On Sept. 3, 1998, Scott Ritter sat in front of a joint hearing of two Senate committees speaking as a witness on U.S. policy on Iraqi weapons inspections. He faced another audience Saturday: the greater New Haven community and Yale students.
Ritter, former chief of the United Nations Special Commission weapons-inspection team, spoke to a crowd of over 200 at the United Church on the Green about the lead-up to the 2003 war in Iraq, the role of weapons inspectors and the potential for a war in Iran. In his talk, organized by “Between the Lines,” a weekly progressive radio newsmagazine in Bridgeport, Conn., Ritter assailed the last three presidential administrations for what he termed rhetoric that forced U.S. policy in one direction.
“Iraq was the product of a decade-long policy by the U.S. government to deceive the American people,” he said.
Ritter’s criticism was not limited to presidents.
“Until we purge every member of Congress who voted for war, we will be in Iraq,” he said. “It may not be viable to impeach the president, but it is viable to remove all of them in Congress.”
Ritter called for the immediate removal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
“I liken Iraq to a fire,” he said. “As long as we have American troops in Iraq, the fire’s only going to get bigger and consume more.”
Following the 1991 Gulf War to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council demanded complete disarmament of Iraqi nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Ritter, a former marine intelligence officer, was chosen to head up the inspection team once Iraq had initially failed to cooperate, he said. He served as chief of the team from 1991 until Aug. 1998, when he resigned, citing Central Intelligence Agency interference in the primary mission of the inspections.
By 1996, 95 percent of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had been accounted for, Ritter said. But once inspections stopped, Ritter said, there was no way to guarantee that Iraq did not produce new weapons.
“If you remove weapons inspectors from Iraq, it is possible that Iraq, a technologically advanced country, could reconstitute their weapons programs within six to nine months,” he said in a press conference before the event.
While Ritter said he recognizes the possibility that Iraq had developed new weapons, he said the appropriate response would have been to send in inspectors, not to declare war.
“My rhetoric has been the same, not that Iraq had no [weapons of mass destruction], but that we should bring inspectors back in,” he said.
Emily Jones ’06 said she was convinced by Ritter’s arguments.
“I thought he was fabulously articulate in presenting the facts and really showed how damning those facts are,” Jones said.
Arne Gronningsater ’75 said he felt Ritter’s comments did not address all the important issues of the war.
“I’m a little bit upset that he spent so little time empathizing with the Iraqi people,” Gronningsater said. “I think the omission was racist.”
Ritter also addressed the potential for a similar war with Iran, which has been accused of developing a nuclear-weapons program. Iran has admitted to having a nuclear-energy program, but denies the British and American accusations. But Ritter said there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program, and that Iran is in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an agreement among 187 countries.
He said Iran has pursued a comprehensive nuclear-energy program, including producing its own fuel, for years. The U.S. government was supportive of the shah of Iran’s stated intent in 1976 to diversify its energy sources, Ritter said.
Regardless, Ritter said, the U.S. government will follow the same logic with which they approached Iraq, which will likely lead to war.
“It’s inevitable,” Ritter said. “We’re going to be going to war with Iran.”
Even if Iran were to attempt to develop nuclear weapons, Ritter said, it would take a year to enrich enough uranium to required levels of potency. He said this was an impossible task under International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.