The United States may be about to make as serious a blunder in Iran as it did when it launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq, former Marine intelligence officer and U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter said at a Morse College Master’s Tea on Thursday.
Ritter told an audience of about 40 students and faculty members that International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear weapon inspectors in Iran have had their findings manipulated for political ends — similar to the situation of their U.N. counterparts in 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq war. Ritter said the current administration has irresponsibly framed any lack of evidence against the existence of weapons of mass destruction as justification for possible war, particularly in the current diplomatic standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.
“[Inspectors] are finding all the data necessary, but the political powers that be don’t care about disarmament and nonproliferation,” he said. “They have other policy objectives, namely regime change.”
Ritter said he does not believe Iran poses a significant nuclear threat because its uranium ore is contaminated with molybdenum, which is extremely difficult to remove and blocks valves and piping during the enrichment process.
A Russian history major during his undergraduate years at Franklin & Marshall College, Ritter served in the U.S. Marine Corps as both a weapons inspector and covert operative monitoring a ballistic missile plant in Russia after Russia and the United States signed a major arms treaty in 1987.
During the first Gulf War, Ritter was recruited as a SCUD missile expert after he wrote a study on defense tactics of the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War. Embedded in a team of marines, he spent the rest of the war “scared to death,” he said, and became deeply turned off by the violence of combat.
“The war convinced me the Marine Corps wasn’t how I wanted to spend the rest of my life,” he said. “[War] is unforgiving, unglamorous.”
After the war, Ritter was appointed by a colonel he served under as a weapons inspector to ensure that Iraq lived up to its disarmament obligations, he said. With Saddam Hussein’s regime having lied about remaining weapons stockpiles, the United Nations asked him to form an intelligence unit to gain access needed to ensure Iraqi disarmament, he said, and he later resigned from weapons inspections in 1998, after expressing frustrations that the Clinton administration was failing to enforce Iraq’s disarmament.
Ritter said the average citizen has little understanding of a weapon inspector’s work, and he described various experiences from his years as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and tried to debunk the common stereotype of inspectors as the ineffectual “keystone cop.” Ritter said that despite charges of uselessness by both the Clinton and Bush administrations, weapons inspections have proved historically successful. By the mid 1990s, he said, his inspection team had verified that 95-98 percent of weapons had been accounted for.
Because of the Iraqis’ resistance to provide accurate information about weapon manufacturing and stockpiles, Ritter said his team often used espionage tactics such as spy planes, wiretapping and extensive investigations requiring months of worldwide travel to validate their inspections.
“You’re sort of on your own — you have your blue hat, your blue armband, and they give you a blue passport,” he said.
Delving into the debate over the current American presence in Iraq, Ritter said the antiwar movement lacks organization and focus on the main issues, in turn imperiling the success of what he sees as a just cause.
“This is a struggle we as a nation can’t afford to lose,” he said.
Many audience members said they found Ritter persuasive on a number of different issues. Ben Bokser ’09 said his discussion of the negative effects of American economic sanctions, particularly on Iraq in the 1990s, was accurate and insightful.
“Generally, it was really convincing,” he said.
But others said his frequent shifts between light anecdotes and stern polemics were too hasty.
“I though he spoke very well and very convincingly,” Lauren Sonderegger ’09 said. “But sometimes his transitions between humor and morbid seriousness were too abrupt.”