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From an online chat

Ritter: Administration 'corrupted' Iraq inspections process

  • 'We were not spies'
  • Administration has 'narrow-minded policies'

    (CNN) -- To Scott Ritter, many countries and organizations are at fault for a failure to engage in a meaningful disarmament and security program with Iraq. Near the top of the list is the Clinton White House.

    "The guilt can be spread fairly evenly across the board," Ritter said in an interactive chat this week on CNN Interactive. "The United Nations Security Council should be held accountable for passing a law and not enforcing it," he said. "Its members, specifically Russia, France and China, should be held accountable for putting their own narrow economic self-interests ahead of the disarmament requirement. And the United States should be held accountable for perverting the weapons inspection process for its own narrow objective of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. There's plenty of blame for everybody."

    Ritter, author of the book "Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem -- Once and for All," was chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. He resigned in August 1998, claiming that both the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. government had fatally undermined his team's attempts to find and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

    Read the complete chat transcript

    Iraq claimed that Ritter and members of his team were U.S. spies, and balked at having the teams inspect what it called sensitive sites.

    Inspections resumed only through top-level intervention by the United Nations. Later, inspectors were pulled out of Iraq, and President Clinton ordered a "strong, sustained" series of airstrikes on military and security forces in Iraq, designed to diminish Iraq's ability to develop weapons of mass destruction.

    'We were not spies'

    "The U.N. inspection teams were not spies," Ritter said during Monday's online chat. "We carried out the difficult task given to us by the Security Council." What he called "Iraqi obstruction" compelled the teams to "undertake certain methodologies that are normally associated with espionage . . . but as long as these methodologies were under the total control of the United Nations weapons inspections teams, this was a justifiable course of action," he said.

    "The problem," he said, "came when the United States government sought to take over control of some of these sensitive techniques for the purpose of pursuing U.S. policy objectives." Its main objective was "overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and not of furthering the disarmament work of the weapons inspectors."

    "It was this perversion of the weapons inspection process that has opened the weapons inspectors to accusations of espionage," he said. The United States "killed any hopes of getting inspectors back into Iraq, and has done grievous harm to the potential of the United Nations . . . to engage in meaningful disarmament and peace and security work in the future."

    Ritter said that when he resigned, "the United States government -- the Clinton administration -- was well on the path of corrupting the inspection process. My speaking out was designed to reverse this process. Unfortunately, that did not happen; and the United States, through Operation Desert Fox, effectively killed the inspection process," Ritter said.

    Administration has 'narrow-minded policies'

    During the chat, Ritter answered a variety of questions about Iraq, Iran, the current situation in the Balkans, and Western policies regarding them all.

    Asked if NATO action against Serbian forces is doomed, since airstrikes did nothing to compel Iraq to comply with weapons inspections, Ritter replied, "The concept of military power as policy, in itself, is flawed. Military power is an instrument of policy and will solve nothing on its own. Air power alone is not capable of solving extremely complicated problems, such as in Iraq, or, I believe, in Kosovo. If you want to talk about military power, then you need to talk about the full spectrum of military power, which means ground forces. We're not willing to do this in Iraq, and we're not willing to do this in Kosovo, so therefore you have to ask yourself, "Why are we bombing in the first place?"

    In response to a question about whether NATO was acting as an offensive organization though it was created to be a defensive umbrella, Ritter said, "The Clinton administration has proven itself particularly adept at destroying coalitions created for just causes. We had a coalition arrayed against Iraq, which was supportive of the disarmament requirement of Iraq. But the Clinton administration's narrow-minded policies of regime removal and continuation of economic sanctions effectively destroyed that coalition.

    "Now, in Kosovo, we have NATO, a defensive treaty organization that has existed admirably for 50 years . . . being led down a path of its eventual demise by the Clinton administration, which has no effective vision of where NATO or the United States should fit in vis-a-vis Europe." Ritter said the Clinton administration "has chosen to react to a difficult situation in Kosovo by abusing its position in NATO to get that organization to do something that is fundamentally inconsistent with its charter."

    Former arms inspector urges U.S.-Iraq dialogue
    March 24, 1999
    Pentagon backs down over Ritter's new book
    January 18, 1999
    Weapons inspector: Stop catering to Baghdad
    August 27, 1998
    Ritter leaves Baghdad after weapons inspections
    March 10, 1998

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