Target Iran - Scott Ritter interview
Investigative Journalist Seymour
Hersh interviews Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter on White
House Plans for Regime Change
December 21, 2006
The Pentagon has announced plans to move
additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf
region to be within striking range of Iran. We air an in-depth
discussion between two of the leading critical voices on the Bush
administration's policy in Iran: former UN weapons inspector Scott
Ritter, author of "Target Iran: The Truth About the White
House's Plans for Regime Change", and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer
Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine.
[includes rush transcript]
We turn now to the latest on Iran - the
New York Times is reporting the United States and Britain will
soon move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian
Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. Senior U.S. officers
told the paper that the increase in naval power should not be
viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran.
But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased.
The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its
strike group entered the Persian Gulf on Dec. 11. Another aircraft
carrier, the Stennis, is expected to depart for the Gulf within
the next month. The military said it is also taking steps to prevent
Iran from blocking oil shipments from the Gulf.
Well today on Democracy Now we present
an in-depth discussion between two figures who have critical of
the Bush administration's policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former
United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote the
book "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans
for Regime Change." Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning
investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. In October,
Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New
York about Scott Ritter's new book.
Scott Ritter. Former United Nations weapons
inspector in Iraq. His new book is "Target Iran: The Truth
About the White House's Plans for Regime Change."
Seymour Hersh. Pulitzer Prize winning
investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: Today on a Democracy Now!,
we present an in-depth discussion between two figures who have
been very critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iran.
Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq.
He recently wrote the book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White
House's Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer
Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New Yorker magazine.
In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation
in New York about Scott Ritter's new book. Seymour Hersh began
SEYMOUR HERSH: So, Scott, in your book
you write at some point -- you list a -- you have an account of
some of the things that are going on today inside Iran. You say
Israel and the United States were carrying out -- this is on page
147, etc. -- were carrying out a full-court press to try and identify
and locate secret nuclear facilities inside Iran. Israel made
heavy use of its connections to the Iraqi Kurdistan and to Azerbaijan
to set up covert intelligence cells inside Iran, whose work was
allegedly supplemented with specially trained commandos entering
Iran disguised as local villagers.
The United States was conducting similar
operations using Iranian opposition forces, in particular the
MEK -- that's the Mujahideen cult, which is a terrorist group,
defined by us as an at-one-time anti-Saddam, now anti-Iran group
that works very closely still with us, despite its being listed
as a terrorist group.
And you describe using opposition forces
inside Iran and the MEK to conduct cross-border operations under
the supervision of the CIA. The US has also made use of its considerable
technical intelligence-collection capabilities, focusing the attention
of imagery and electronic eavesdropping satellites, etc., for
operating along Iran's periphery. The problem was that neither
the Israelis nor the United States could detect any activity whatsoever
that could point to a definitive location on the ground where
secret nuclear weapons activity was taking place.
A couple of questions. Says who? I haven't
read this in the New York Times. You don't source it. What's the
source? And what do you know? And how do you know this?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, as I mentioned in
the back, where I talk about sources, most of that information
is readily available in the press -- not the American press. You're
not going to read about it in the New York Times, you're not going
to read about it in the Washington Post, you probably won't read
about it in most mainstream English-language newspapers. But,
you know, we used to have an organization in the CIA called FBIS,
the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, that would translate
the newspapers of the various nations around the world to give
you literally a bird's-eye view of what's going on in that country.
So if you read the Azeri press, for instance,
you'll find out that the Israeli Mossad has upped its efforts
to build a station in Azerbaijan. And the Azeri press will delve
into that more. Why does the Mossad want to build a station operating?
There's a couple reasons. One, the Mossad is working with the
Azeri population. You know, there is a Jewish minority in Azerbaijan
that has emigrated to Israel. And so, there's a number of Azeri
Israelis that the Israeli government now is bringing back to Azerbaijan
to work on this issue. This is spelled out in the Azeri press,
so if you want to get some good insights, read the Azeri press.
