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Two Who Got It Right: Scott Ritter in Conversation With Robert Scheer
Posted on Mar 20, 2007
Scheer: George W. Bush, reluctantly, or what have you, has followed a different model now with North Korea. It’s no longer unilateral. We defer to the South Koreans, to the Chinese, to the Russians, to the Japanese. Right? We take seriously the notion of multiparty actors who know more about the region than we do, who know more about what’s happening. We are now going to take Korea—not only will we give them aid and comfort, we’re going to take them off the terrorism list. Their guy is coming to New York. They’ve invited the U.N., and so forth. Why is that not a model that should be followed or would be followed with Iran?
Ritter: First of all, here’s the problem with Bush’s policy on North Korea. The people who made this policy are the same people who said they could never buy into this. These are the people who condemned Bill Clinton for what he did. I have to be questioning their motives. It’s not as though Bush came in and did what a CO does when a division [is] just failing abysmally. “You’re all fired, here’s the new team in, and here’s the new way forward.” So why would we go down this path with North Korea, which everybody who made this policy rejects? Because we have no intention of following through. There are so many caveats built into this that—. Trust me on this one: This North Korean policy will collapse inside of a year. But, what he’s done with the timing right now is to take North Korea off the map as far as the American people are concerned. We no longer have to worry about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea because Bush has just solved it magically, overnight, by a wave of a magic wand. Now we can focus solely on Iran and not have to worry about the North Korea problem.
Scheer: So we’re going to ignore North Korea, that’s actually exploded such a weapon.
Scheer: And we’re going to focus on Iran, that seems to be—what?—10 years away from having any.
Ritter: The funny thing about 10 years is, when someone says someone is 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon, ladies and gentlemen, if that’s the standard you use, every nation is 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon. Being 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon means you don’t have anything. Nothing. You’re starting from scratch. Yeah, you know, you can sit there. But what the CIA is saying—when they say they’re 10 years away—is: “We don’t have any hard data on Iran. We’re just making this stuff up as we go along.” The most current one is that Iran is one year away from having it. You heard the talk. They can have fissile material in one year. That’s derived from the premise that they will get 3,000 centrifuges to be up and running tomorrow and to run, nonstop, for a year—a year of nonstop operation, at the end of which you’re going to get 20 kilograms of 85 percent enriched, highly enriched uranium. Theoretically, that’s possible. Right now the Iranians can only get 164 centrifuges up and running; they have another 164 cascade-ready, but they’re testing it. And they have bits and pieces of the total 3,000, but they can’t assemble them. Here’s the other, unknown secret, ladies and gentlemen: They can’t do it. They can’t do it. Centrifuges are complex. They’re about yea big. Cylindrical tube. They have to spin around at 70,000 rpm. Did you ever play with a gyroscope as a kid? Spin it up and hold it in your hand and just doing this? That’s mass. It’s moving you because the mass is shifting around. That’s only a couple of hundred rpm. Seventy-thousand rpm. If it’s not perfectly balanced, it blows up, falls apart. To be perfectly balanced, not only do you have to have precision machining throughout, you have to have ball bearings, magnets. The Iranians don’t have enough ball bearings and magnets that work, so when they spin these things up, they tend to pop, and when you pop open in a centrifuge, it shuts down. They can’t get them running for a day, let alone a year. Then, there’s the problem of feeding in the gas, the uranium hexafluoride. It’s contaminated with a substance called molybdenum. Molybdenum—even if you’re just talking about a few, microscopic pieces of it—when it spins up at 70,000 rpm, develops a mass the equivalent of several kilograms. And what happens when you have something spinning with several thousand kilograms moving around inside? It pops. It blows up. The Iranians can’t do it. Everybody knows this. Except we, the people of the United States of America, who continue to believe anything we’re told by a media that repeats without question the assertions put forward by an administration that doesn’t give a damn about disarming Iran and is only focused on regime change using the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran as an excuse. [Audience applauds.]
Scheer: I do think applause is in order. The question I have, sitting here, I’m thinking, if you’re so smart, why aren’t you president? [Audience laughs.] Where did you learn all that stuff? In the Marines?
Ritter: A lot of people mock the Marine Corps, and sometimes it deserves to be mocked. Because we shave our heads they call us jarheads, and blockheads, and other terms of endearment. The most intellectual, philosophical conversations I’ve ever had—and I’ve been to Harvard, I’ve been to Yale, I’ve been to Columbia, I’ve been to Berkeley, etc.—are at a bar on a Friday night in a Marine Corps officer club with my fellow officers. Because—you know what?—unlike your Harvard and Yale and Columbia and Berkeley students, we understand what life and death is about. We understand what we are being committed to. We have philosophical discussions. We study the art of war. We study philosophy. And we challenge everything. And that’s the big thing: challenge everything. We take nothing at face value. Battalion commander puts out a new policy. We sit there and we tear it apart. “What the hell is the old man talking about? That won’t work. This won’t work.” We challenge because our lives depend upon it. As an intelligence officer I was told: “Never tell your boss what he or she wants to hear. That’s not your job. Your job is to tell them what the facts are. That’s your job.”
