Update, Analysis, and a Wacking Good Yarn
January 22, 2003, the news broke on CNN (it had been around on the Blog-O-Sphere several days prior) that Scott Ritter had been arrested for two counts of soliciting sex with minors (actually cops pretending to be 14 and 16 years old; Ritter is 41) in an Internet Chat Room. The arrests occurred in June, 2001. The details come from the January 25, 2003 Associated Press story at http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030125/ap_on_re_us/weapons_inspectors_charges_1, the U.K. Sun at http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2003031602,00.html, and most tellingly, in Ritter's January 22, 2003 interview by CNN's Aaron Brown, at http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0301/22/asb.00.html.
To his credit, he did the right thing, sort of. He announced he would no longer pursue his anti-war initiatives, because "...this issue would have come up. And it would have been a distraction". And, he conspicuously declined an opportunity during the CNN interview to accuse some vast right-wing conspiracy of attempting to silence him, a display of comity1 that in my experience is all too rare on the anti-war Left.
On the other hand, Ritter refused to explain exactly what happened, claiming "we're dealing with a case that has been dismissed and the record has been sealed by a judge's order. And I'm obligated, both ethically and legally, not to talk about that case." CNN's Aaron Brown correctly pointed out:
Scott, we spent a fair amount of time today looking at New York law on this. There is nothing in a sealed case, zero, that prevents you from talking about it. The point of the seal is to protect you from the state, not to protect the state from you.
Now, you can -- it seems to me, you can choose not to talk about the specifics of this. That's always the right of the guest. But I'm not sure that there is -- I'm not sure what the ethical question is about talking about it. And none of our lawyers can find the legal one, OK?
The only ethical consideration I can think of would be the privacy of the minors -- except they were cops...
As to the larger question -- how does one make sense of the Ritter rollercoaster ride? After the inspectors left Iraq, Ritter testified to the U.S. Senate in 1998, "Iraq today is not disarmed, and remains an ugly threat to its neighbors and to world peace". (http://www.ceip.org/programs/npp/ritter.htm) Yet less that two years later, well before the alleged pedophilia, he received the epiphany about Saddam's weapons, and re-wrote history. The UN Wire independent news service (http://www.unfoundation.org/unwire/archives/UNWIRE000816.asp#1) reports his new claim:
'given "the comprehensive nature of the monitoring regime," it could have been determined as early as 1997 (!?!) that, qualitatively, Iraq "had been disarmed."'
People close to Ritter say he realized his position as a UN inspector was being compromised by US political influence over the inspections. This led him to question the scientific results of the inspections.
This is no doubt a reference to the incident in which the CIA
modified the US-supplied, UN monitoring cameras (which Saddam was legally obligated to accept) to include a wireless antenna to spy on Saddam's radio communications (which modifications were flagrantly illegal). Possibly there were other cases of improper US interference in the inspections process. Please note, the CIA incident took place under Bill Clinton
's watch, not George Bush
's! And goodness knows Saddam interfered in the inspections process constantly; but clearly, the U.S. should hold itself to a higher standard.
Nevertheless, if the inspection process has been compromised, wouldn't the proper conclusion be that we just don't know if Saddam has disarmed? Why conclude that Saddam had in fact disarmed?
Furthermore, if the attempted kid sex was entrapment, that would imply it was his first time, that they sought him out and suggested the idea. OK, the first time he was curious and couldn't believe it was for real. But the second time? Wouldn't someone, a player on the international political stage, who'd done a very public and dramatic about-face on the single most important issue of the day, have the good sense to assume someone, somewhere, just might be out to smear him? Why not Just Say No to a kid offering sex? After many months of chasing down Saddam's lies, and few US lies as well, you'd think he would know that not everything is as it seems.
Not being a spy/diplomat/international man of mystery myself, I can only wonder if he wasn't more than a little naive and bush-league about things, both the kinder-lovin' and the inspection shell game. He certainly absorbed the culture of the U.N. Security Council and the Inspectors, which I would describe as is meticulous preoccupation with the letter of the law, while remaining oblivious to the spirit of it. In concluding Saddaam had "effectively disarmed", he was clearly making decisions above his pay grade.