Read the Turkish press. The Turkish press will also talk about
what's going on in Iran and Azerbaijan. This will give you the
And then, because I'm not an active in-service
intelligence officer anymore, I will take these leads and call
friends who are active serving intelligence officers. And while
they're not going to divulge classified information, I'll say,
"Hey, I read something, where certain activities are taking
place. Can you comment on this news?" We'll sit down over
some beers, and they'll comment. And then you dig even further.
And I'll tell you that I wrote the book before I went to Iran.
But when I got to Iran and I talked to Revolutionary Guard commanders,
what surprised me is that they knew all this. The Iranians were
very cognizant of what was going on in the Azeri section of Iran,
in the Kurdish section. They could quote, you know, chapter and
verse about what the CIA is up to, what the Israelis are up to.
But, you know, again, the bottom line
is, why don't I footnote this? For probably the same reason why
a lot of people don't footnote things, because if I commit to
a specific piece of information coming from a specific written
source, that means that another piece of information that I don't
commit to a specific written source, where did that come from?
Well, maybe it came from a human source. Now, I've just made it
easier in this day and age for those who don't want factual information
to get in the hands of the average American citizen, those who
want to keep American foreign policy and national security policy
secret from the Americans they are supposed to be protecting.
They'll go after these people, and you know they go after these
people. And I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that I
don't facilitate harm coming to those who have the courage to
assist me in trying to get facts out to people so they can know
more about this problem we call Iran.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Why doesn't my colleagues
in the American press do better with this story?
SCOTT RITTER: One of the big problems
is -- and here goes the grenade -- Israel. The second you mention
the word "Israel," the nation Israel, the concept Israel,
many in the American press become very defensive. We're not allowed
to be highly critical of the state of Israel. And the other thing
we're not allowed to do is discuss the notion that Israel and
the notion of Israeli interests may in fact be dictating what
America is doing, that what we're doing in the Middle East may
not be to the benefit of America's national security, but to Israel's
national security. But, see, we don't want to talk about that,
because one of the great success stories out there is the pro-Israeli
lobby that has successfully enabled themselves to blend the two
together, so that when we speak of Israeli interests, they say,
"No, we're speaking of American interests."
It's interesting that AIPAC and other
elements of the Israeli lobby don't have to register as agents
of a foreign government. It would be nice if they did, because
then we'd know when they're advocating on behalf of Israel or
they're advocating on behalf of the United States of America.
I would challenge the New York Times to
sit down and do a critical story on Israel, on the role of Israel's
influence, the role that Israel plays in influencing American
foreign policy. There's nothing wrong with Israel trying to influence
American foreign policy. Let me make that clear. The British seek
to influence our foreign policy. The French seek to influence
our foreign policy. The Saudis seek to influence our foreign policy.
The difference is, when they do this and they bring American citizens
into play, these Americans, once they take the money of a foreign
government and they advocate on behalf of that foreign government,
they register themselves as an agent of that government, so we
know where they're coming from. That's all I ask the Israelis
to do. Let us know where you're coming from, because stop confusing
the American public that Israel's interests are necessarily America's
I have to tell you right now, Israel has
a viable, valid concern about Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. If
I were an Israeli, I would be extremely concerned about Hezbollah,
and I would want to do everything possible to nullify that organization.
As an American, I will tell you, Hezbollah does not threaten the
national security of the United States of America one iota. So
we should not be talking about using American military forces
to deal with the Hezbollah issue. That is an Israeli problem.
And yet, you'll see the New York Times, the Washington Post and
other media outlets confusing the issue. They want us to believe
that Hezbollah is an American problem. It isn't, ladies and gentleman.
Hezbollah was created three years after Israel invaded Lebanon,
not three years after the United States invaded Lebanon. And Hezbollah's
sole purpose was to liberate southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation.
I'm not here to condone or sing high praises in virtue for Hezbollah.
