Believing that neither Turtle Bay nor Washington had the stomach to disarm Saddam, Scott Ritter resigned as the U.N.’s chief weapons inspector in 1998—and was quickly embraced by conservatives. But as the run-up to war began in 2002, he turned peacenik, claiming that Saddam had disarmed by the mid-nineties. His ex-allies were infuriated, and even Paula Zahn questioned him about “drinking Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid.” (Ritter also faced the humiliating leak of a charge that he had made sexual overtures to two teenage girls.) Yet his predictions about the war—not just the absence of WMD but the insurgency in Baghdad—have proved prescient. Ethan Brown spoke to Ritter by phone.
Charles Duelfer’s new report says that Iraq had “essentially destroyed” its illicit weapons after the first Gulf War. Do you feel vindicated?
Well, what do you think?
He also said Iraq had the ability to restart WMD programs once sanctions were lifted.
That’s absolutely absurd.
But in 1998 you told Congress that Iraq could reconstitute its WMD program within six months after sanctions. What accounts for the change?
My statement to Congress was 100 percent accurate: Iraq’s industrial infrastructure could be used to reconstitute weapons programs. My point was to ensure that inspections continue because the Clinton administration had ordered the inspectors out of Iraq; if there were no longer inspections, Iraq could re-start its weapons programs.
What do you make of the CIA’s new National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq?
Now the CIA is struggling to recoup its reputation, and it gave an accurate assessment. At best, we’ve got a bad situation. At worst, it’s gonna be total civil war.
So, what options do we have? Trying to get other countries more involved, as John Kerry advocates?
There’s no chance of getting international support so long as the United States is involved the way we are. The fuel that feeds the fire is the presence of American troops. The only way to put the fire out is to remove the fuel. And if we hang our hat on Prime Minister Allawi, we will lose. He is what I call “dead man walking.” If he forswears any desire to hold public office after the upcoming elections, he might have credibility. But he doesn’t.
Kerry has argued that he voted to authorize the president to go to war, not for the war itself.
I’m somebody who wants Bush out of office, but Kerry’s a liar when he says that. And he endorsed a lie, saying, “Yes, there can be no doubt these weapons exist,” although he knew they didn’t exist. I personally briefed him.
Once in May of 2000, and I briefed senior members of his staff in June of 2002. And what was Kerry’s response? In 2000, he never called me back. In 2002, his staff said they would take it under advisement.
There have been many media mea culpas about WMD coverage, but no apologies to you. Does this bother you?
I could care less. It’s not about me. I was a credible witness, and they chose to ignore me. But that’s only part and parcel of a larger failure.