Interviewed February 20, 2007 Listen to the interview.
Is Iran making nuclear weapons? Is the United States preparing to wage war against them to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons? Our guest is Scott Ritter. He is a former Marine, United Nations weapons inspector, and author of an armful of books: Endgame, War on Iraq, Frontier Justice, Iraq Confidential, and his latest is Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change.
Welcome to Antiwar Radio, Scott.
Scott Ritter: Thank you for having me.
Horton: It’s great to have you on. The theme of your book, Target Iran, is that nuclear disarmament is the excuse the policy is really regime change. Is that right?
Ritter: That’s correct. The Bush administration has made it clear that when it comes to the Middle East, the policy is regional transformation. That’s inclusive of regime change in nations that the Bush administration has identified as either being a rogue nation or a failed nation state, and the current theocracy that governs Iran has been deemed by the Bush administration as being rogue in character in part because, as the Bush administration articulated it in the March 2006 National Security Strategy document, Iran is the number one state sponsor of terror in the world today.
Horton: And so it’s really not that our government is worried that they are about to have an armful of nuclear weapons then?
Ritter: Well, actually the government knows that Iran is not about to have an armful of nuclear weapons. When you hear someone say that Iran is ten years away from having a nuclear weapon, that means that they are at zero right now, because ten years is about how long it takes in this day and age that’s what it takes to put in place the technology, develop the infrastructure, pump out the fissile material, etc. Ten years is what a nuclear program takes. So if someone says they are ten years away, that means they are doing nothing now.
Horton: That’s funny because just this morning in the Financial Times, Mohamed el-Baradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency used exactly that same figure, ten years.
Ritter: It’s one that people continuously throw out. What Mohamed el-Baradei and others I’ll just speak about el-Baradei because I know what he is committed to. He has said repeatedly that the work of the IAEA inspectors has uncovered no evidence that sustains the allegations that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
However, he notes that the type of inspections that are permitted in Iran: those inspections that are mandated by the Nonproliferation Treaty, the safeguards inspections, even the additional protocol inspections that Iran agreed to none of these gives the IAEA inspectors the kind of access that is necessary to ascertain that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran.
This means if someone throws out the supposition that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it doesn’t matter if the IAEA doesn’t find any evidence to back this up. The IAEA, under pressure from the United States to try to prove the negative that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, is saying that they [the IAEA] have to have absolute access to every site in Iran even though that’s a violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. It’s not called for by the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Horton: We saw in Iraq what really happens in a situation like that; total access still isn’t good enough because if you are not turning over your banned weapons we know you have, then that’s just proof that you are hiding them better than we were accusing you of hiding them. Right?
Ritter: Well, (laughs), that’s the rhetoric.
The bottom line is, as was the case in Iraq, disarmament is not the objective in Iran. Believe me, there are much better ways to go about pursuing disarmament than what the United States, than what the IAEA are doing. Verification, disarmament and arms control all require that you have a modicum of trust that it is a bilateral activity that in exchange for giving something, you get something.
In the case of Iraq, it was clear that even though the Iraqis did everything in their power eventually to demonstrate that they had disarmed. They granted full access to the inspectors. It was the American agenda of regime change that corrupted the integrity of the entire operation and created a cloud of distrust that polluted every aspect of the inspector’s work.
The same thing is taking place today. Iran has given the IAEA inspectors extraordinary access to facilities throughout Iran. They have explained things. They have provided documents. They have done above and beyond what is required by the Nonproliferation Treaty and have demonstrated that their nuclear energy program is a program that is consistent with that which is permitted by the law. But thanks to the United States, the IAEA has corrupted the integrity of the process: by insisting that Iran comply with things that it is not required to do; by creating a wall of mistrust; by buying along with the notion that somewhere in Iran we don’t know where, no one knows where, somehow we don’t know how, nobody knows how Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. And they just throw that out there without any evidence to back it up. It’s just a given. We are told that the President of the United States and others in the administration have said there can be no doubt Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Well you know what, there’s nothing but doubt that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. There is no evidence whatsoever! I need to reinforce that point: There is no evidence whatsoever to back up the rhetoric that the Bush administration has put out there that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Horton: What’s happening here is, if I pull a gun on you and say,
“Hands up! Drop your weapon.” You say,
“Look at me I’m unarmed.” Then I say,
“Ah! … you haven’t dropped your weapons yet.”
The fact that the gun is not at your feet, means that it must still be in your waist band somewhere.
Ritter: Or if I pick up a stick and say,
“Wait a minute now, I’m going to bat your gun away.” Now you say,
“Ah, ha! You’re trying to attack me.”
Horton: Yeah, exactly.
Horton: Okay, you wrote I’m trying to remember if it was a year or two years ago that this whole “attempt” by the United States and the Europeans to get Iran to back down from their nuclear capability such as it is that rather than being plan A, and then if that doesn’t work, plan B and then if that doesn’t work, Plan C (that is, getting the Europeans to negotiate for us, and then Plan B, getting the United Nations to do sanctions if necessary and then Plan C being warfare), you said that this is really step 1, 2 and 3, not plan A, B and C.
Ritter: That’s correct. It’s all part of the same plan. The Bush administration knows there is a certain process to be followed through in getting the world and the American people prepared for armed conflict. You’re not going to get the IAEA to rubber stamp the Bush administration’s contentions. That was one of the things learned by the U.S. Government: that international Weapons Inspectors do possess a relative degree of integrity and aren’t going to go about making things up at the behest of the United States.
They also know the Security Council is an environment where the United States has near absolute control. The United States gets to insert its will and impose its directives. The Security Council makes the United Nations an extension of American foreign policy.