But I'm here to tell you right now, Hezbollah is not a terrorist
organization that threatens the security of the United States
SEYMOUR HERSH: So, in your book, speaking
of Israel, it's sort of interesting reading through it. Let's
see. Essentially, you describe Israel as viewing Iran -- the notion
of an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat. You describe
how Israel collects intelligence -- we could also call it "spies"
-- on the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is all sort
of revelatory stuff, in a way -- not the first part, but certainly
this, that Israel has penetrated and worked very closely with
people inside the IAEA, has apartments, safe houses in Vienna,
where it does business and basically operates politically inside
Three, you describe in great detail --
again, I think in more detail than has ever been made public --
how much the Israelis have worked very closely with the MEK, the
cult, this terrorist group that's now pretty much in play again
-- we'll get to that in a minute -- in not only in terms of supporting
it and urging us, the United States, to support it, but also much
of the intelligence, most of the main things that were learned
in this administration about the Iranian nuclear weapons programs,
were announced by MEK officials over the years, particularly in
August of 2002. There was a major announcement of the underground
facilities, a place that many of you now know, Natans. And the
extent of digging inside Iran was made public by the MEK. And
you write in your book repeatedly how Israel was the source for
that intelligence and basically was using the MEK to proselytize
and propagandize in America. You also describe, as we said earlier,
extremely active operations by Israel inside Iran, running agents,
etc., collecting intelligence.
So, tell us about you and Israel. Are
you anti-Semitic? Are you anti-Israel? I know you served there.
Tell us about it.
SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, I am
not anti-Semitic, and I'm definitely not anti-Israeli.
SEYMOUR HERSH: You're certainly not a
self-hating Jew, let's make that clear.
SCOTT RITTER: No, I could be a self-hating
goyim, but... Unless there's something in my past we haven't uncovered
SEYMOUR HERSH: Like some senators, right?
SCOTT RITTER: But it's irrelevant. The
bottom line is I consider myself to be a friend of the state of
Israel. I consider myself to be a true friend of the Israeli people.
But I define friendship as someone who takes care of a friend,
who just doesn't use or exploit a friend. And, you know, there's
that old adage: friends don't let friends drive drunk. We used
to use that in the anti-drug campaign, the anti-alcohol campaign.
That's how I view my friendship with Israel. And when I see a
friend preparing to drive drunk or doing something that's going
to be harmful to them, or to me, I'll say, "No," I'll
say, "Stop." So my criticism of Israel is not from some,
you know, Jewish-hating anti-Semitic foundation of myself. No.
As I point out to people, I spent a couple
weeks in 1991 working with people to stop Iraqi ballistic missiles
from landing on Israeli soil. A lot of good Americans lost their
lives in that effort, and we took it seriously. I spent four years
in Israel working with the Israeli government on the issue of
Iraq. I was very close with Israeli intelligence, very close with
the Israeli government, and I have a lot of sympathies for them.
I know how they work. I know who the players are.
And I will say this: if I were Israeli,
I'd be doing exactly what they're doing. Alright? They have a
legitimate concern here. Let's not kid ourselves. It's a small
little country. And if a nuclear device goes off inside that small
little country, Israel ceases to exist as a viable nation-state.
They can't afford any room for error. There is no margin of error
That's why Israel has taken the position
that not only will they not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons
program, they will not tolerate nuclear technology that is usable
in a nuclear weapons program, in this case, enrichment technology
that Iran is permitted to have under Article 4 of the Non-Proliferation
Treaty. Israel says no. If Iran can enrich to levels that are
usable in a nuclear reactor, that same technology can be used
to enrich to levels usable in a nuclear device. Therefore, the
Israeli position is "not one spinning rotor," meaning
not one centrifuge allowed to operate inside Iran. That's a zero-tolerance
Now, Iran's a big country that carried
out a covert program. You know, let's mention this, too. When
the MEK gave the briefing in August of 2002 using what many people
have said is Israeli information, guess what? They were right.
Let's not forget that. They didn't come out and spew garbage.
This was not Ahmed Chalabi making stuff up. This is the MEK representative
saying there is a facility in Natans involved in the enrichment
of uranium, that is being kept secret from the world. And they
were right. So let's give a little tip of the hat to the Israeli
intelligence community for getting it right.
