Posted: February 10, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern
Most of the rest of us, from the president to his key advisers,
such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz and Tenet,
to the majority of Congress and to most of the talking heads
including the pre-Iraq War NBC analyst David Kay, who
reported WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) behind every
Iraqi sand dune blew it big-time when it came down
to the awesome arsenal that Saddam had
supposedly squirreled away.
Ritter, the United Nations' chief weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998,
took us all on – virtually alone, against incredible odds – stating,
"Iraq is not a threat to the U.S." and begging the American people
to take charge and not "sit back and allow your government
to go to war against Iraq ... [without all] the facts
on the table to back this war up."
As per his reputation on training fields and battlefields, this
granite jawed former Marine stood his ground and never flinched.
He reminds me of another two-fisted, tell-it-like-it-is Marine,
Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, the recipient of two Medals of Honor,
who was almost drummed out of the Marine Corps twice: Once
in the 1930s for calling Benito Mussolini a "fascist," and once
again a few years later when he rattled the military-industrial
complex by daring to declare that "War is a racket."
Ritter, too, took serious punishment from his critics – and instead
of doing proper due diligence or asking hard questions, the media
quickly piled on. It was not Fox's finest hour when that network
gleefully painted him as a 21st-century Benedict Arnold – not that
he had many primetime advocates anywhere else. Even CNN's
usually evenhanded Paula Zahn said to Ritter six months before
America unleashed its miscalculated military solution on Iraq,
"People out there are accusing you of drinking
Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid."
Eighteen months later, Ritter has not only survived the relentless
ridicule and all the scurrilous attempts at character assassination,
he's clearly been vindicated. And by one David Kay, who dismissed
Ritter's prewar analysis with: "Either he lied to you then or he's
lying to you now. ... He's gone completely the other way.
I cannot explain it on the basis of known facts."
Ritter doesn't come close to buying Kay's present-day convenient
conclusion – now spun into a pre 2004-election pass-the-buck
revisionist chant – that our $30 billion-a-year spook op goofed.
Ritter says, "It's the old story of people
who put their careers ahead of their country."
Ritter doesn't let President Bush off the hook, either: "He should
rightly be held accountable for what increasingly appears to be deliberately
misleading statements made by him and members
of his administration regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMD."
I asked Ritter if he felt totally exonerated. "I would feel a lot better if
there were a way to reverse the hands of time," he told me, "so that
people would have paid more attention to what I said in the past,
and we didn't find ourselves caught up in this ongoing tragedy."
What a shame that the president and his platoon of let's-get
Saddam neocons, Congress and the CIA's Tenet didn't listen
to the man-in-the-know when he cautioned: "U.S. and Iraqi
casualties will be significant. ... We can't go to war
based on ignorance."
But go to war we did. And now we've filled more than
530 body bags, medevaced thousands of soldiers, caused
thousands more to be psychologically scarred, created
tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties and stuck ourselves
dead center in an ever-deepening tar pit.
For sure, people in high places need truth-tellers like Ritter
to keep them straight. Had Bush talked to Ritter before opting
for pre-emptive war, Bush might have been convinced to
rearrange his options, and we might not be in this mess.
Evaluating intelligence calls for an open mind and sound judgment.
Both were AWOL in our political leadership because of a
preconceived agenda or an attack of yellow belly-itis
that interfered with standing tall.
In either case, it's time for a reckoning.
My recommendation: Put Ritter on the WMD intelligence probe.
We can count on him to tell us the straight skinny, just as he tried
to during the fevered, frenzied days of the dance to war.
Col. David H.
Hackworth, author of his new best-selling
"Steel My Soldiers' Hearts," "Price of Honor" and
"About Face," has seen duty or reported as a sailor,
soldier and military correspondent in nearly a dozen
wars and conflicts – from the end of World War II to the
recent fights against international terrorism. We can count
on him to tell us the straight skinny, just as he tried
to during the fevered, frenzied days
of the dance to war.