The Bush administration needed to shift the debate from the IAEA in Vienna, Austria to the Security Council. If they can pressure the IAEA to shift the debate, they have now created the impression that there is something of concern.
You see, if there was nothing of concern, why shift the debate? Now they’ve [the Bush administration] brought it to the Security Council and they’ve started to build this trap for the Security Council members and others to say, there is a problem here: now do something about it.
So initially the Security Council will pass an Article 40 resolution that says, Iran must comply. If Iran doesn’t, it constitutes a threat. Now the Security Council will need to do something else. They’ll pass an Article 41 resolution that says, because Iran fails to comply, there is going to be economic sanctions. If Iran just sweeps that aside too, what do you do now?
This is where the United States builds the trap: by defining Iran as a threat worthy of a Chapter 7 resolution [UN Resolutions must invoke Chapter 7 to use force against states]. If the UN Security Council does nothing, then the U.S. has every right to say that it will not allow it’s national security interests to be hijacked by the international community and it will do that which is necessary to defend itself.
This is what the Bush administration has done. We are in such a situation as we speak. The Bush administration needs to go to no one for permission. They have got the International Community backed into a corner. They’ve gotten Congress backed into a corner.
Congress, idiots that they are, have abrogated any constitutional responsibility when they passed these ridiculous war powers resolutions in 2001 – 2002. Instead of keeping the verbiage in these resolutions specific to the task at hand, they, in their patriotic fervor, have pretty much given the President a blank check to do whatever he wishes. Today, having rubber stamped the President’s statements regarding the threat posed by Iran, who in Congress is standing up to challenge the President’s assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Hardly anybody. Practically nobody of stature. Not a single one of the would be Presidential candidates. In fact, they’ve all been going overboard to embrace Iran as a threat worthy of all options remaining on the table, to paraphrase Hillary Rodham Clinton. Congress is trapped. The international community is trapped and now it’s just a matter of the Bush administration picking the time and place of the fight.
Horton: Now about that United Nations trap… I guess the rest of the countries went along with the American pressure on the IAEA to move it to the Security Council because they are trying to get in between the U.S. and the war. Sort of the same situation we had in Iraq. The reason they passed Resolution 1441 [on Iraq] was not to get America into war, but to try to stop us from getting into a war. But as you say, they basically accepted the US premise: there’s a problem, and if the UN is not willing to do something about it, we are.
Ritter: That’s absolutely correct. You know, people feel that they need to be at the table to be part of the game. They don’t realize that once you sit at the table, you nullify yourself. To stay part of the game, you need to stay out of the table. For whatever reason, Europe has fallen into the trap of saying, in order to get America to soften its position, we must play the game that America dealing out here.
Now that’s wrong. Europe should never play the game to begin with. It should have told the United States, “absolutely not. We don’t consider Iran a threat. We are not engaging on this issue. Go pound sand.”
That would have made it very difficult for the Bush administration, especially in the aftermath of it’s unilateral disaster in Iraq, to move strongly against Iran. But by playing the game, Europe legitimized the cause the United States is embracing. Now they may not believe that’s what they are doing up front, but that’s the end result. Today, George W. Bush can stand before the world and before the American people and say that Europe has reached this conclusion together with America that America is not the only one saying this.
Horton: Right, and now to be clear. Is America saying that Iran may not enrich uranium at all?
Ritter: Well, the United States has said that Iran will not be permitted to have any technology that could be useful in nuclear weapons, but the enrichment of uranium is a dual purpose technology. Once you have that technology to enrich uranium, you can enrich it to five percent, which is usable for a nuclear reactor, or you can enrich it to 80 or 90 percent, which is usable in a nuclear weapon.
Horton: Let me stop you right there. If you had your centrifuge equipment perfected to the degree that you could enrich uranium to electricity grade low enriched uranium, how easy is it to enrich it up to 94 percent? Is it simply a matter of flipping a switch?
Ritter: Well, it’s not just flipping a switch. You basically are taking the feed stock that goes through at 5% and feeding it back through and repeating that process until you get your highly enriched uranium.
Horton: Okay, so you don’t need a whole new setup then.
Ritter: You don’t need a whole new setup, but I’ll tell you this. If your initial setup is under the monitoring of the IAEA, there is no way you can enrich uranium to high enrichment levels without being caught.
Horton: I see. But the worry is that if they get the know-how, then they can kick the IAEA out, withdraw from the NPT, and start making a bomb. Is that it?
Ritter: Well, at that point and time the debate changes tremendously. Right now, the question of Iran’s intent can’t be proven. We need to discuss what the facts that are available show.
I would say that one of the negotiating tactics that I would take with the Iranians is: if you pursue an enrichment program, it must be under 100% verifiable monitoring by the IAEA. Should you withdraw from the NPT and kick the inspectors out, we will be right to infer ill intent. We will be right to infer a nuclear weapons program.
I would say to the Iranians: you’ve said some irresponsible things; you’re behavior has been questionable. We have reason to doubt your sincerity. We are willing to go down this path [Iranian civilian enrichment program], but we are going to create an Iran-only caveat here, and that is: Iran is permitted to pursue it’s article 4 right of enriching uranium, but Iran will do so with stringent inspections. I would say, “Iran, now you are forever married to the NPT as long as you have an enrichment program. If you kick the inspectors out or are found cheating, we have a right to infer nuclear weapons intent and this will never be tolerated.”
If Iran goes down that path [nuclear weapons development], I myself would support a military strike against Iran, because then it’s legitimate. We have a legitimate right to say Iran cannot have nuclear weapons. There’s nothing wrong with that stance.