Scheer: So what do people say to you now, privately, when you run into your old buddies. Do they say, “You’ve got it right but we can’t speak out”? Why isn’t there more dissent?
Ritter: It depends who they are. I’ll tell you, inspectors more and more are sending me e-mails, calling me up saying, “Wow, Ritter, you were right, we were wrong. We apologize. We’re on your side. Da-da-da.” Military guys, they’ve always been on my side—the ones that I know. Again, I don’t mean to be insulting of anybody, but there’s three circles of people I care about: my family, my friends, and my colleagues. And I will tell you, without exception, the people who fall into those three categories, the people who know me, the only people who know me, have been on my side 100 percent. When you get outside of that, people who don’t know me, they seek to project any sort of personality trait on me that they want to. I’m a disgruntled employee. I’m this, I’m that, I’m the other thing. I don’t care about what they think. What I care about are the people who know me. And I’ll tell you, my colleagues in the Marine Corps, United States Army and the armed forces of the United States of America have been behind me 100 percent. Because they knew me before I challenged the United States on Iraq. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on the Iran-Iraq war. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on the Soviet ballistic missile production rates. They knew me when I was challenging the United States on claims of killing Scud missiles during the first Gulf War. They knew that, as an intelligence officer, I brought the highest degree of integrity possible to the game. I wasn’t always right, but I never deliberately misled anybody.
Scheer: Really, what you’re talking about is you’re someone who’s asked to pay the price for our folly. That it’s not a game, it’s not a talk show thing, right? It’s not a way of winning elections. And yet most of the foreign policy issues that you discuss in your book and we talk about have been used as part of a game, a political game. Hillary, for example. I didn’t mean to single out Hillary. She’s not alone. Biden takes a similar position. There are others. Kerry certainly took that position before he changed, and so forth. What I get from you in reading your books, rereading some of them, is a sense of outrage. I can only think of Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman’s brother, who wrote a marvelous piece before the election and truthfully said the same thing. We put people in harm’s way, not because we really think there’s a national security objective, but because it’s important to some other agenda. I just want to know why there aren’t more Scott Ritters. Why doesn’t it drive more people crazy? Why aren’t more people speaking out about that?
Ritter: I can’t answer that question. I’m very honest about who I am and what I am. And I’ll tell you this: I am somebody who is a true believer. I joined the Marine Corps, I love my country, I was black-and-white about the world we lived in, I was a Reagan Republican. I didn’t even know what being a Reagan Republican meant. I just knew that that sounded good and that’s what I wanted to do. I registered Republican. I voted Republican. I didn’t study the candidates; I just went into the booth and went [making stamping motion] Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican. Because I thought that’s what good Republicans did. I went out and did my job. I did what I was told to do. I did it very well. But then I found that—as you said—you think you’re doing something that’s part of the greater good only to find that you’re actually serving as a front for somebody’s political ambition, that has nothing to do with the national security of the United States of America. That you’re asked to make sacrifices, or worse, if you’re a leader, you’re asking people who are trusting you by following you to make sacrifices. That these guys back there aren’t willing to write the check.
Now why aren’t there more Scott Ritters? What does it take to cross that line? Americans are inherently trustful. I was at a book-signing the other day in La Quinta in Palm Springs, and one of the guys in the audience stood up, and before he asked his question, he apologized. He said: “In 2003 I thought you were a nut, I thought you were crazy, I thought you were off the reservation. I couldn’t believe a word you said.” And he apologized. And I said: “There’s no reason to apologize. You had every right to believe that.” When everybody else is saying this, and you’ve got this lone-wolf character saying something else, you have a right to be distrustful of that lone-wolf character, especially when he’s talking about a subject that’s not easy for you to investigate independently. You’re dependent upon a media that’s feeding you for the most part disinformation. Today I have the benefit of the doubt because everything I said turned out to be right, so I come in with a little more leverage. But the point is that the only thing that gave me the strength to speak out in 1998 was that I was uniquely positioned by circumstances of history to have total knowledge about a very difficult subject. Even my fellow inspectors, they didn’t have total knowledge; they only had different pieces of the pie, and they were hesitant to commit to confronting the powers that be, because in the back of their minds they were saying, “There’s things I might not know.” And that’s the problem. There will always be questions in the back of the minds of most well-meaning people, that “maybe I don’t know something. Maybe these guys know something more than I do. I don’t want to be the one who seems unpatriotic by stepping forward. I’m going to be trustful of the system.” Ladies and gentlemen, I hope we’ve learned as American citizens that we can no longer be trustful of the system. The system is inherently corrupt because we are not engaged. The only way to reform the system is to invest in the system intellectually, emotionally, morally. And we’re not doing that. There will be more Scott Ritters, Bob Sheers, other people. I believe everybody in this room has it in you to do the same that I did, that you’ve [motioning to Robert Scheer] done, that other people have done, if you empower yourself with knowledge and information. But, void of that, you simply wallow in ignorance.
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