I suppose the lesson is, instead of surfing for kids, he should have been noding! Yet some good has already come of Ritter's recusal. Its a great story, its got something in it for everyone, left and right, and its full of full of bizarre twists. It even contributed to this hilarious send-up from HappyFunPundit:
Brief vanity: If you enjoyed this story, don't miss Dead Missouri Senators don't cheat
1. Before you complain that Ritter possibly/must have been/was entrapped or set up, look up comity. I am not saying he denies he was set up, I'm just pointing out he rightly avoided making an allegation that, given his refusal to speak about the details of his arrest, would be totally unverifiable and self-serving.
Was he set up? Without evidence, I find it hard to believe the undercover police, the court in upstate New York, etc. were all part of a conspiracy to discredit Scott Ritter. Given all the life changes he was going through, all the criticism he was getting, and the presumably dismal state of his Marine career, he might have gotten just a wee bit depressed and gone lookin' fer love in all the wrong places. Its more than plausible that an enterprising, right-handed journalist or pissed-off first responder found out about his arrest and arranged a leak, but that just means his privacy was violated. I wonder if people on the left ever do that.
I wondered how long Ritter's reticence would last.
When I saw his name on C-SPAN's schedule, I couldn't resist tuning in, especially in view of his apparent vindication on the issue of WMD stockpiles. Anyone who wants to see the whole interview in streaming video should visit http://www.c-span.org/ and in the "Video Search" box at the upper right, type "Scott Ritter". Look for the interview dated 1/30/2004: WASHINGTON, DC, duration 30 minutes.
I've not taken the time to transcribe the whole interview, but I've made extra effort to be fair to Ritter and quote him in context. Hence this update runs a little long.
About 5 minutes into the interview, the first caller, apparently a fan of Ritter's, asks, perhaps in total innocence, "Why have you all of a sudden disappeared from all these cable talk shows? I - Gosh, for, last year I was wondering, what ever happened to Scott Ritter, the only guy who seemed to know what was going on? I was just wondering, why you were silenced in that regard? The networks blacklisted you, or is there a reason why your opinion isn't getting proper airplay?"
Wonderful, I thought to myself, another media conspiracy theorist with C-SPAN on speed dial. Won't it be great when this straight-talking Marine, whose life is an open book, sets this nut straight? But Ritter ducked the question without a single word about his self-imposed media withdrawal, and instead obliquely fed the conspiracy flame: "Well it's probably a question best posed to the producers and the bookers at various television shows and radio talk shows. I've always been comfortable that I have been saying things that are factually sound, based upon the truth, that I'm not spinning them for anybody's political benefit." Then it's back to WMD, the one topic on which Ritter has any credibility left, with still not a word about the you-know-what.
Later, about 10 minutes in, the journalistic instincts of moderator Brian Lamb, C-SPAN's founder, kick in with the best antidote to Ritter's duck-and-spin: a simple, factual follow-up question. "Go back to that caller who talked about the American media. When was the last time you appeared on any national network, that you can remember?" Ritter lists several shows he's been on recently. So far it makes perfect sense: facts that disprove the media conspiracy are proof of the media conspiracy. Then comes the whopper: "...so it's not a total blackout...in the past I was on the media maybe two often, in front of the American public, several times a week. And now it might be one or two times a month." We should all be so overexposed er I mean suppressed. Never mind; Ritter has credibility on the suppression question, as well as considerable skill and experience; just try and find out the details of his arrest in upstate New York, and you'll see what I mean.
So while serious deficits remain in Ritter's character and integrity, Ritter may be said to be vindicated, in a strict, technical sense, because on the question of Saddam's weaponized WMD stockpiles, he has indeed managed to make a more accurate assessment than the combined efforts of the US, the UK, France, Germany, and the UN's own intelligence-related efforts. He criticizes David Kay as an "ideologue" engaging in spin, but also praises him as "fundamentally, an honest man with integrity" because in the end Kay drew his conclusions based on data, rather than ideology.
But in a larger context when he talks about foreign policy, Ritter is still spinning like a top, and still not making much sense.
Legitimate patriots can and do disagree about whether the war was justified or not. Those who feel it wasn't fall into two camps: the containment camp, who were against the invasion but in favor of keeping Saddaam in his box with continued sanctions, and the pacifist or isolationist camp, who are against war under any circumstances, except possibly in self defense defined in the narrowest possible sense. I have discussed why I think the former camp is wrong at The United States Is Already At War With Iraq. Ritter clearly falls in the later camp. For a while I've been hoping that someone, somewhere would be brave enough to present the pacifist/isolationist position in a coherent manner, because I think it would be a great debate from which we all might benefit. Given Ritter's apparent success at discerning certain key aspects of Saddam's WMD, I wondered if maybe he could be coherent about larger, foreign policy issues.
