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Two Who Got It Right: Scott Ritter in Conversation With Robert Scheer
Posted on Mar 20, 2007
Scheer: Your story, your analysis, has held up splendidly. The analysis of the people that you are disagreeing with has fallen apart. Whatever one thinks, history has vindicated you. What do they say to you now?
Ritter: They don’t say anything at all.
You see, the worst mistake they could make at this point in time would be to engage in a debate. I would love to have a debate with the formulators of policy. I challenge any one of them at any time. “Let’s talk about this. Let’s do it in a public forum. Let’s have winner-takes-all so that if you lose the debate, you jump off the cliff. And I can guarantee you: At the end of the debate, the entire neocon community will be in a heap at the bottom of the cliff and I’ll be standing at the top. [Audience laughs, applauds.] But they don’t want to engage in that debate. All they want to do is ignore me and continue to push forward with their….
Square, Site wide
Scheer: You interest me because you won’t toe any line and you’re still a Republican, right?
Ritter: I’m an American, first and foremost, but I will say this: I’m a registered Republican and I’m not going to leave the Republican Party. I believe that in order to cure it, good people have to stay in it.
Scheer: My point in bringing that up was not to make you…. You were telling me in the restaurant—your three goals, sort of three obligations you feel, and I find that interesting. Maybe you should repeat that, if you can.
Ritter: I was asked what motivates me, what drives me. The first thing is good citizenship. As a citizen, you have to invest yourself into your country. You have to give something; it’s not just about take. As a Republican, I’ll quote a Democrat. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That’s what makes a citizen great, it’s giving something to your country. I am able to give in a certain area. I served in the military, I served, as you know, as a weapons inspector. And I am positioned—unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view—when government is not telling the truth about certain issues. As a citizen, I have a duty and responsibility to speak out. Bad citizenship would be to take the path of least resistance and sit back and say, “Well, I’m just not going to get involved.” No. You jump in and you say, “Wrong!” because America is about doing the right thing. So it’s about telling the truth, it’s about being a good citizen, about investing yourself.
I believe in how America interfaces with the rest of the world. We live in this giant globe. We are 300 million people and there are 6.8 billion others out there? And we’re dictating the codes, the coexistence? One of the problems is—and I come back—ignorance. The American people are some of the most ignorant people you’re going to meet on the face of the Earth about the world we live in. That’s the bottom line. We can’t pass basic tests about global geography, let alone American geography. And as an American citizen I have a duty and responsibility to participate in the process of informing and educating the American public so it can rise above its ignorance so it won’t be intimidated by fear derived from that ignorance and they’ll make the right decision. These are the things that motivate me. Trust me: It’s not about making money, because if it was I’ve certainly taken the wrong path.
Scheer: But now that you’ve signed up with Truthdig, that’s going to change overnight. [Audience laughs.] I just want to set the record straight so we aren’t tormented by this by someone writing an article somewhere. You did loathe Saddam Hussein, right?
Ritter: Loathe is a strong word.
Scheer: I’ve read your books. You thought this guy was a bloody dictator.
Ritter: I’m a realist.
Ritter: And I’m somebody who believed in a policy of regime change. I believe that we should’ve strived to change the policy of the regime of Saddam Hussein. But there’s a big difference between changing a regime through a pattern of interface with Iraq that promotes growth of democratic institutions within Iraq so that Saddam Hussein is done away with without any loss of American life, and a policy of regime change that has us invading, occupying and destroying a nation. I’ve always committed to a policy of regime change. In fact, in February of 2003, right before the war, I was supposed to go to Iraq with a delegation of people including Nelson Mandela and others. We had a six-point peace plan that the Iraqi had agreed to. And, basically, these six points would have led to regime change. Not necessarily Saddam Hussein being dragged out and hung, but the embrace of democratic institutions, U.N.-sponsored elections, things like that that change the character of the nation for the better.