Horton: Are you sure? Even that. Iran doesn’t have the right to tell us that we can’t have nuclear weapons.
Ritter: Hmmm. I’m sorry, that’s not the way the game is played.
I’m not one of those guys who believes that because we’ve got nuclear weapons, everybody’s allowed to have them. I believe that we need to be getting rid of them. But that’s an argument for the American people to engage in. The Iranians don’t get a vote on that one.
I disagree very strongly. We live in a very dangerous world. I don’t want to play little feel-good games here. The Iranians are not a nation that should be having nuclear weapons.
You know what? The Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, agrees with me. He doesn’t want to engage in this silly debate about whether Iran should have nuclear weapons because Israel has them. He has said that nuclear weapons are incompatible with Islam. I’d like to take him at his word.
Horton: Well, sure, I think that America should disarm as well, but I’m just not sure that it is America’s responsibility to allow or disallow other nations to have a nuclear program one way or another.
Ritter: Well, it’s not the United States alone that’s saying this. It’s the international community. This is where I would agree. We have to draw the line. There can be no more nuclear proliferation. We need to concur with the rest of the world that there is no more room for the continuation of proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Here’s the problem. If we get into the debate about whether Iran can or can’t have one, we’ve lost. What we should be seeking here is to resolve a problem that’s leading us down a path towards war. That problem is America’s policy of regime change. That’s what our focus should be on.
Horton: You are a firm believer in nonproliferation. Do you believe the Bush administration, by misusing the nonproliferation regime such as the NPT and the IAEA to make all these false accusations against Iraq and now against Iran, has that hurt the long term future of the NPT and the IAEA’s ability to keep track of these kinds of things?
Ritter: Oh, absolutely. It’s hurt nonproliferation not just in Iran, not just for the IAEA. It’s hurt disarmament and arms control efforts globally.
The Bush administration has what I call an incoherent disarmament and arms control policy. It essentially doesn’t have one. Its arms control policy has been confused with its global hegemony efforts, where it uses the fear that’s induced by the topics of arms control and disarmament to provide support for policies that, if you think about them, are about furthering armament, furthering proliferation.
Why do nations proliferate? It comes down to something simple, to Newton’s second law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So long as the United States behaves irresponsibly, possesses nuclear weapons of its own and comes up with policies that talk about preemptive use of nuclear weapons don’t be surprised when other nations around the world react in a similar manner. The Bush administration’s policies have been devastating to disarmament, devastating to arms control and have done nothing more than promote the proliferation of WMD.
Horton: In fact, wasn’t there a United Nations report that came out a few weeks ago that said they were predicting in 20 years there will 15 more states with nukes.
Ritter: Well, they did put out that report, but I don’t know what the basis is.
Let’s focus on the example of North Korea. They went down the path of nuclear weapons and what have they gotten for it? They are bankrupt.
The bottom line is, a sound foreign policy would generate the kind of economic assistance to North Korea that nuclear weapons wouldn’t. North Korea doesn’t need a nuclear weapon. It has enough artillery to rain 300,000 rounds of high explosive shells on the capital of South Korea per hour in a conflict. So they didn’t need to go that path. They nearly bankrupted themselves. They didn’t get the support of the world when they went this path.
I believe that, yes, there are nations that will have access to technology that could allow them to proliferate into the nuclear weapons sphere in the next 20 years, but I believe that responsible nations are saying, that’s not the route we want to go. That’s stupidity.
You’re going to see, rather than a push for proliferation, the world saying: we need to back this puppy up. There’s going to be a lot of pressure put on the United States [to disarm].
Just take a look at the debate that’s going on in England today concerning Tony Blair’s efforts to acquire a new generation of nuclear missile submarines. The only argument people can put forward about the need for Great Britain to have nuclear submarines goes like this: although there is no threat that manifests itself today that warrants Great Britain spending billions of dollars on the new submarine and new nuclear missiles, we need to be concerned about Russia in the future.
That’s heading us in the path towards the resumption of the cold war. Back to the resumption of the bad days. That’s not pushing us forward. That’s old thinking. That’s outdated thinking. I’m hopeful that sometime post-George W. Bush, the United states will get in line with the rest of the world and say, we need to rethink this whole direction.
Horton: Yeah, and it may even be the silver lining of all this trouble of the Bush years. People are going to renew their focus on the nuclear problem because, you can’t use a nuke without killing innocent people. These things have got to go, one way or the other.
Ritter: I totally agree. Look, I’m a big fan of the zero option. That’s why I just don’t want to get into the discussion about Iran having nuclear weapons well they can’t.
I don’t believe Israel should have them. I don’t believe we should have them. I don’t believe Russia should have them. I don’t believe anybody should have them.
I just think its the wrong direction to be taking the conversation, to say, because we have them, other people should have them. No! Nuclear weapons are bad. They are destabilizing, and they have the potential inflicting horrific harm on this planet. We need to be thinking long term here. I’ve got 14-year-old daughters. I want them to grow up and live in a world free of nuclear holocaust. I want them to be able to have children, who can live in a world free of the threat of nuclear holocaust.
If we keep going in the direction we are going right now, I may see a nuclear holocaust in my age, and not only would that be bad for me, it would be devastating for my children. I just think it’s time responsible humans realize there can be no justification for having nuclear weapons in this day and age.
