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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Professor Casts Doubt on Ritter's Position on War with Iraq

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Last week, Scott Ritter declared that Iraq poses no threat to the world and demanded evidence "before military action is taken."
He obviously didn't read the authoritative December 1998 New Republic article asserting that Iraq was "not nearly disarmed," that in all likelihood, Saddam Hussein was hiding everything from nerve gas to anthrax, as well as his "entire nuclear weapons infrastructure."
Ritter didn't read the article; he merely wrote it. Back in 1998, Ritter also testified to the Senate that Iraq could within six months make its weapons of mass destruction operational. According to the 1998 Ritter, Saddam remained "an ugly threat to his neighbors and to world peace."
When at the end of his lecture, I quoted a few of Ritter's own lines from the New Republic article to him, asking "Which Ritter should we believe, the new or the old Ritter?" he offered no explanation for this glaring inconsistency and provided no persuasive evidence to account for the U-turn he has recently made.
Yet since 1998, when he resigned in disgust that neither the United States nor the United Nations had the guts to disarm Iraq or go to war, he has had no access to intelligence; his sources of information are the same as yours or mine. Today, among the several hundred weapons inspectors who worked in Iraq until 1998, Ritter's perspective represents a small minority. So why the 180 degree turn?
Recently, Ritter has also acknowledged (as I mentioned at the lecture) taking $400,000 two years ago from an Iraqi-American businessman named Shakir al-Khafaji to visit Baghdad and make a documentary about weapons inspections. Ritter's cut was $80,000, though he claims he put some of that back into the film production. My mention of this provoked considerable irritation on Ritter's part, leading him to declare, "My personal finances are none of you damn business" (which, incidentally, is the only part of the exchange The Campus reported correctly).
Ritter is badly mistaken. His personal finances are everybody's business. He is a highly visible public figure and a leading critic of the Bush administration who has entered into a major debate that this country must conduct on the eve of a possible war. Therefore, Ritter's sources of funding for his activities are decidedly not a private matter. In fact, they cast a long shadow over his credibility. Al- Khafaji is openly in bed with Saddam and frequently sponsors anti-American conferences in Baghdad. Iraqi officials were so happy with the Khafaji-funded Ritter documentary that they distributed a CD-ROM version at an international conference to press their case. This September, Ritter was a guest of the Iraqi government in Baghdad. His speech to the Iraqi "parliament," according to the London Times, handed Saddam "a propaganda coup," for Ritter found Iraq to be a threat to no one.
Ritter neither admits nor explains why his view of the threat posed by Iraq has radically changed. Nor does he seem to realize that his actions matter, that in allowing himself to be used by a regime that has, by all accounts (including those of non-partisan human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, he has forfeited our trust.
While he implores us to "get all the facts," he obviously doesn't like the uncomfortable facts that get in the way of his story. Though a case against the war on Iraq can be made, Ritter unfortunately lacks the credibility to make it.

Michael Kraus is Frederick C. Dirks Professor of Political Science. He spent last academic year at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


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