September 25, 2002
Rivers Pitt, Essayist and
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
In an "instant book" entitled "War on Iraq," author William Rivers Pitt talks to Former U.N. Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and debunks the key arguments the Bush administration is making to launch an Iraq war. In the tradition of Thomas Paine, "War on Iraq" (96 pages) is intended for citizen advocacy and includes contact information for Congress.
BuzzFlash.com recently interviewed William Rivers Pitt, prior to the September 23rd release of "War on Iraq."
The book can be obtained on BuzzFlash.com as a premium item that helps support the work of the site (purchase includes a BuzzFlash bumper sticker, pin, and card):
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BUZZFLASH: In the book War on Iraq, you mention in the introduction that there is no question that Saddam Hussein is one of the most wretched men on earth, who rules in the mode of any tyrant, by fear and violence. And then you say in the next paragraph, "We must come to a disturbing conclusion based on the facts at hand. Saddam Hussein is a monster by any definition, but he is our monster." Can you briefly explain what you mean by "he is our monster"?
PITT: As far as him being a wretched individual, that is -- you know, that's true and difficult to argue with by any stretch of the imagination. But Robert Kuttner wrote in the New York Times about how maintaining sovereignty of states, even with wretched leaders, has been an important part of statecraft since the Treaty of Westphalia. So even though he is a wretched and brutal individual to be sure, the automatic response to go to war is not the correct response by any stretch of the imagination.
And as far as him being our monster, I think history proves -- and the recent Newsweek cover story helps to demonstrate -- that we created the guy. Saddam Hussein would not be the person that he is without American influence -- without specific help. We started with this guy in 1972, with the Nixon administration.
When Iraq nationalized its oil supply, Nixon started arming the Kurds. I don't know if that sounds familiar to anybody. Iraq, at that point, had Saddam Hussein as Vice-president. As soon as Iran and Iraq negotiated the deal where Iraq took over the Shatt al Arab waterway, we stopped arming the Kurds. Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying that covert activity should not be mistaken for missionary work. So we've been dealing with this guy for thirty years. We very much armed him and funded him, even though he was using these weapons of mass destruction -- chemical weapons and whatnot -- on the battlefield against Iran, and potentially -- although there are some questions about it -- even against his own people, with the full knowledge of the Reagan administration.
BUZZFLASH: Well, didn't the New York Times recently a story that we actually had U.S. advisors in the area where Iraq was using gas against the Iranians, and that they were, in all likelihood, aware of this. And that, on top of that, the U.S. had allowed the export of anthrax and other biological germs -- as well as other toxic agents -- in the Reagan and Bush I administrations.
PITT: The book -- the War on Iraq -- has that New York Times article cited, among other things. United States agents were walking around on the aftermath of a battlefield, and kicking around at their feet were empty vials of atropine -- the drug that you are supposed to inject into yourself when you are exposed to VX, to protect yourself.
BUZZFLASH: VX is -
PITT: VX gas. It's a nerve agent. You have to put our relationship with Saddam Hussein in the context of the Cold War. Our relationship with Iraq has everything to do with our relationship with Iran. We put the Shah in place. We kept him there. And our dealings with him, our propping up, this really terrible leader, led to the revolution in 1979. In 1979, the revolution in Iran caused the displacement of the Shah and put the Ayatollah Khomeini in power. That set off the Iran-Iraq war. We started backing Iraq, because with the Ayatollah in power, the Soviet Union suddenly had much more influence in Iran, much more influence in the region. We started backing Iraq to the hilt.
BUZZFLASH: Now the Newsweek article which just came out -- their cover story, in fact -- includes information that has been out there before, but that they elaborate upon, that one of the great ironies here that makes the war cry from the Defense Department even a bit more unbelievable and unacceptable is that Rumsfeld was one of the key liaisons who flew out there on behalf of the Reagan administration, and basically embraced Saddam Hussein. Offered him assistance in fact. Indeed, it was through Rumsfeld that Saddam Hussein got a green light to basically go ahead with his war plans. And he was basically our boy there. And Donald Rumsfeld was the kind of go-between who was seen smiling, laughing, chuckling it up with Saddam Hussein and telling him, in person, what a great fellow he is.
