Like it or not, Maj. Scott Ritter had it right all along.
Most of the rest of us, from the president to his key advisers, such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz and Tenet, to the majority of Congress and to most of the talking heads – including the pre-Iraq War NBC analyst David Kay, who reported WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) behind every Iraqi sand dune – blew it big-time when it came down to the awesome arsenal that Saddam had supposedly squirreled away.
Ritter, the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, took us all on – virtually alone, against incredible odds – stating, “Iraq is not a threat to the U.S.” and begging the American people to take charge and not “sit back and allow your government to go to war against Iraq … [without all] the facts on the table to back this war up.”
As per his reputation on training fields and battlefields, this granite-jawed former Marine stood his ground and never flinched. He reminds me of another two-fisted, tell-it-like-it-is Marine, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, the recipient of two Medals of Honor, who was almost drummed out of the Marine Corps twice: Once in the 1930s for calling Benito Mussolini a “fascist,” and once again a few years later when he rattled the military-industrial complex by daring to declare that “War is a racket.”
Ritter, too, took serious punishment from his critics – and instead of doing proper due diligence or asking hard questions, the media quickly piled on. It was not Fox’s finest hour when that network gleefully painted him as a 21st-century Benedict Arnold – not that he had many primetime advocates anywhere else. Even CNN’s usually evenhanded Paula Zahn said to Ritter six months before America unleashed its miscalculated military solution on Iraq, “People out there are accusing you of drinking Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid.”
Eighteen months later, Ritter has not only survived the relentless ridicule and all the scurrilous attempts at character assassination, he’s clearly been vindicated. And by one David Kay, who dismissed Ritter’s prewar analysis with: “Either he lied to you then or he’s lying to you now. … He’s gone completely the other way. I cannot explain it on the basis of known facts.”
Ritter doesn’t come close to buying Kay’s present-day convenient conclusion – now spun into a pre 2004-election pass-the-buck revisionist chant – that our $30 billion-a-year spook op goofed. Ritter says, “It’s the old story of people going-along-to-get-along who put their careers ahead of their country.”
Ritter doesn’t let President Bush off the hook, either: “He should rightly be held accountable for what increasingly appears to be deliberately misleading statements made by him and members of his administration regarding the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD.”
I asked Ritter if he felt totally exonerated. “I would feel a lot better if there were a way to reverse the hands of time,” he told me, “so that people would have paid more attention to what I said in the past, and we didn’t find ourselves caught up in this ongoing tragedy.”
What a shame that the president and his platoon of let’s-get-Saddam neocons, Congress and the CIA’s Tenet didn’t listen to the man-in-the-know when he cautioned: “U.S. and Iraqi casualties will be significant. … We can’t go to war based on ignorance.”
But go to war we did. And now we’ve filled more than 530 body bags, medevaced thousands of soldiers, caused thousands more to be psychologically scarred, created tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties and stuck ourselves dead center in an ever-deepening tar pit.
For sure, people in high places need truth-tellers like Ritter to keep them straight. Had Bush talked to Ritter before opting for pre-emptive war, Bush might have been convinced to rearrange his options, and we might not be in this mess.
Evaluating intelligence calls for an open mind and sound judgment. Both were AWOL in our political leadership because of a preconceived agenda or an attack of yellow belly-itis that interfered with standing tall.
In either case, it’s time for a reckoning.
My recommendation: Put Ritter on the WMD intelligence probe. We can count on him to tell us the straight skinny, just as he tried to during the fevered, frenzied days of the dance to war.