Horton: Okay, now back to Iran specifically and their nuclear program such as it is. We began by talking about the experts saying that they are 10 years away, which you say means they haven’t started yet. They’re not really on the path. But there’s a word that stuck out at me in a video I saw of you and Seymour Hersh on a stage in New York last October. You used the word ‘tantamount.’ You said that to the Israeli point of view, if the Iranian’s have any nuclear technology whatsoever, that is tantamount to their ability to make a nuclear weapon. Their red line is way way back before your red line. Is that it?
Ritter: Yeah, that’s the Israeli point of view. I don’t agree with this point of view, but I acknowledge this point of view.
Horton: I understand, I’m just saying that it helps your argument. You accept their [the Israeli government] premise that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons. You’re just saying that they are freaking out when there is nothing to freak out about.
Ritter: Well, the Israelis have taken a very absolutist point of view, which is, they want to take the potential of risk down to as close to zero as possible. From the Israeli perspective, once you are able to perfect the enrichment of uranium, there is nothing to stop you from going down the path toward nuclear weapons. So they say “no” to enrichment technology [for Iran].
The problem with the Israelis is the rest of the world just disagrees with that premise. We have an Nonproliferation Treaty and the world has signed it. Israel hasn’t.
The treaty says nations are allowed to pursue this technology for peaceful purposes as long as they embrace certain verification processes.
Horton: And again, Iran is a member of the NPT and has IAEA inspectors crawling all over the place, and Israel is not a member at all.
Ritter: That’s right. As someone who is a friend of Israel and is sympathetic to the legitimate national security concerns of Israel, I say it is time Israel stop and reflect that its basic stance, when it comes to Iran, is an uncritical one with no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the world. Israel cannot cry wolf when it is itself the biggest wolf on the block.
Horton: You’ve said in your book that you are very much pro-Israel, and you’re very much in favor of the security of Israel, but you point out in your book that the Israelis are actually increasing the risks to themselves by imagining a danger in Iran that doesn’t exist. Israel is going to get into a war over nothing. How risky is that?
Ritter: It’s very risky. Genuine security is not brought about by searching for enemies. Right now Israel is in the hunt for enemies. Genuine security is brought about by figuring out how to peacefully coexist with your neighbors as equals.
One of the big problems is the Israelis refuse to provide equality to their Arab neighbors. Israel wants to have a situation where five million people get to dictate regional terms of coexistence to hundreds of millions of people. That calculus just doesn’t work in the long run. It creates a situation where inevitably Israel is going to find itself in increasingly dangerous situations.
Horton: Now all throughout your book you tell the entire history since Bush came into power: our relations with Iran; Iran’s relations with the IAEA, etc. It’s all very complicated: first generation centrifuges; second generation centrifuges; what came from A Q Khan; what did they make themselves and which facility is where.
It seems that in some places in your books there is smoke. That, wait a minute, Iran’s been hiding something that now they are admitting to because they have been forced to admit to it. Is there enough smoke to indicate any kind of fire in terms of a secret nuclear program?
Ritter: Well, you have to put everything in it’s proper perspective.
If you just talk about the smoke, and you leave it without a context, you could say, “yes, they are cheating, they are hiding something or whatever we have a right to assume.”
But I always like to believe in mitigating circumstances, especially ones that are legitimate. You have to ask the question, why were the Iranians hiding this?
If you investigate and find that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, then the answer will be that they are pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
If you investigate and find the answer is that since 1979 the US has blocked every effort undertaken by the Islamic Republic of Iran to pursue its legitimate rights to acquire technology related to nuclear energy, and furthermore, if the Iranians have determined that possessing a nuclear energy capability is a strategic necessity not a nicety, but a necessity for Iran’s long term survival, you might be able to say, “wait a minute. Iran was ‘cheating’ or ‘hiding’ because that’s the only way they could acquire this stuff.”
When you ask the question and investigate, that’s the answer that comes out. Not that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but that it is the Unites States that instigated their cheating by creating the conditions by which Iran could not acquire the technology it is permitted to acquire under law in legitimate circles.
Why did Iran go to A. Q. Khan? Because that was the only outlet available for Iran to acquire the technology they needed. It just so happens that A Q Khan is also a nuclear weapons proliferator, but the technology for enrichment that A. Q. Khan used in his weapons program is the same technology that is usable in the energy sphere. So, you have to ask that question. You have to go down that path.
It’s the same thing that happened with Saddam. I was a chief weapons inspector. I was blocked out of numerous sites at gunpoint. People said, why is Saddam blocking the inspectors? He must be hiding weapons of mass destruction. But you must ask the question and truly investigate and not just ask in a rhetorical fashion, why is Saddam blocking?
It turned out Iraq had some legitimate concerns that the inspection teams I was leading were loaded to the gills with CIA and British intelligence operatives who were trying to collect intelligence about the security of Saddam Hussein so that they could assassinate Saddam as part of their unilateral regime change national security objective on Iraq. Doesn’t that put the blockages in a little different perspective? Of course it does. I would say the same thing holds true of Iran and it’s nuclear program.
Horton: Something we always hear about Iran’s nuclear program is, “Come on! Persia is sitting on a sea of oil. What could they possibly need a civilian nuclear energy program for?”
Ritter: I’d love to be a Congressman for a day with subpoena authority. I’d subpoena Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I’d say:
“In 1976, Dick, when you were White House Chief of Staff, and Donald, when you were the Secretary of Defense for Gerald Ford, you guys concurred that Iran had every right to pursue a nuclear energy program inclusive of indigenous enrichment of uranium capabilities, and yet at that time Iran was one of the major oil producers, awash in a sea of oil. Why did you reach that conclusion? If you don’t want to testify, I’ll pull out the documents you signed. You reached that conclusion because you agreed that the expert opinion in Iran and the US, that Iran had a finite amount of oil, that this oil needed to be exported for Iran to retain economic viability, that Iran was a developing economy, that if it did not develop an alternative energy source, would eventually be consuming the bulk of the oil meant for exportation, thereby destroying Iran’s ability to generate the income needed build its economy. It would self-destruct.”
