Matthew wrote: "A prophet is not without honor,
save in his own country."
Dangerfield would have put it differently. He
might have said, "They love me over there, but
here at home I get no respect."
Ritter is a prophet of sorts, and if we had listened
to him and respected his intellect, knowledge
and honesty, we could have avoided the war in
Iraq and its cost in lives and dollars.
September 2002, Time magazine asked Ritter whose
Iraq policy was worse, Bill Clinton's or George
W. Bush's. Ritter's response:
because of its ramifications. It threatens a war
that probably lacks any basis in law or substantive
fact. It has a real chance of putting thousands
of American lives at risk and seeks to dictate
American will on the world."
is this Scott Ritter guy?
a former U.S. Marine Corps major and former United
Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He's the answer
to the question of whether the Bushies knew before
the war that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction
knew, or could have known, and certainly should
we attacked the Iraqi people, Ritter was often
seen on television as a laughable "expert." The
Fox News talking heads treated him as a lunatic.
How could he be anything else when he disagreed
with George W. Bush?
Ritter has a temper, so that added to the fun.
It was a treat to see him get all red faced and
wonder when he'd explode.
mattered not that Ritter was painfully honest
and knew exactly what he was talking about.
search through newspaper and magazine articles
leading up to the war against Iraq leads me to
Bill Clinton was as concerned about Saddam Hussein
as George W. Bush is, but less eager to risk American
lives to deal with him. Unfortunately for all
of us, the sexy impeachment fiasco pushed by the
Republicans diverted our attention, so most of
us weren't paying attention.
Ritter was far from happy with Clinton's support
for the inspectors, or lack of it. In September
1998, he told Newsweek, "I heard somebody say
it very effectively: '[Secretary of State] Madeleine
Albright blocked more inspections in 1997 than
Saddam Hussein did.' It's a funny quip, but unfortunately
The four days of intensive bombings ordered by
Clinton at the end of 1998 probably taught Saddam
that his efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction
weren't worth the cost. The economic sanctions
imposed by the United Nations at the end of the
first Gulf War were seriously crippling Iraq,
and trying to acquire those weapons simply added
to Saddam's misery. He gave up but pretended not
to. Saving face is a big deal for dictators, as
it is for all politicians (see: "Johnson, Lyndon
B."; or "Nixon, Richard M."; or "Bush, George
bombings and rocket attacks, by the way, just
about matched the munitions thrown at Iraq during
the Gulf War. Americans didn't pay much attention,
however, and the Republicans accused Clinton of
"wagging the dog," diverting attention from his
The "intelligence community" never said Saddam
had weapons of mass destruction. In all the articles
I read, the CIA and other agencies were very careful
not to overstate the danger presented by Saddam.
example, The Washington Post reported in November
2000, "The CIA does not agree that Iraq possesses
a crude nuclear weapon. 'We don't believe they
have the fissile material required for a nuclear
weapon,' said one senior U.S. official. ... 'Nor
do we believe they currently have the infrastructure
to build a nuclear weapon.'"
In a related matter, Clinton was far more concerned
about terrorist attacks against the United States
than he was about the threat of Saddam. But he
had a hard time selling his concern to others,
even though he tried. He originated an antiterrorist
agency in government in 1994 and increased its
budget every year thereafter, from an original
$5.7 billion reported in 1995 to $11.1 billion
was unable to find any antiterrorist actions by
Bush before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but
that doesn't mean he didn't do anything. It could
be his efforts just didn't make the public prints,
or that I couldn't find the articles about them.
Scott Ritter took part in more than 30 inspections
missions in Iraq, and probably knew more about
Iraq's WMD programs than anyone. The Iraqis were
very annoyed with him and accused him and other
inspectors of being spies. They were right; the
inspectors were pressed into spying. That was
a distraction for them.
As a U.N. inspector, Ritter was constantly unhappy
with the Iraqis because they failed to destroy
all their weapons. After the inspectors were pulled
out of Iraq in 1998, Ritter appeared to change
his tune, saying Iraq's weapons programs were
difference, Ritter explained to the scoffers on
TV, was that as an inspector, he expected total
compliance and didn't get it. Later, as an outsider,
he was able to say that even without total compliance
Iraq, was no threat.
never given Iraq a clean bill of health," Ritter
told Time in September 2002. "I've said that no
one has backed up any allegations that Iraq has
constituted weapons-of-mass-destruction capability
with anything that resembles substantive fact."
politicians (including Al Gore, who warned of
"imminent danger" in 1998) were hyping the Iraq
threat, as were my fellow jackals of the press
-- especially columnists! -- but the various intelligence
agencies were far more prudent. To repeat, they
often cautioned against overrating the threat
posed by Saddam.
keep losing troops in Iraq, well over 500 now.
God only knows how many arms and legs were lost
over there, how many pairs of eyes destroyed.
The total cost to each American taxpayer before
it's over has been estimated at around $3,000,
and when you consider the disability payments
we'll be making for the next 50 years or so, that's
probably a low-ball guess.
quite a price for going after weapons that we
had been told do not, and did not, exist. It's
too high a price for getting rid of Saddam.
the real mystery of Iraq is why we're still there.
There are no WMDs; Saddam is in custody. Why,
now, are we still sacrificing troops and dollars
on a guerilla war that will never be won?
is today's price for funding a president's effort
to save face?
Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column
appears Mondays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: February 11, 2004