PITT: This is what I mean when I say that he is our monster. Someone might argue that Don Rumsfeld's embracing of Saddam Hussein happened in ancient history. Because of the Cold War, it was just the way it had to be. But Dick Cheney was dealing with these people right up until the point he became the Vice-president.
BUZZFLASH: Selling them supplies for their oil industry when the oil was supposed to be embargoed.
PITT: Doing it through front companies. The fact that this is an oil-soaked administration means that it should come as no surprise to anybody that we've had dealings with Iraq for as long as we've known there's oil under their sand.
BUZZFLASH: Well, before we get on to Mr. Ritter, let me ask you two sort of questions just in terms of your perspective on why now there is this effort by the Bush administration to muscle through the war with Iraq, as though there is some immediate danger.
Even if one admits -- which no one really knows -- that Saddam Hussein has "weapons of mass destruction" . . . let's just say, hypothetically, he does. There's certainly no indication -- even the Bush administration concedes -- that he is ready to use him in a moment's notice, except that ironically he might use him if attacked. But, that aside, were he to have them, two issues keep coming up. Your essays have touched upon them and they've been around on progressive commentaries around the Internet, including BuzzFlash, which is that there may be two ulterior motives here.
One is that the Iraqi oil fields are something that the U.S. and British oil companies -- Britain has the second-largest number of oil companies and the U.S., is number one -- have their eye on the Iraqi oil fields. And two, that this is a Bush administration effort to seize the airwaves at a time that -- as was the case prior to September 11th -- they are starting to sag due to concern about the economy, about their right-wing appointments, about Halliburton, about Harken oil, the corruption in big business and so forth. And now Karl Rove's strategy has knocked that all off the headlines and out of television news.
So there are two key ulterior motives that keep coming up. One, that this is an effort -- however bad Saddam Hussein is -- to seize the oil fields And two, that the second effort is to try to help Republican candidates, which was somewhat confirmed in the Washington Post today, because they had an article about how Republican candidates, with the help of the White House, are using the Iraq War talk to intimidate Democrats and keep from talking about issues like Medicare and Social Security.
PITT: This is a battle cry.
BUZZFLASH: Are you saying that the Democratic opponents are being wimpy? What do you think of those two accusations?
PITT: Well, I recently wrote for Truth Out an essay called "Murder for Profit," which basically details everything that you've just delineated. This war is about two specific things, one of which very straightforwardly is November 5th, 2002 -- the most important date on the calendar right now. I don't think that we can underestimate the important of the mid-term elections regarding the course of this country towards war.
You think about a gentleman like Andrew Card, who's the Chief of Staff at the White House, who has spoken often about his President and his administration as a product. For example, he was worried about putting the Iraq war concept out in August because products don't move well in August. But before August, in June and July, his product was terrible. His product, when it got up and spoke in front of the stock market or opened its mouth, the Dow Jones industrial average would fall through the floor. His product was covered with Enron, with Halliburton, with Harken, Arthur Andersen, with corporate scandals and destroyed retirement futures, and an American body politic that was prepared to just repudiate everything that the Republican Party was standing for at the time because millions of Americans lost billions of dollars. And by the way, that hasn't changed.
I'm a big believer in the idea that there is a massive disconnect between what the media is talking about and what the American people are thinking about. Media is talking about the war in Iraq because it's much more interesting and much more dramatic, and much better television. But all those unemployed people who have lost their futures are still unemployed and have no money. And they're going to carry that to the polls with them in November.
I don't think that we can underestimate the importance of the November election in the cynical approach to this war that has been taken, because Saddam Hussein is not an immediate threat. He's not. His army is not what it used to be. His military is pretty much in shambles. He does not have anything even remotely like what the Bush administration says in terms of weapons of mass destruction. If he has anything, it is in a shattered, disorganized state. He does not have the forces to do what we're afraid he'll do.
Furthermore, he has, for the last thirty years, viciously repressed any kind of Islamic fundamentalism in his own country. There are laws on the books in Iraq that say if you proselytize Islamic fundamentalism -- particularly the Wahhabbi Islamic fundamentalism that is practiced by members of Al Qaeda -- you will be put to death. That's the reason why he went after the Kurds. That's one of the big reasons why he went after Iran. He is a secular dictator. And these Islamic fundamentalists who are involved with Al Qaeda hate him. If Hussein gave al Qaeda weapons of mass destruction, they would use those weapons on Hussein first.