Wow! We knew that in 1976. And the people that knew it were there same people that 30 years later are saying, “Iran is awash in a sea of oil. There is no reason for them to be pursuing a nuclear program other than to acquire nuclear weapons.”
Horton: So, it’s simply a matter of opportunity cost. I own a shop have some gasoline and some coal. Do I want to sell my coal and burn my gasoline or sell my gasoline and burn my coal. It’s simply a matter of which one is cheaper for me, right?
Ritter: Well, let’s say the Iranians could enrich nuclear fuel. The market for nuclear fuel isn’t that great. The market for petroleum is huge.
Let’s say you have gasoline and gasoline sells at $6.00 per gallon I’m throwing out a hypothetical number and you’ve got coal at $.39 per unit. What are you going to heat your house with? Gas? If you can sell coal at $.39 while gas would get $6.00? You’re going to sell the gas and heat your house with coal.
The Iranians are going down the same path. The amount of money they are spending on their nuclear program is not that much money when you think about it. They are spending about $30 billion a year to import gasoline. Now wait a minute they are a nation awash in a sea of oil. What do they need gasoline for? Because they don’t have any refining capacity. It was all destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war. So they have to import refined oil products to feed their national economic requirement for consumption.
Iran has a serious energy problem. They need an alternative source of energy.
Horton: OK. Now last week I spoke with Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, and he agreed with what you said at the beginning of the show; that there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. But he said, he kind of believes that Iran does, and his CIA friends believe that Iran does, even though they can’t prove it. What do you say about that?
Ritter: I respect people’s gut feelings. As an analyst, you always have a gut feeling. But I’ll tell you this: I don’t act on what I believe; I act on what I know.
Horton: Right, but your indications are that they really don’t have any nuclear weapons program?
Ritter: I’m somebody who believes that you have to look at the totality of things. You can’t just go on your own prejudices.
My prejudices about Iran were formed in the 1980s with the bombing of Beirut barracks. I had friend who participated in the Desert One Hostage Rescue mission, I had friends who were held hostage in the Embassy. I had friends who were blown up in Beirut. I have a deep, dark hatred for Iranians for what they did to the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. military and what they’ve done to our country. They held Americans hostage for 444 days. I don’t like these people. But as a professional intelligence analyst, I have to step back away from my own prejudices and say, where do the facts take me on this one?
I always point out, I’m not a Catholic. I’m not a big fan of the Pope, but if the Pope came up to me and put his hand on the Bible and swore an oath to God that something was so, I would have to take that seriously because I do respect the fact that the Pope is a religious man who takes his religion seriously, and wouldn’t lightly put his hand on the Bible and swear an oath.
I take the religion of the Ayatollah Khamenei seriously. This is a serious religious figure. I’m not someone who takes him dismissively saying: he’s an Iranian; he’s a cheating Muslim so-and-so. No. He’s a serious Islamic scholar who had issued a fatwa that nuclear weapons are incompatible with Islam, and that the Islamic Republic of Iran will never pursue them.
I’ve got to take that seriously. It doesn’t mean that I base my whole assessment on that, but it becomes a major part of calculating the intent of Iran. Intent becomes a very important factor when you have no evidence, and there is no evidence.
So I say, why do you think Iran would do that? You say, because they intend to do it. I say, but what do you base that on?
I can tell you that the overwhelming amount of indicators available point away from Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The evidence does not point to Iran having some kind of intent to acquire nuclear weapons.
Horton: And now let’s talk about the peace offers. There’s been various attempts. It’s been in the news lately about the April 2003 peace offer that Condoleezza Rice is now saying that she never even saw or heard of until the Washington Post reported it last summer.
There was also another peace offer that was to Internationalize Iran’s nuclear program where they said, let’s go ahead and bring in French and German companies and we’ll make it an international consortium. That way it is all perfectly above board, because it is America’s allies helping them do it.
Ritter: But the bottom line again is that we are talking about genuine efforts at diplomacy on the part of Iran to resolve a difficult situation. To me this screams intent; the Intent of the Iranians not to pursue nuclear weapons. If you were going to pursue a nuclear weapons program, why would you agree to these things? Why would you put them on the table? Why would you go down this path?
Ritter: It shows me that there is one side that is serious about resolving this and there is another side that is not. Look, the US government is not about to do anything that legitimizes the Iranian government’s position. To sit down and actually negotiate with the Iranians means that you respect what they bring to the table. You create opportunities to avoid conflict, to avoid confrontation. The sole purpose of the Bush administration’s policy objectives vis-à-vis Iran is to create opportunities for conflict and confrontation, because the goal is regime change.
This is what the Bush administration wants. They don’t want to negotiate this thing away. They don’t want to resolve this. This is not their objective. If I hear one more time that the President wants a diplomatic solution, as I’ve said before, I won’t believe it until he puts Condoleezza Rice’s butt on an airplane and flies her to Tehran. Then I’ll say, okay, they are serious about negotiation.
James Baker flew to Europe to meet with Tariq Aziz prior to the 1991 Gulf war. That proved to me that we were serious about seeking any alternative to war. This Bush administration is not even close to that.
