COLUMBIA - Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter made a surprise visit to a group of Missouri high school students on Wednesday to discuss the prospect of war with Iran and how to utilize citizenship in a representative democracy.
Ritter engaged in a conversation on the geopolitics between the United States and Iran with students in the Missouri Scholars Academy as part of the academy's course on the Middle East. He acknowledged he couldn't offer the students a direct preventive to war, but he was able to offer them ways to think critically as citizens.
"I can't give you a blueprint on how to stop war with Iran, but what I can say is how you can be a better citizen," Ritter said.
The Missouri Scholars Academy is a summer scholastic program that invites 328 high school students to MU for a three-week program. The students represent the top tier of Missouri's incoming high school juniors.
Katie Young, who teaches the Middle East major class at the academy, welcomed both Ritter and Lily Tinker Fortel, a recent civilian diplomat to Iran and community outreach coordinator for the mid-Missouri Peaceworks, to highlight the complexities of the United States' foreign policy toward Iran.
"The Middle East is the primary focus of American foreign policy for the next 20 years," Young said. "On the topic of Iran, we're trying to get students to see 'is (war with Iran) realistic? Is it possible? Would it further polarize American relations with Islam?'"
Ritter served as the UN chief weapons inspector to Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He was an outspoken critic of the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq and is now touring Midwestern cities to oppose military action against Iran.
His goal is to encourage students to engage actively in representative democracy and think critically when dissecting media information.
"What makes you a citizen?" Ritter asked. "The Constitution. It's not just a document that gives us rights. It gives us responsibility."
Ritter thinks informed citizens who invest themselves into their communities are the building blocks of a healthy democracy. Tinker Fortel agreed and cited Ritter's credentials and experience as enhancing his credibility on the issue of Iran and representative democracy.
"I think Scott has a really important message regarding how to get informed," Tinker Fortel said. "If we're not informed, we'll have a harder time reclaiming our representative democracy."
Ritter hoped his message would motivate students to seek out all sides of an issue and not subordinate themselves to only one perspective.
"You have to get the information yourself," Ritter said. "You have to ask the questions as a citizen. You can't depend on an editorial board. Citizenship isn't convenient. It's the most inconvenient thing you've got."
© 2008 Columbia Missourian