BUZZFLASH: Now, what about oil?
PITT: The other side of the coin deals with men like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld -- to name a few -- who are very interested in the idea of completely rewriting the map in the Middle East, and not only taking Iraq, but taking Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, rewriting the map, and extending American hegemony over that region. We are, I believe, in an endgame here regarding petroleum. It is my belief that the September 11th attacks were many things. But among them is the fact that 9/11 was an escalation of the hysteria and the bloodiness, and the insanity, and the war that is surrounding the oil in that particular region. The politics, the gamesmanship, the battle that has gone into dealing with that resource in that region led inexorably to Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in the Middle East. We are in an endgame with oil. And these gentlemen that I named -- these neo-conservative hawks within the administration -- want to very much see that endgame played out in a way that will ensure their dominion over the oil in that region until the last drop has been run.
BUZZFLASH: Now you mentioned in the book that one of the ironies here is that Bush heaped scorn on President Clinton in the campaign by saying he would never be in the business of nation-building. And now in the past year, he seems to be almost exclusively in the business of nation-building. But nonetheless, he says that he wants to help build a democracy in Iraq. You have pointed out that that would mean, in all likelihood, if indeed there were a vote, the radical Shiite population, which is a majority, would take over and probably have a radical Islamic government.
PITT: I don't know that they're necessarily radical, but they are theologically and ideologically aligned with the Shiite majority in Iran. Iran is an interesting situation, because without the Bush administration, Iran, in the next ten years, could conceivably have come to be one of our greatest allies in that region.
BUZZFLASH: With the growth of the democratic movement there.
PITT: The vast majority of the people in Iran love the West - LOVE the West. If the people in the Bush administration had half a brain between them, they would take ten Iranian students and send them on a tour of the Middle East, talking about how great the West is, because they would do it. They love the West. Being named as part of the "Axis of Evil" empowers the mullahs. Getting ready to go to war with Iraq empowers the mullahs. Thinking about taking over Iran empowers the mullahs and pushes back the timetable for any kind of democratization or normalization, in the Western sense, of Iran, by years. If we were to implant some sort of outside-influenced, Western-style democracy on Iraq -- majority rules -- the Shiite majority in that country -- there's something like 60% of the country would vote one of their own people in, who would immediately align themselves with the mullahs within Iran. And that would further cement the power of the mullahs in Iran. And all of a sudden, we'd have this Iran-Iraq super-alliance on top of all this oil. It is utterly impossible that the Bush administration is thinking that this is a good idea. They're giving it lip service. It is not the case. They won't do it. They can't.
BUZZFLASH: They seem to -- as in the case with Iraq accepting inspectors -- get upset when the conditions they lay down are met, because it will keep them from proceeding with the war. It seems that in Iran, as you've pointed out, they're doing everything they can, in a way, to stifle -- if we want to call it liberalization through Khatami -- to, in fact, create an option where there is nothing left but confrontation. The Bush administration is threatened by peace, in essence.
Moving on to Scott Ritter now. The important part of this book, "War on Iraq: What team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," is your interview with Scott Ritter. Tell us a little bit about Scott Ritter. I had to admit I was kind of surprised that it notes he voted for George Bush in 2000.
PITT: He is a relatively conservative Republican. He was a Bush voter in 2000. I didn't get the chance to ask him what parts of the GOP platform in 2000 he agreed with. I think a lot of it was, probably, his voting for Bush had more to do with his incredible distaste for the Clinton administration than anything else. Because, according to his reckoning, the Clinton administration had helped annihilate the UNSCOM inspections. So I think that his support for Bush in 2000 had a good deal to do with Clinton's intelligence politics that caused the ultimate demise of the UNSCOM inspections in 1998. I don't know this for sure, and I hesitate at all times to speak for Scott Ritter. He's more than capable of speaking for himself.
BUZZFLASH: But he did vote for Bush in 2000?
PITT: He certainly did.