Horton: They don’t want a diplomatic solution. And again, if we can revisit this April 2003 peace offer. My understanding is that they offered: to withhold all support for Hamas and Hezbollah; to go along with the U.S. when it comes to their nuclear program; they were prepared to recognize Israel even to the degree that Malaysia does. This is the offer that America turned down, right?
Ritter: Correct. I’m not intimately familiar with the offer. I don’t believe Iran was going to withdraw all support for Hamas or Hezbollah. I think they said that they would reduce the support and would pressure Hamas and Hezbollah to behave.
The recognition of Israel wouldn’t be that they were going to suddenly exchange embassies but it would be the kind of recognition that says, “Israel exists. We may not be happy about it, but Israel exists and we are not going to challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
On the nuclear issue Iran is saying, “look, we’ll put it on the table. If it bothers you, OK, let’s talk about it.”
It’s serious diplomacy.
Horton: If Iran is really willing to compromise about their nuclear program, about Hamas and Hezbollah and about recognition of Israel, why is American policy so intent on regime change?
Ritter: Because we have ideologues who have bought into a singular direction of travel for the United States. When you’re the sole remaining superpower I’ve been in Washington DC and seen this many many times you say, “we are America. We are the sole remaining super power. We don’t negotiate. We don’t want to treat others as equals. It’s our way or the highway.” That’s just the way that it is.
When a policy gets staffed in Washington DC, it becomes dogma. It becomes unchallengeable by anyone especially in the international community. You don’t let others dictate your terms because that is a sign of weakness. That old saying, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is absolutely true. The United States is an extremely corrupt superpower.
As I talked to you before about Israel being a country of 5 million people and dictating the terms of coexistence with hundreds of millions of people in the region. Well, 300 million Americans think that we can dictate the terms of coexistence with billions of people on the earth. The earth is our playground. This is what’s happening here.
The policies that have been formulated vis-à-vis Iran are very simplistic policies that are part and parcel of the National Security Strategy promulgated in September of 2002 that divides the world up into spheres of American national interests where we are allowed to dictate and impose our will economically, politically, militarily, and preemptively if necessary with total disregard for international law. After all, international law is nothing more than contract law that can be renegotiated at our whim. This is what is going on.
We don’t have responsible policy formulators right now. We have arrogant, global hegemonists in power.
Horton: And tomorrow’s deadline at the UN is for what?
Ritter: Tomorrow’s deadline is for Iran to suspend enrichment and to accept the Security Council’s demand regarding its nuclear program. Iran is just not going to do it.
Horton: And so this is just another step towards the path to war, and I guess George Bush would be disappointed if they did suspend, right? He wants a war.
Ritter: George Bush won’t let them suspend. What does suspension mean?
Let’s say Iran says they suspend enrichment. Think of the logic now. We have the IAEA now gaining total access with the most technologically advanced investigative instruments the world has ever seen when it comes to nuclear technology. They have gained access to all of the identified sites, and they have said that there is nothing here to sustain anything other than a peaceful nuclear program.
The Bush administration has come out and said that Iran buried everything and created this whole alternative universe where secret nuclear programs are underway that are dedicated to military action.
So what if Iran suspends its nuclear program? The Bush administration is just going to say, well, you’ve just hidden it someplace else. They’ve created the problem of proving the negative. Then we are going to tell the Iranians “we need additional access.” The Iranians might agree and say, “Okay, what do you want to do?” We say,
“Go anywhere, anytime.”
“You want to come into our Guardian Council?”
“You want to come into our National Security Council?”
“You want to go into secret military industrial facilities?”
Finally Iran says, “And this is at the same time that you have on paper documents that state that your policy is regime change? Go pound sand.”
Iran won’t go for it. If Iran said today that they are going to suspend their nuclear enrichment, that would be unacceptable to Bush administration. The Bush administration would refuse it.
Horton: They’ll just make demand on demand on demand until Iran finally refuses something?
Ritter: That’s correct because their intent is regime change.
Saddam Hussein, at the end of the day, did everything the International Community wanted him to do. If you reflect on the inspections that transpired between 2002 and March 2003, those inspectors when into Saddam Hussein’s bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, living room and basement that’s his personal house by the way not to mention all the other facilities that were out there. There was never an obstruction. Anything they wanted to do, they got. They found nothing that contradicted the CIA’s assertions about [the absence of] hidden WMD capability, and yet at the end of the day, George Bush with a straight face looked the American people in the eye and stated that Saddam has refused the last chance to disarm.
There is nothing the Iranians could do to make these ideologues happy. They have a policy of regime change, not disarmament.
Horton: Now let’s talk about some of the incredibly complicated consequences of war against Iran that we get into by carrying out this simplistic policy.
I interviewed Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence official last week who told me he’s seen plans that are not just for bombing Natanz and Bushehr, a couple of known nuclear sites, but are for wide ranging attacks against the entire Iranian infrastructure, their subs, their ports, their everything.
Ritter: Well, of course. This dates back to the time of the Clinton administration.
Reflect back on the 72-hour bombing campaign that we witnessed, Operation Desert Fox, in December 1998. Ostensibly it was done because the Iraqi government had refused access to certain sites for UN inspectors. So the US ordered the inspectors out and bombed Iraq.
But if one takes a look at the sites that were bombed, a very small percentage of them had anything to do with weapons potential or production capacity. The majority of the sites dealt with Iraq’s military, with their National leadership and their security. These were decapitation strikes. Why? Because the bombing campaign’s aim was not about disarming Iraq, but creating the conditions wherein certain Iraqi generals, that the CIA believed they had on their payroll, could move into a weakened Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein. It was a regime change strike.
