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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Proven wisdom

One of the most bizarre aspects of our current political debates is that the very people who were most glaringly and incessantly wrong about virtually everything prior to the invasion of Iraq are still held out as some sort of wise foreign policy experts. The converse of that distorted principle is that those who were most right about Iraq-related issues are still treated as subversive lepers who are unfit for decent company, as well as unfit to be heard in mainstream media outlets and television talk shows.

Few people, if any, were as right about the critical pre-invasion issues as Scott Ritter was. Back in September, 2002, Ritter was trying to tell anyone who would listen that Iraq had no WMD's, and accordingly said:

My country seems on the verge of making an historic mistake…. My government is making a case for war against Iraq that is built upon fear and ignorance, as opposed to the reality of truth and fact.

Ritter was not just some newspaper columnist like Charles Krauthammer or free floating pundit like Michael Ledeen. He was a former Marine officer, top aide to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War, and a tenacious weapons inspector working inside Iraq for the U.N. It is difficult to imagine someone with greater credentials and credibility who ought to have been listened on those issues.

But in a vivid reminder of just how ugly and corrupt were the tactics used by Bush followers at the time to crush any dissent, Ritter was virtually excluded from any mainstream setting. He was branded a subversive, a traitor, and the "new Jane Fonda." The media -- while it venerated the Krauthammers and Bill Kristols and Fred Barnes's and the slew of other know-nothings who paraded forth to spew fictitious pro-war talking points -- cooperated enthusiastically with the smears on Ritter, all but treating him like some sort of untouchable traitor, notwithstanding the fact that, until 2004, he had voted only for Republicans, not to mention that he been an outstanding Marine officer. Nothing shielded those who dissented from the Bush agenda from charges of treason and subversion.

And by virtue of this now-familiar Bush worshipping tactic, one of the very few individuals who was actually voicing accurate and truthful observations about Iraq prior to the invasion was shut out of the debate, other than to be held up for universal mockery.

Ritter has just given an interview (h/t Taylor Marsh) to San Diego Citybeat (the national media, with a payroll full of people who were completely misinformed and wrong about Iraq, still treats Ritter like a crank). The interview is well worth reading. It seems obvious that if there was a great debate over whether X was true, and most people insisted that X was true while a handful of knowledgeable people insisted that X was untrue, and it turned out that, all along, X was, in fact, untrue, a rational person -- the next time a similar debate arose -- would be more inclined to listen to those who were right, and less inclined to listen to those who were wrong. For that reason alone, I think it's worth listening to what Ritter has to say (and not all that worth listening to anything Bill Kristol, The New Republic, Victor Davis Hanson, et al. have to say).

Initially, here is what Ritter has to say about the manipulation of Americans by the administration with fearmongering and constant invocations of war:

QUESTION: What is it about Americans that allows them to get so bent out of shape when you start questioning the government in a time of war?

RITTER: I’ll say ignorance. How many Americans have read the Constitution and know the Constitution, live the Constitution, breathe the Constitution, define their existence as Americans by the Constitution? Very few. And so what happens is, Americans have no concept of what citizenship is, what it is they’re supposed to serve. Many Americans have become so addicted to a lifestyle that I say they’re better consumers than they are citizens. And it’s these consumers who have wrapped themselves in a cocoon of comfort and who have basically abrogated their responsibilities of citizenship to the government, and as long as the government keeps them waddling down the path to prosperity, they don’t want to rock the boat. And they will go out and attack those who do rock the boat—those who challenge authority.

If you read the Constitution, you’ll be struck by the first words: “We the people of the United States.” And yet it sickens me where Americans will say, in the name of security, they will give up their constitutional rights. Warrantless wiretapping—it’s against the law! This is the sort of issue that should bring Americans streaming into the streets, saying, “Not on my watch.” If your definition of patriotism is blind subservience to governmental authority, then you’ve just defined those Germans who supported Hitler, the Italians who supported Mussolini.

Ritter also believes that the essence of the administration's conflict with Iran has nothing to do with whether Iran ceases its enrichment efforts and everything to do with the fact that the administration is resolved to change the ruling regime in Iran:

That’s why when I speak of Iran, I say be careful of falling into the trap of nonproliferation, disarmament, weapons of mass destruction; this is a smokescreen. The Bush administration does not have policy of disarmament vis-à-vis Iran. They do have a policy of regime change. If we had a policy of disarmament, we would have engaged in unilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranians a long time ago. But we put that off the table because we have no desire to resolve the situation we use to facilitate the military intervention necessary to achieve regime change.

It’s the exact replay of the game plan used for Iraq, where we didn’t care what Saddam did, what he said, what the weapons inspectors found. We created the perception of a noncompliant Iraq, and we stuck with that perception, selling that perception until we achieved our ultimate objective, which was invasion that got rid of Saddam. With Iran, we are creating the perception of a noncompliant Iran, a threatening Iran. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Now that we have successfully created that perception, the Bush administration will move forward aggressively until it achieves its ultimate objective, which is regime change.

It is difficult to dismiss that view -- very difficult. It was readily apparent even as early as mid-2002 that we were going to invade Iraq no matter what Saddam did, no matter what happened with the inspections process, etc. The goal was not to rid Iraq of weapons but to change the government regardless of what weapons it had.

Ritter thinks that the same dynamic is applicable to Iran. And given that everything else seems exactly the same between the two run-ups to the war -- from the fact that it's an election year to the transparent use of the same exact pro-war rationale spewed from the same exact sources to the administration's glaring lack of interest in finding non-war means to achieve our ostensible disarmament goals -- a strong case can certainly be made that our objective in threatening war with Iran is war with Iran, rather than any form of disarmament.

Ritter also has a lot to say about the current state of Iran's alleged efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and the ability of the military to wage war against Iran notwithstanding our being tied down in Iraq. Ritter isn't entitled to a presumption that he's right about everything, but it seems beyond dispute that he's earned the right to be heard and listened to - certainly a lot more than the standard roster of pundits and blowhards who led us into Iraq and who, with the help of an adoring and glorifying media, are attempting to do the same with Iran.

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