BUZZFLASH: Okay, so you interviewed him. He certainly is a guy that . . . the Bush administration is doing its best to discredit him, although BuzzFlash posted a story where Wolfowitz praised him in 1998.
PITT: That's when he was going after the Clinton administration. They loved him to pieces. He was the darling of the neo-conservative circuit.
BUZZFLASH: And so now he is critical of the Bush obsession with conquering Iraq and doesn't feel that the war nor the Bush hustle we're getting on the war is necessary. What is his basic argument against the way that the Bush administration is proceeding with a full-court press to go to war with Iraq?
PITT: Well, that's a big question, and it required a whole book to explain it all. But I will try to give it to you in brief. First of all, a lot of his commentary has been spun and just completely lied about. Scott Ritter is not some peacenik.
Scott Ritter believes that the war on Iraq will do irreparable harm to this country -- particularly a unilateral war, without international law and the international community backing us up. A unilateral war will annihilate our credibility around the world. It will cause the Middle East to absolutely explode and bring forth terrorism that will make, in his words, the September 11th attack look like a kid's game. He believes we will lose hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans in the process, because we're not talking about an open field, desert war where we can see the tanks from ten miles away. This is going to be in downtown Baghdad. If we're actually going to get rid of Saddam Hussein, we have to go downtown and get him. And that means house-to-house warfare. That means reducing - quote, unquote - reducing Baghdad in the way that the Russians did to Grozny, and tens of thousands of civilians will die in the process. All of this is on the table.
And his basic premise is that before we do all of that, we have to have a good reason why. We haven't heard it yet. There is no proof that these weapons exist. There is no proof that there is anything other than neo-conservative gamesmanship and election year politics going on here. And until he sees the proof, and sees an international community behind it -- until those two things simultaneously happen -- Ritter is not going to support the war.
BUZZFLASH: Now what makes him -- just to get it on the record, although many people know this -- what makes him an expert? What was his role in prior U.N. inspections?
PITT: Well, he started off as a Marine, and his expertise in the Marine Corps as an officer was intelligence. He spent two years in the Soviet Union implementing a weapons destruction program, per a treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev. So he developed a lot of skill on weapons of mass destruction management while he was in the Soviet Union.
Iraq invaded Kuwait. He was called to active duty in that war, and spent that time involved in the war over there -- involved in SCUD hunting and other matters. When the war ended, he was called to become a weapons inspector in Iraq. And for seven years, from 1991 to 1998, he led dozens and dozens and dozens of inspection teams in Iraq and destroyed, in his words, something like 90 to 95% of their weapons, their ability to manufacture weapons, the technology behind it, the factories behind it, as well as the weapons themselves. By the way, when he talks about 95%, he clarifies it by saying there was absolutely no way to give them 100% certification -- everything certifiably destroyed -- because the Iraqis, by 1996, realized that the inspectors meant business and were unilaterally destroying a lot of the stuff themselves. Coupled with that, there was stuff that was destroyed during the Gulf War that couldn't be properly accounted for in the bureaucratic way that UNSCOM needed it to be. So a 100% certification was pretty much impossible. But he spent seven years over there doing that. I've never met anybody else who's done that.
BUZZFLASH: And he is speaking out now just because he is so impassioned?
PITT: He is very, very much involved in this. He was a leader of Marines, and he does not want to see those Marines wasted in a political maneuver without a good reason, backed up with evidence to support it, and without an international mandate to support it. I think the man is a patriot. I think he loves this country as much as anybody you could ever meet. And I think he sees a number of very terrible things happening for this country and for the world if we go in and make war on Iraq unilaterally without a clear, stated reason for doing so, and without an international mandate to back it up.
BUZZFLASH: Let me just close by asking what is the concept of an "instant book"? The news release indicates that it's meant to be used as a means for provoking debate on the potential war in Iraq and grassroots efforts against it. How do you see the book being used?
PITT: Well, "instant book" is a term of art within the publishing industry to denote a book like, for example, the Noam Chomsky 9-11 book that came out -- a small book, relatively easy to mass produce. We've run 125,000 copies of this thing; 50,000 of them have gone to stores. A bunch more have gone to the online sellers. And the rest of them have been purchased and are being handed out by activists.