The same mindset is at play today in Iran. We’ve already said remember what I’m saying it’s not about disarmament. Disarmament can be negotiated. The Bush administration will never trust the Iranian government. The Iranian government can say and do anything and we [the U.S.] won’t trust them.
So ultimately, the only measure of verification is to remove the Iranian government from power and replace it with one we trust. So even if we go to war, ostensibly to get rid of a nuclear capability, we will never get rid of it. Why? Because we are bombing the targets we know; the 12 or so nuclear sites that the IAEA has inspected. We have already stated that these are not doing nuclear weapons activity. The (supposed) nuclear weapons are happening at other locations, but we don’t know where they are.
So what are we going to bomb, the great unknown? No, the only way to get 100% certainty is to remove the regime from power. And so the targets will be targets of decapitation, seeking to eliminate the Iranian leadership, targets of security suppression or neutralization. We will hit the revolutionary guard. We will hit the police. We will hit security services. We will hit the military targets of destabilization. We will hit economic targets to create unrest.
The goal is to create conditions inside Iran that empower the Iranian people to rise up and remove the theocracy from power. That’s the objective here. That’s what the air strikes are supposed to effect.
But I’ll tell you this. They’ll have about as much success as Bill Clinton had in 1998. There was no move on Baghdad. There was never a serious effort to get rid of Saddam Hussein. It all collapsed and the same thing will happen if we bomb Iran thinking that the Iranian people are going to rise up and assist us.
Horton: Now as many times as that idea has been panned, do you still think the neoconservatives and the Bush Regime still actually believe that if they bomb Iran, it will encourage the people to rise up and overthrow their government and create an America-friendly one in its place?
Ritter: Absolutely. As many times as the notion of Saddam Hussein having some kind of strategic alliance with Osama bin Laden was panned prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration simply created the Office of Special Projects [sic] with Douglas Feith, who fabricated intelligence about this linkage, and that’s what they believe. It was all cherry picked intelligence, believe me.
It’s not Douglas Feith alone who is to blame here, though I condemn him wholeheartedly, but the Bush administration. It is not as though they sat down in a restaurant and said, “show me all the items on the menu and I’m going to nibble from the ones I like.” They came in and said, “I only want steak. Don’t show me anything other than steak.” Doug Feith’s job was to put steak on the table.
The same thing is happening today. This is an administration that does not want to hear, “No.” It does not want to hear a negative assessment. They say, “just feed me steak on Iran. Give me what I want.”
What they want is a scenario where the Iranian people rise up and topple the theocracy. They have bought into this. They have been speaking with Iranian ex-patriot groups in Los Angeles and New York city, who date back to the time of the Shah, who are telling the administration, “the Iranian people are dissatisfied with this Iranian government. They are ready for a change, and they just need help, but they are too afraid. They have this dictatorship, this security mechanism in place, that is oppressing them. All the Bush administration has to do is nullify that security mechanism and the Iranian people will rise up.”
This is what the Bush administration is hearing. This is what they want to believe. It fits into their tiny little world view and they refuse to consider anything other than this idea.
Horton: Well, in the real world, how might Iran fight back against the United States if we did initiate this air campaign.
Ritter: Well, I always remind people that the Iranians are not stupid. They are very worldly. They understand the Middle East better than we do. They understand Europe better than we do and, frankly speaking, I think if you took Iranian high school students and had a test on American geography and politics, it might become apparent that they understand America better than we do. They don’t want war. They’ve been to war. They’ve seen war. They’ve experienced it. They’ve buried hundreds of thousands of people. It’s the last thing they want, but if we push them in that direction; if we look for enemies and we pick Iran as our enemy, they will wage war, and it will be a war that is very well thought out.
I always remind people of the cockiness of the Israeli army, and again, I am a friend of Israel. I’ve worked very closely with the IDF but they are very cocky. Especially when it comes to conflict with Arab fighters. They believe that the Arabs are cowardly, lack technology, and will fire a few rockets and fire a few shells and then run away before they are captured.
Well, the Israeli’s got a bloody nose in Southern Lebanon this summer by Hezbollah. Hezbollah kicked their ass. Hezbollah did a darned good job, and I just tell people, Hezbollah were the students. The teachers were the Iranians. We are getting ready to go up against the masters. The students kicked the hell out of Israel. We should keep that in mind as we prepare to take on the masters.
I’m not saying that Iran is going to conquer America. They are going to defend themselves, and they are going to be very very careful about how they do this. They are not going to let themselves get trapped into a losing engagement. They know the area. I would say that if we put an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf, then we stand a good chance of losing that aircraft carrier. I would say that if we put troops on the ground, we stand a good chance of loosing those troops. And people say, well, in three weeks we took Baghdad. There’s nobody who can take us on.
Well, you know what, General Patton made a hell of a run from Normandy to Germany during World War II, yet 6 years later North Korea kicked the crap out of us in the Korean peninsula. If we think for a second that Iran is going to be a repeat of Iraq, we are in for a big wake up call, and this is just the military aspect of it.
Then there’s the economic aspect. The Iranian’s know what makes us tick. They are going to shut down oil production. Not just their own but the entire Middle East. No oil is going to be coming out of the Persian Gulf, and what’s that do? Well, right now we have the global oil production capacity running with an excess capacity of about 1.52 percent. This means we are just barely producing enough oil to meet the global demand. That demand is increasing.
If you shut down the Iranian oil and the Persian Gulf oil, and God forbid if Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan oil stops pumping oil in protest, we are looking at negative 20 to 30 percent production capacity. That means there is not anywhere near enough oil to feed global demand.