Scheer: Yeah. The policy that George W. Bush is now following towards North Korea and Cheney has embraced—they will now be taken off the terrorist list, [Ritter laughs] they will become good actors, democracy will flower—could have applied to Saddam Hussein. Let me ask you a question…. That we’re there now, and most people—certainly in this room, but most ... actually, most people in the country—know it was a big mistake and very costly. But then they say you just can’t get out. And we were in—talking again in that restaurant and we had that argument about—Vietnam for about 15 years, or something. You can’t just get out. And then when we got out, under the most ignominious circumstances, lifting people off the embassy and everything, quite the opposite happened than we expected. And now we have George W. Bush actually visit Vietnam and sit under a statue of the same Ho Chi Minh, and so forth. So what do you say to the argument, “Can we get out now?” and “How would we get out?” And so forth.
Ritter: Not only can we get out, we must get out. There is no positive thing that will come from the continued presence of American troops inside Iraq. We’re not contributing anything, anything positive. All these lunatics in Fox News and others can talk about building schools, painting schools ... whatever you want, and that’s just absurd in the extreme. I don’t even think anyone’s selling that poison anymore. They’re talking about the potential of doing good, but no one’s talking about us actually doing good because we’re not doing good. So, can we get out? Absolutely. Six months and we can have everybody out of Iraq. It’s a piece of cake. It’s not hard to do that.
“Should we get out?” is the question. Do we have a moral responsibility, having gone into Iraq and broken it so bad—you know the old Pottery Barn rule: you broke it, you own it?—should we stay and try and fix it? And, again, I believe this is fair debate to have. It’s a very legitimate debate to have. I would, first of all, say that it’s a debate that all Americans must be participants in, because to stay in Iraq…. I believe you don’t talk about solving a problem unless you’ve properly defined the problem. If we’re going to say the problem revolves around saving Iraq, rebuilding it, we’re talking about decades-long involvement that’s going to cost trillions of dollars—not billions: trillions of dollars—and will cost us significantly more lives. And it may not work. Some people say it’s a gamble worth taking. Fine. I’d just ask the American people to pass a pop quiz. Tell me about the city of Karbala. Tell me about the city of Baghdad. Tell me about the city of Kirkuk. Explain to me the significance of these three cities both in terms of Iraqi history past, current and future. And if you’re sitting there shaking your head, going, “What the hell is he talking about?” ladies and gentlemen, we need to get out of Iraq right now! Because if you can’t answer that question right now, you are not even equipped to weigh in intelligently about a policy decision that has America committed to several decades of involvement in this nation.
Karbala is the birthplace of Shiism. That’s where Hussein [in the seventh century] was wiped out by Sunni apostates, creating not only the Shia faith but creating the schism between the Shia and the Sunni.
Baghdad was sacked in the 12th century by the Mongols. As a result of the sack of Baghdad, the Sunnis said, “We got defeated because we lost pure Islamic faith.” It’s the birth of Wahhabism. Wahhabism, Osama bin Laden’s version of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, was derived by foreign occupation of Baghdad. Huh? We’re at war with al-Qaida and the Wahhabists. And we just empowered them by occupying Baghdad. If it isn’t sinking into your head yet, it never will.
Kirkuk. Oil. Kurds. Turkmen. Shia. Kirkuk. If you’re going to have any hope of a unified Iraq, you have to tell me how Kirkuk is going to emerge from any post-Saddam environment, a unified city. Kirkuk is where the formal civil war in Iraq will start. Not Baghdad, not Karbala: Kirkuk.
And if you don’t know this, if you can’t tell me why, if you can’t tell me who the players are, ladies and gentlemen, you’re ill equipped to enter into a debate about the long-term presence of Americans in Iraq. So that’s where I come down to. Can we get out of Iraq? Absolutely. Should we get out of Iraq? If we, the people of the United States of America, don’t know enough about a country where we’re asking our armed services to give the ultimate sacrifice for, then we have no business being in that country
Scheer: All right.
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