The purpose of the book, in short, is to put out as far and wide as possible a budget of information about the situation in Iraq that is absolutely not being discussed in the mainstream media, not being discussed by the leadership within the Republican Party, and not being discussed at all by the White House. There's a lot of data and a lot of gray area, and a lot of things that need to be considered that the American people are not being offered. And they need to know it before we start sending our men and women over to die.
BUZZFLASH: The book is subtitled "What the Bush Team Doesn't Want You To Know," and that seems like it might be an endless list. This is only a 96-page book.
PITT: The qualification there has to do with the ethnic background of Iraq, which makes democratization practically impossible. It has to do with the chemistry and the science behind weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein supposedly has. Science being what it is, if he did manage to hide that stuff, it's pretty much garbage now because it's completely degradable and has a shelf life. It's information about the degree to which the inspectors were effective, information about the fallout and ramifications of combat in that region, tactically and the human cost. And it is about the political side of it -- about what the true motives of the Bush administration are regarding pushing this thing.
BUZZFLASH: Do you have just one or two additional major points to explain the Bush stampede toward war, beyond oil and diverting attention from November 5th. Any other bullet points, reasons that the Bush administration's ramming this down everybody's throat?
PITT: Beyond the election and beyond oil, you have to look only as far as the Republican National Committee's Platform in 2000. Two very interesting things are in that, one of which is the designation of three countries as evil. You'll recognize them as having been designated since September 11th as being the Axis of Evil: Iran, Iraq and North Korea. They were put into the 2000 GOP platform, before Bush was ever picked, as being targets. The removal of Saddam Hussein by one way or another was also in the 2000 GOP platform, well before Bush was ever picked. So what we're looking at is an administration looking to achieve political goals in the fog that has resulted since September 11th.
BUZZFLASH: And there's been a couple of right-wing think tank papers that have been dusted off and come out recently -- I think one from the early nineties and one, the other day, from 1998 -- that the Sunday Herald wrote an article about which, in essence, advocated for this conquering of Iraq, describing it, back in the nineties, as a sort of key effort in creating a new era of U.S. global dominance.
PITT: A book that everybody should read is The War on Freedom by Nafeez Mossaddeq Ahmed, who is a member of a strategic think tank in Britain. It describes some of the details regarding September 11th that never seem to come up in the media. But more to the point, it gets into very interesting details, going all the way back to 1978, about American foreign policy, both in the subcontinent -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Soviet Union -- but also within the Middle East. This is not something that was invented a few years ago. My book has a history of Iraq in the 20th Century that I think readers will find fascinating, because there's a lot of information that it just not widely known about how involved we've been in that region, and for how long we've been there.
BUZZFLASH: Why should someone read War in Iraq?
PITT: Because the United States of America and the Bush administration in particular are preparing to go to war against a country preemptively, which is something we have never done, that will set a precedent that is incredibly deadly. We have been allowed to live in the fantasy that the entire 20 million civilian population nation of Iraq is in the guise of one man. We will kill tens of thousands of these people. We will lose hundreds or thousands of our own people.
We will destabilize and set aflame the entire Middle East. We will guarantee worse terrorism on our own shores, up to and including the possibility of terrorists getting a hold of Pakistani nuclear weapons, which somehow we're perfectly satisfied with Pakistan having. The downside of this is far greater than the farcical and unproven and incredibly-remote-as-to-be-nonexistent possibility that Saddam Hussein might drop some terrible weapon on us. That's not going to happen. The fact that Saddam Hussein, in the midst of this pitched charge towards war against him, was savvy enough to offer to allow the inspectors back in, means that he is many things, but suicidally stupid is not one of them. He would be signing his own death warrant.
BUZZFLASH: On the other hand, if we do go to war with him, he probably would have nothing to lose to use those weapons, if he has them.
PITT: Intuitively, I would offer this advice: If America goes to war in Iraq, I think everyone in Israel needs to pack a bag and leave.
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William Rivers Pitt is an essayist, journalist and political analyst from the Boston area, where he also works as a teacher. His book, "The Greatest Sedition is Silence, will be published in 2003 by Pluto Press.
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