Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter spoke about the Iraq war and the threat of war with Iran before a crowd of over 100 on Wednesday evening, February 21, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Monica, saying that “every day we are in Baghdad we strengthen the view of us as the new Mongols and further radicalize the Sunnis.”
Also on the program, sponsored by the group U.S. Tour of Duty, were media commentator and critic Jeff Cohen and excerpts from filmmaker Robert Taicher’s documentary Rush to War. Conversation and book signings with Ritter (Target Iran) and Cohen (Cable News Confidential) followed the program; Taicher was also on hand for discussion and DVD distribution. Ritter spoke again in the King Auditorium at the Santa Monica Main Library on Monday evening, February 26.
On February 21, Diana Spears of the church’s Peace and Civil Liberties Committee welcomed an audience that was largely sympathetic to the denunciations of Bush Administration policy voiced from the podium by Ritter and Cohen and in literature distributed by co-sponsor Progressive Democrats of America.
Cohen on the Media
Jeff Cohen, who was living in Venice when he launched the media watch group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) 20 years ago, was an on-air commentator and senior producer of Donahue on MSNBC in 2003 when the show was cancelled and he was terminated – both “for political reasons” – three weeks before the invasion of Iraq. Wednesday night, he criticized the mainstream media, specifically including PBS and NPR, asserting that “kakistocracy – rule by the worst – is the method of governance at major networks,” and praised “real journalists who maintain some independence and actually do research,” such as Robert Scheer whose analysis, he said, is “breathtakingly correct.”
He closed his remarks on a hopeful note, saying that the media reform and media justice movement is booming.
Ritter on the War
Scott Ritter had served as a Marine Corps officer, a weapons inspector in the former Soviet Union and a ballistic missile advisor to Gen. Schwarzkopf in the first Gulf War when he was named to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify the disarmament of Iraq in the 1990s.
His UNSCOM experience – he concluded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) – made him a foe of this Administration’s Iraq policy and an outspoken critic of how it got there. “I am a Republican; I am a right-wing Republican; but that is not what defines me. I am an American – that defines me.” Seymour Hersh wrote in his Foreword to Ritter’s book Iraq Confidential, “The most important thing to know about Scott Ritter, the man, is that he was right…. The Iraqi WMDs, the main sales tool for the war, did not exist.”
Ritter spoke about subjects from civil liberties (“After 9/11, we rolled over and played dead while Congress passed the Patriot Act”) to Nancy Pelosi (“I have no use for the woman whatsoever”) to imperialism (“You will not find one example of an empire that ended well”) to Israel’s influence on American policy toward Iran – “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Israel is drunk on greed and power, and is getting ready to drive off a cliff with America as a passenger. I want to reach over and take the keys.”
Telling the audience that in the event of war with Iran “you will suffer as you have never suffered before,” he asserted that Iran represented “no threat to us or to its neighbors,” but that the Administration is playing “the same game” as it did “in 2000 and 2001 and 2002 with Iraq.”
Ritter and Cohen took questions after they spoke, and a line a dozen long formed at the audience mic within moments. In response to one gentleman who had a “declaration” against the war to be signed by soldiers, Ritter said that he “couldn’t disagree with you more”: the citizenry and its representatives should make policy, he argued, and it was the function of the military to execute that policy. “When I say, ‘Corporal, take that hill,’ I don’t want a discussion of foreign policy; I want that hill taken.”
While allowing that there was plenty of responsibility for the current state of affairs to be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration and the media, he argued that the public was ultimately responsible, and he urged Americans to look in the mirror and do something about it.