Scott Ritter: Active Citizenship

Scott Ritter, a former UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 is much in the news. Although a Republican he is also a vociferous critic of the Bush administration. Invited to the Netherlands by the Dutch Socialist Party, he gave a series of lectures and interviews. Felicity Eliot interviewed him in Amsterdam for Share International.

Share International: Just for the record — you’re a patriotic man, I believe? I think, too, that you are not a pacifist and you would say that some wars may be justified?

Scott Ritter: Yes, I certainly am patriotic and no, I’m not a pacifist, in that I believe in some wars — wars that are in self-defense and are within the framework of the law — may be justified if all else failed.

SI: But you’re a vociferous critic of the Bush Administration. Why?

SR: Well I think they’ve disgraced America. I can’t find any redeeming quality in what they’ve done. I’m not Machiavellian; the end does not justify the means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an apologist for Saddam Hussein, but I believe in the due process of law.

We need the law to be able to co-exist as a global community. The rule of law — that’s how we define civilization. How else can we live and function together? I think Bush has deviated from the rule of law.

SI: What is your reaction to the pre-emptive strike doctrine?

SR: It is complex. You can’t just jump out and pre-emptively strike anything that you deem to be a threat. This is where I have a problem with the American/Bush idea of pre-emption because it’s part of an over-riding strategy, the “national security strategy,” of unilateralism. The Bush doctrine of pre-emption says that we alone — that is, America — has the right to define a problem, and we alone have a right to solve it. I don’t believe in the pre-eminence of America, but America is a very powerful country. The world has to learn how to deal with it. We, Americans, have to learn how to deal with it. You can do good things with power, but absolute power corrupts absolutely and the best way to constrain American power is the rule of law, universally applied.

SI: You have been giving numerous lectures lately. What do you think the public needs to know?

SR: I would say more than “needs to know.” It needs to start to act and that’s citizenship! To be honest, I’m fed up with everybody sitting there passively saying, “Well, what do we do?” We have to wake up. Start being a good citizen. A good citizen is someone who commits themselves to, and invests in, their community. Once you invest yourself you acquire knowledge. You suddenly realize what it is you’re a part of, and what you’re doing. I think the answer is clear: it’s not what I should tell people. It’s the knowledge you’re seeking. Don’t come to me to give you knowledge! Go out and find out. Ask questions. Be a good citizen. Hold your elected representative accountable for what they’re doing in your name. Get involved in the process. Define the moment. Don’t let the moment define you.

SI: So you’re saying people don’t take part enough in the democratic process?

SR: This is lacking right across the board, in most countries. We’ve forgotten what citizenship and democracy is about. We’ve wrapped ourselves in a blanket of consumerism — we’ve become consumers and wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of comfort. As long as we keep waddling down the path of relative prosperity we tune out, but consumerism and the American dream shouldn’t define us.

SI: As you’re talking I’m thinking about how the United Nations, which should represent us all, has suffered lately.

SR: You know the Constitution and the United Nations are not perfect — they’re open to amendment. They can be changed to suit the need of the times. You know, it’s an evolving process, this thing we call democracy. If we have a problem in the United Nations let’s not walk away from it, let’s fix it.

But what Bush has done, and what’s scary about this situation, is that Bush has rushed to deviate from the rule of law both abroad and domestically. I’m very concerned that the Bush administration will seek to exploit the events of 9/11 — “homeland security,” “the patriot act” — this is a frontal attack on the Constitution.

SI: Coming back to the present circumstances let’s just clear away some misconceptions. The attack on Iraq is not just about oil, is it? And at the same time, can I ask you to comment on the cabal of grey men around and behind Bush? And would you say something about the Project for the New American Century?

SR: Yes! I think people have to start focusing on this. Is it just about oil? Absolutely not. Does oil play a part? You’re darn right it does — it’s a part of power.

SI: Would you say this war is not about weapons of mass destruction, it’s not about regime change and liberation — those were all used as a pretext?

SR: That’s right! Those are all smokescreens. It’s about naked aggression. This is about a grab for power, global power. Hegemony. You see it reflected in the National Security Strategy published last year, which has its roots in a doctrine which was promulgated by the Project for the New America Century (PNAC) back in 1997. It goes back to an original strategy drafted by two members of the PNAC — Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz — in 1992 when Cheney was the Defense Secretary. Basically this all grew out of the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the desire on the part of the USA never to be in a position again where it would have a strong adversary. So we need to ensure that we remain the only superpower, and we will exercise our overwhelming economic and military power to guarantee this.

SI: So corporate America comes into the picture?

SR: Well, what is power? Power is economic power. We talked about oil, but it’s more than oil. It’s corporations — the power elite through corporate forces — those that control the media, those who have an overwhelming leverage on government, those who fund presidential elections — so that’s part of the cabal. As someone who believes in democracy, I find it disturbing. What you are seeing is a transfer of power away from the individual into a handful of corporate elites. As long as the Americans go on in their “consumer identity” and wrap themselves up in the comfort of prosperity, then the corporate elites and those associated with them have the power. We need to break free of this consumer identity. We need to regain control of our citizenship, our democracy.

There’s also the unspoken aspect of this cabal and I think it’s got to be spoken about. I say this as someone who believes in Israel’s right to exist, but, having said that, there is an aspect of this project, the PNAC, which has Zionist elements to it. It’s hard to speak of this, because the second you say anything you’re accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Israel. But I believe in an Israel, not a “greater Israel,” but one defined by the United Nations, and by the rule of law. Among members of the PNAC are people who believe that aspects of US power have to be connected to the security of the state of Israel. That’s why I’m concerned.

SI: Do you mean “who’s next,” and that it won’t stop at Iraq’s borders?

SR: Right. Iraq is simply the case study for the implementation of this new doctrine of global hegemony. And now the same people who were saying “We needed to get rid of Saddam Hussein” are saying: “Well now that we have all these troops here we need to turn left and go into Syria.” And what for? To secure Israel’s northern border. So there are US soldiers going to fight and die to secure Israel’s border, without Israel being attacked. It’s a travesty and needs to be looked at very carefully.

SI: And the representatives in the region?

SR: Well, we risk, as we do now, alienating and angering Arab and Muslim public opinion right across the Middle East.

SI: Can America go it alone?

SR: Yes, for some time, as a reflection of our empire status. But history shows that empires die of indigestion — they consume too much and perish.

SI: Finally, would you say something about the peace movement?

SR: The only way to stop the US is for the American people to stop it. America has to regain its status as a democracy and reinstate the rule of law. The people of the United States must redefine themselves as citizens of a republic, of a democracy — not an empire.

What can the peace movement do? It can hold up that standard to the American people. The Americans probably need a jolt to wake them up. Rather than demonstrate against America, demonstrate on behalf of American democracy, on the principles espoused by the Constitution. Hold a mirror up to the United States and say: “You are not living up to that which you preach.” Maybe that will help shock the American people into taking action and becoming good citizens.

Felicity Eliot is the Amsterdam-based editor of Share International. This interview was reprinted from Volume 22, Number 4 – May 2003. For more information visit