No such luck.
About 28 minutes into the interview, a caller states "...a lot of people are saying we needed to go in anyway, because he Saddam was a very bad man. He gassed the Kurds. Well that was so, so many years ago, that I don't think we can use that as an excuse for going in. Yes, he was a bad man. But there's a lot of bad men out there. What we're failing to say, however, is what we have done is we've committed genocide, um, ourselves. We talk about genocide, but there are over 10,000 innocent Iraqis who have been murdered because of us, for a war that we should never have been in..." The caller then discusses a new approach to fighting terrorism, citing Dennis Kucinich's proposal for a 'Department of Peace'.
Scott Ritter responds (emphasis mine), "I agree totally...history is gonna show that our nation will be much worse off because of our decision to go into Iraq, that we are not a safer place today because we took out Saddam Hussein, indeed, Iraq is not a better place because we removed Saddam Hussein."
No better off? Gee Scott, we could release Saddaam in downtown Baghdad and see for ourselves if the Iraqis think they're better off with him. With luck, the new Iraqi police force might get to him first, ensuring a respectable hanging instead of him being torn asunder. Genocide? You "agree totally"? Some of Saddaam's mass graves were as fresh as the ink on the pre-emptive death certificates he sent to the families of Iraqi scientists being interviewed by Hans Blix. One wants to scream, "CAN'T YOU SEE THE DIFFERNCE?"
Apparently not, so I'll spell it out: Even granting the premise that the war was "unjust", there's a world of difference between that and genocide, or else genocide has no meaning. The difference is in goals and intent, not to mention scale. Even those who criticize US motives aren't arguing that our true motive was to wipe out the Iraqi people.
In a cosmic sense, thanks to the butterfly effect, when so many people needlessly die, as happened over the long years of Saddam's reign of terror (1968 - 2003), including the UN-approved sanctions "genocide" (1991 - 2003) and the "unilateral" Bush "genocide" (March, 2003 - probably June, 2004 -- gotta love American efficiency!), there's no-one on earth who isn't somewhat to blame. But the "everybody's equally guilty" game is a utopian fantasy in which the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. It treats Saddam as if he were some inanimate object, reacting to U.S. policy with no more free will than a fat molecule forming scum on a bowl of soup. Calling every innocent death a genocide is defining deviancy down. It's the council of despair, pure and simple.
A pacifist's nightmare vision is a young, gung-ho, brainwashed Marine gunning down fleeing children with a burning village in the background. In Scott Ritter's Veterans' Day speech on Iraq, Ritter points out this could never happen "Because Marines don't kill kids. That just ain't what we do." Yet according to the caller, this is exactly what our servicemen and woman did, in enforcing the sanctions regime and participating in the invasion. Ritter's conspicuous failure to correct the caller on national television invokes a different nightmare vision: an aging, gung-ho, Marine, brainwashed by mindless pacifism, who apparently feels that merely by living in relative freedom and paying taxes, all Americans (himself included) are complicit in genocide.
So, what to make of Ritter? Aside from the WMD question, his personal and policy choices are highly questionable, but I'm willing to concede that a person who knows with certainty one true thing that all the world denies, is liable to become dismayed and to loose perspective on all the other truths in life. If a man is judged solely by what's in his heart, Ritter is not a traitor. That much is clear from this and other interviews; besides, any veteran has earned the right to be against war.
Unlike, say, Jane Fonda's brief stint as a glamorous, honorary anti-aircraft gunner in the NVA, Ritter's actions stop just short of outright aid and comfort to the enemy. But only just barely short. Ritter's achievement in seeing through the intelligence fog is marred by his enthusiastic embrace of anti-war, blame-America-first hype and hysteria. Ritter irresponsibly permitted himself to be exploited by the pro-Saddaam camp of the anti-war movement, while failing to offer coherent ideas and alternatives of his own. The silver lining to our long, sad experience with Soviet propaganda and well-meaning pacifists gives us the perfect label for Ritter and his ilk: useful idiots. He deserves not so much scorn as pity.