Published on Tuesday, February 10, 2004 by the Cape Cod Times
Revisiting Ritter on WMD
by Sean Gonsalves
According to the gospel of Matthew, the world's most famous woodworker said "a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house."
It may be a stretch to consider former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter a prophet, but his pre-war warnings about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq certainly appear prophetic today in light of David Kay's recent report.
What follows is the meat and potatoes of my interview with Ritter three years before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and one year after Ritter published a more detailed analysis in his book "Endgame."
SG: Can you tell me about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to the Middle East region, in particular, and the world, in general?
Ritter: "Let's talk about the weapons. In 1991, did Iraq have a viable (WMD) capability? You're darn right they did. They had a massive chemical weapons program. They had a giant biological weapons program. They had long-range ballistic missiles and they had a nuclear weapons program that was about six months away from having a viable weapon.
"Now after seven years of work by UNSCOM inspectors, there was no more (WMD) program. It had been eliminated....When I say eliminated I'm talking about facilities destroyed...
"The weapons stock had been, by and large, accounted for - removed, destroyed or rendered harmless. Means of production had been eliminated, in terms of the factories that can produce this....There were some areas that we didn't have full accounting for...(U.N. Resolution) 687 required that Iraq be disarmed 100 percent. It's what they call 'quantitative disarmament.' Iraq will not be found in compliance until it has been disarmed to a 100 percent level. That's the standard set forth by the Security Council and as implementors of the Security Council resolution, the weapons inspectors had no latitude to seek to do anything less than that - 80 percent was not acceptable; 90 percent was not acceptable; only 100 percent was acceptable.
"And this was the Achilles tendon, so to speak, of UNSCOM. Because by the time 1997 came around, Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed. On any meaningful benchmark - in terms of defining Iraq's WMD capability; in terms of assessing whether or not Iraq posed a threat, not only to its immediate neighbors, but the region and the world as a whole - Iraq had been eliminated as such a threat....
"What was Iraq hiding? Documentation primarily - documents that would enable them to reconstitute, at a future date, WMD capability....But all of this is useless...unless Iraq has access to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars required to rebuild the industrial infrastructure (necessary) to build these weapons. They didn't have it in 1998. They don't have it today. This paranoia about what Iraq is doing now that there aren't weapons inspectors reflects a lack of understanding of the reality in Iraq.
"The economic sanctions have devastated this nation. The economic sanctions, combined with the effects of the (first) Gulf War, have assured that Iraq operate as a Third World nation in terms of industrial output and capacity...
"Now, having said that, I firmly believe we have to get weapons inspections back in for the purpose of monitoring...especially if we lift economic sanctions. There should be immediate lifting of economic sanctions in return for the resumption of meaningful arms inspections. Iraq would go for that.
"What Iraq is not going for is this so-called suspension of sanctions where the Iraqi economy is still controlled by the Security Council and held hostage to the whim of the United States...
"I, for one, believe that a.) Iraq represents a threat to no one, and b.) Iraq will not represent a threat to anyone if we can get weapons inspectors back in. Iraq will accept these inspectors if we agree to the immediate lifting of economic sanctions. The Security Council should re-evaluate Iraq's disarmament obligation from a qualitative standpoint and not quantitative standpoint."
Maybe now those who chose to keep their head in the sand will recover the lost art of questioning authority and demanding accountability.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.
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