Do you think for a second the Indians and the Chinese and all those other developing economies are going to stop seeking access to oil because America was dumb enough to commit economic suicide by attacking Iran? No! America is now going to have to compete on the global market for a finite resource, and the price of oil is going to go through the roof. I’ve heard of people talking about $250, $300, $350 a barrel. If you get up that high, it just doesn’t matter anymore because the price of oil is reflected in the price of everything.
If we start paying that much for a barrel of oil, we are going to get into a hyperinflation cycle that’s uncontrollable. I just tell Americans I saw a photo once of a German in the 1920’s during the Weimar Republic when they got hit with hyperinflation. He was taking a wheelbarrow full of money to the bakery to buy a loaf of bread. We could be in that kind of situation.
All these Americans living on the margin Look, I don’t know what percentage of Americans are living paycheck by paycheck, but if you own a house, you have a mortgage. If you lost your job and didn’t have a paycheck, in two cycles you’d be homeless and on the street. I’ll tell you what, America, get ready for that reality. Iran is going to kick our butt.
We may thump our chests and have the F-15s and F-18s and go in there and bomb and blow things up, but at the end of the day they are still going to be in Iran; they are still going to function. America is going to be hurting. We don’t have much more capacity to suffer the kinds of losses that we are suffering in Iraq, and I don’t just mean human life.
I’m one of these people who bleeds for every American that dies, but recognizes the reality of war. I say, “in 4 years we’ve only lost 3,200?” We lost 6,000 in a matter of days on the beaches of Iwo Jima. We lost thousands at Omaha. We lost thousands in every battle we fought. That was real war. Now we are talking about a real war with Iran. Not this insurgency garbage we are playing with the Iraqis. Not just tiddlywinks. We are going to be doing the real thing. We’re going into the Super Bowl. We may not win.
Horton: In your book, Target Iran, you bring up the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons if our soldiers are stretched too thin and are left vulnerable to attach by the Iranians. It’s a possibility that the Americans could get ready and deploy nuclear weapons to defend our soldiers when we pick a fight that we can’t finish.
Ritter: George W. Bush is simply a man who does not know war. He has surrounded himself with people who do not know war. Condoleezza Rice does not know war. Dick Cheney doesn’t know war. None of these people know war. And so when they strut their stuff and stick out their chest and play the great commander in chief, they are playing games here. This is not reality based. Harry Truman knew war. He fought in WWI. He knew war. He saw war firsthand. Harry Truman was man enough to take a bloody nose in Korea and not use nuclear weapons. He told MacArthur to pound sand when MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons to stop the Chinese coming across the border. He knew that America could regroup and come back and reengage and fight the war down to our terms. Maybe not a total victory, but at least something that saved face. George Bush isn’t man enough to do this. He’s going off on an adventure. I’m not the only one who is prognosticating disaster here.
There are people saying we are in for tough times, and when these tough times emerge, what is George W. Bush going to do? Is he man enough to say, “Oops, got over extended and got slapped. Let’s back up, regroup, go back in and see what we can pull out of this fire here?” Or is he going to say, “No one does this to America!” even though we picked this fight? What if the Iranians sink an aircraft carrier or cut off 80,000 troops?
George W. Bush has come up with a couple of ideas that should scare every American and every citizen of the world. First, there is the notion of the “usable” nuclear weapon. No longer are we talking about nuclear weapons that are a deterrent. We have developed families of nuclear weapons that are designed to be used in conventional conflict. The next thing that should scare everybody is the utilization policy for nuclear weapons. Under the Bush administration we now acknowledge that America has the right to use nuclear weapons preemptively in a non-nuclear environment.
They’ve set certain criteria for this which includes scenarios in which significant numbers of American troops are placed in harms way with no real hope for conventional help to mitigate against the impending doom. So we would use nuclear weapons to break the back of those who are threatening these American troops.
I’m telling you right now that if we bomb Iran, we are not going to achieve our objectives. Iran will strike back in a way that is going to hurt us in the short term. There will be tremendous pressure put on this president to escalate the conflict rapidly to end it fast because it is hurting America economically.
This will result in American boots on the ground, but we won’t have enough boots on the ground to dictate the flow of combat on the ground. The Iranians have 70 million people. They have hundreds of thousands of troops. They are fighting on terrain that they know. They have prepared the traps and they will trap us. They will threaten our troops with annihilation, and George W. Bush is not a big enough man to say, oops, let’s back up and regroup.
He could drop a nuclear weapon. If he drops a nuclear weapon on Iran, just think about that in the Muslim world today. The infidel has just dropped a nuclear weapon on a Muslim nation that did not threaten anybody; that did not start this fight. This is a fight started by the Christians, by the Infidel.
Musharraf is in a very precarious situation in Pakistan. Why do I pick on Musharraf and Pakistan? Because they are a Muslim state that happens to have nuclear weapons 40-60 of them. They have the potential, they have the fissile material for another dozen or two-dozen weapons. If Musharraf is overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists who are outraged by American use of nuclear weapons against Iran, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and figure out that fissile material will find its way into the hands of Muslim Fundamentalists who will do everything they can to exact revenge on America.
That’s why I tell Americans, pick a city. If you want to bomb Iran, pick a city not an Iranian city, but an American city because we are going to lose one, at least one. If we use nuclear weapons against Iran, this game will not stop until an American city is obliterated by a retaliatory nuclear strike.
Horton: You’d better listen to this man. He was right about Iraq. The book is, Target Iran: the Truth about the White House’s Plan for Regime Change. The author is Scott Ritter. Thank you very much for your time sir.
Ritter: Thanks for having me.
Transcription by Chris Meyer