Last night, Loki and I went to Manchester Community College to see Scott Ritter, author of Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis, War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You To Know, and Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America, as well as numerous op-eds and essays.
Mr. Ritter started by telling us about himself. A former Marine who served in the Persian Gulf, a registered Republican, and a self-confessed conservative, he proudly served in Operation Desert Storm, a mission he believed in. Mr. Ritter's profound respect for the military of this country and the men and women who serve therein permeated the entire speech. In addition, he talked about the importance of citizenship, and how we are all responsible for the actions of our nation.
He went on to talk about how we got into the situation we are in today. Back in the late 70's (when yours truly was still in the single digits), Iraq was a strategic ally of the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq War. But in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the U.S. moved to liberate Kuwait. In order to sell the war to the American people, Saddam Hussein (who only a few months before was hailed as a friend of the American people by a Senatorial delegation led by Bob Dole) was painted as the Hitler of the Middle East.
After Operation Desert Storm, Hussein retained his position in Iraq, and we implemented sanctions. In addition, Hussein was asked to declare all his weapons and weapons programs (which we knew we had - we helped him acquire them, after all). The first declaration was false - the weapons inspectors knew it was false. Mr. Ritter recounted an episode where a satellite picture determined there were trucks carrying materials for a nuclear program, and the inspectors went to inspect the site and were denied entry. When they returned, UN resolution in hand, they found that the trucks were gone, although there was ample evidence that trucks had been there. They did determine the new site, and the inspectors went to the new site, this time armed with cameras. They took lots of photos that proved the first declaration, which declared no nuclear weapons program, was false. The UN came back with a second resolution for Iraq to declare its weapons stores.
After this, Mr. Ritter believes that the Iraqis did destroy most if not all of their biological, chemical, nuclear weapons & long-range missles. He compared it to a drug dealer, who has 10 bags of drugs and the police knocking at his door. The dealer flushes the drugs and lets the police in, and says he doesn't have any drugs when asked. But the police go to the water purification plant, find plastic bags with drug residue. They track it back through the water system to the drug dealers residence. But they can only track down 8 of the 10 bags...can they assume the dealer flushed everything, or is he still holding some?
In the case of Iraq's weapons programs, time was on our side. Buried nuclear components will not work - transporting lenses used for implosion will render them useless. Chemical weapons have a lifespan of less than 7 years. Biological weapons have a lifespan of 3 years. Even if there *were* these sorts of weapons in Iraq, by the late '90's they were useless.
Mr. Ritter believes that September 11 lit a spark under the neo-conservatives, who were firm proponents of regime change in Iraq (they urged us to continue the war after Operation Desert Storm successfully liberated Kuwait). They saw it as an opportunity to gain power. Further, Mr. Ritter expressed that after Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein (who was put forth as the Hitler of the Middle East by the first Bush administration) was a domestic policy problem for Bush. The neo-cons took the opportunity and their influence in the second Bush administration, and pushed for the Iraqi invasion.
Mr. Ritter expressed his shock that at no point in the run-up to the war was the case for the war questioned by the people who should have been questioning - the media (he declared that he did not consider anyone who didn't question the Bush administration does not deserve to be called a journalist), the Congress, the UN. He said he heard Colin Powell's case, which he personally knew to be untrue, and not a single person questioned it. He said he could not believe it when one night, as he was watching Tom Brokaw deliver a report about the possible war in Iraq, he heard Tom Brokaw not say a single word about the evidence against the existence of WMD's, and Mr. Ritter was especialy shocked because he was the one who told Tom Brokaw about it.
Mr. Ritter has a solution to the current situation in Iraq: he wants our soldiers home now. He said the mission in Iraq does not fulfill the requirements of the oath that our military takes, and that the mission was not worth the deaths of our young men and women. He feels that the whole misadventure is detrimental to our national security, and was more of a response to a domestic political problem than to a national security problem.
After the talk, there was a question and answer session, where several people questioned why Mr. Ritter did not mention the issue of oil. Ritter said it was far too simplistic to say the war was all about oil - he said the oil businessmen he's talked to prefer a dictatorship (predictable) to a democracy (messy & unpredictable). Several speakers were veterans, including a former history teacher who talked about Vietnam - he said when that war was in progress, the school he taught at arranged for a debate between 3 doves and 3 hawks (he was one of the doves). He said it seemed like that kind of discussion was not possible now, a point that Mr. Ritter made at the start of the speech. The gentleman also wanted to point out that there is no such thing as "the Iraqi people" - there are Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. One young woman asked if Ritter would think the war was worthwhile if the Iraqis developed a democracy. Ritter said it doesn't matter what the outcome is - Iraq was not a threat to our constitution or to the safety of the United States, and if we are to remain a nation of laws, we cannot undertake actions that are against our own laws.
A couple of people asked questions about the media, and Ritter was highly critical. He said he appreciates what people like Amy Goodman do, but that he feels alternative media needs to find a way to talk about issues without being activist. A young man who is a combat veteran of the current Iraq invasion said he may be at odds with the rest of the audience, but he supported the mission, and he felt that Mr. Ritter did not give proper due to the Iraqi people who recently participated in the elections. Mr. Ritter thanked him for his service, but he said a lot of the people who voted didn't know what they were voting for. The different groups of Iraqis also voted for different things - for example, the Kurds votes on a resolution for their Independence, but that wasn't part of the Shiite ballot.
At least one person asked "what can we do?" Mr. Ritter offered some criticism of the peace movement, which he felt failed in the runup to the war, but he also cautioned that due to the Patriot Act, there is a need to be careful in protest - it is possible that those who protest against this administration could be labeled terrorists. However, he said that he is also not concerned that jack-booted thugs are waiting to arrest him and his family, because we still have free speech in this country, and he's going to continue to speak out.
Loki and I waited around afterwards to speak to Mr. Ritter, but we didn't do more than shake his hand, and I thanked him for speaking out against the war before anyone else. Afterwards, I was thinking that I should have asked him how I, as a progressive liberal, can talk about the war to a conservative Republican. I'm short on ideas, as most of the Republicans I talk to are already on my side, or are firm and devout Bush worshippers, and believe that criticism of Bush is tantamount to treason.
I didn't agree with everything Mr. Ritter said, but he was an excellent speaker and I encourage anyone who gets the chance to see him to do so.