpart.)

The Assad regime is legally bound, under the covenants of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory, to report any and all atomic activity, as well as the construction of equipment that might be used for such activity, to the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the proper "safeguards":

Each State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to provide: (a) source or special fissionable material, or (b) equipment or material especially designed or prepared for the processing, use or production of special fissionable material, to any non-nuclear-weapon State for peaceful purposes, unless the source or special fissionable material shall be subject to the safeguards required by this Article.

Ritter attempts to elide this clear language by arguing that without actual plutonium or a "reprocessing capacity," Syria is only accountable under the IAEA's "additional protocol of inspections," which are voluntarily undertaken by each country and have not been undertaken by the one in question. On April 28, Ritter further mischaracterized the NPT to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now when he said:

[F]acilities [need only] be declared to the IAEA only when nuclear materials are to be introduced to these facilities, that a facility under construction is not a declarable item. And so, it's absurd to sit there and say that just because Syria and North Korea were pouring concrete that they are somehow breaking the law.

What does he mean by "are to be introduced"? According to the CIA, the reactor was not simply "under construction" but nearing "operational capability" in August 2007, which means it would have indeed been ready for the introduction of plutonium round about the time of its annihilation. Ritter's semantic dodges do not alter that assessment. Nor does he allow that Syria's haste in burying the immolated reactor and eliminating all traces of ancillary equipment suggest that it, too, had something to hide from international inspectors. It covered the destroyed reactor vessel with tarpaulins, and built structures over other debris in order to block satellite observation of the site. It also performed a controlled demolition the husk of the reactor building in October 2007. And naturally, the location of the facility, obscured by canyons and a manmade "earthen wall," was clearly chosen for its secrecy. Now, if Damascus wished to show that Israel took out a harmless edifice constructed for domestic energy needs, why go to all this trouble to erase the exculpatory forensic evidence?

The fact that the IAEA had no knowledge of the very existence of Syria's nuclear project should do more than raise an eyebrow. I quote from a press release the agency issued on October 15, 2007 -- it is the last such statement I've been able to find on the matter on the IAEA's website:

Statement attributable to IAEA Spokesperson Melissa Fleming on recent media reports concerning Syria:

1. The IAEA has no information about any undeclared nuclear facility in Syria and no information about recent reports.

2. We would obviously investigate any relevant information coming our way.

3. The IAEA Secretariat expects any country having information about nuclear-related activities in another country to provide that information to the IAEA.

4. The IAEA is in contact with the Syrian authorities to verify the authenticity of these reports.

CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed on Tuesday that had the reactor been completed, in two years it would have had enough plutonium to produce one or two bombs. Ritter contradicts himself yet again by stating that while there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the U.S. intelligence on the matter (see his Comment is Free post extracted above), it is "absurd" to credit the notion that the Al Kibar reactor was on the "verge of becoming operational." So is the intelligence flawed or isn't it?

Ritter also neglects to mention Syria's suborning of Hamas and Hezbollah, its strangulation of Lebanese independence and democracy, and myriad other crimes against international law for which its guilt is now only questioned by isolationists and apologists for Mideast fascism. Ritter's presumption of Damascus's innocence is, like everything else he says and writes, too tendentious to be taken seriously.

Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of Pajamas Media. His blog is Snarksmith.