But there's a difference between getting
the intelligence right and getting the policy right. And I will
tell you right now that the Israelis have the policy wrong, because
they have created a system of analysis that deviates from the
lessons learned from the Yom Kippur War. At the end of the Yom
Kippur War, they basically said there will be no more "konseptsia,"
meaning we're going to have a concept of what the enemy thinks.
We're going to conceive what the enemy thinks, project what the
And they got it wrong. They projected
that the Egyptians would never attack on the dates that people
talked about. Next thing you know, you've got the Third Egyptian
Army rolling across the Sinai, and the Israelis got serious problems.
They said, "It will be fact-based analysis from now on, and
we will double-check and we will triple-check." One of the
more interesting Israelis I've met was the Doubting Thomas. He's
the guy -- he's a colonel. All information that went to the director
of military intelligence came through him, all assessments. He
sat down and picked them apart. And basically, if you made an
assertion, he said, "How do you know this?" If you said
x, he said, "Why isn't it y?" And you had to answer
him. You had to come back and explain this, and only then did
the analysis get to the director of military intelligence, who
is the head of national assessments in Israel. He then takes it
to the prime minister. So, imagine that, being the head of state,
getting quality intelligence from your intelligence community
that's been double-checked, triple-checked, questioned, so there's
no room for error.
But an interesting thing happened in the
aftermath of the Gulf War. Some personalities took over. One,
in particular, I write about in the book: Amos Gilad, then a brigadier
general. I think he left as a major general. But Amos Gilad brought
back into fruition the notion of konseptsia. You see, he conceived
the notion of a nexus combining Iran with Hezbollah with Hamas.
And he said Israel is at threat. This whole thing is lumped together,
and we have to deal with it all. And the head that has to be cut
off, if we're going to succeed, is Iran. Iran is the threat. Iran
is the problem. Iran must be dealt with. And he started slanting
the intelligence assessments that were being presented to the
director of military intelligence, this time on what I'll call
faith-based analysis, his gut feeling, his belief, but not the
facts. This isn't sound factually based analysis. This is a deviation.
And unfortunately, the politicians bought off on it.
And again, because we have yet, today,
to be able to separate in the American policy formulation that
involves Israel, separate Israeli interests from American interests,
the Israeli government has been very successful in using the pro-Israeli
lobby to make sure that the Israeli concerns, the Israeli point
of view, becomes the American point of view. And that's what's
But, yes, Israel has agents operating
inside Iran. They better have agents operating inside Iran. I
wish we had more agents operating inside Iran, so we knew more
what's going on. Can you blame Israel, because they care about
nuclear weapons, for trying to get close to the International
Atomic Energy Agency? We do it. Why is the world surprised that
Israel is going to do it? When you have inspectors that go into
a nation that you have deemed hostile, you want to know what they
know. You also want to help guide them. Israel did this in Iraq.
And I have to say it was very honorable, what they did. They didn't
go in to corrupt the inspection process. They went in to improve,
to enhance the inspection process.
But with Iraq, it was fact-based analysis.
That's why, at the end of the day, the Israeli government was
willing to accept that Iran had been virtually disarmed, that
almost all the WMD had been accounted for. In 1998, that was the
assessment. Thanks to Amos Gilad, by 2003 Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction had been reborn, and he didn't have to explain how
they had been reborn. It was konseptsia. It was a gut feeling.
They were there because Saddam's bad.
The same thing is happening with Iran
today, because all of this intelligence that's being done has
uncovered a nuclear enrichment program, not a nuclear weapons
program. But the Israelis have already concluded, thanks to Amos
Gilad and his konseptsia, that a nuclear weapons program exists.
Therefore, if you're not finding evidence of it, it means you're
not looking in the right places. So then you begin to speculate.
How many people here remember underground facilities in Iraq,
Saddam's tunnels, everything buried? Well, there weren't, were
Well, guess what. The Israelis talk about
tunnels in Iran. And there are tunnels in Iran. The Iranians have
been working with the North Koreans for the last couple decades
to perfect deep tunneling techniques, and they are boring in the
ground. You saw all those little Hezbollah tunnels in South Lebanon
that were so effective against the Israelis? They were dug by
the Iranians with North Korean assistance. That comes from the
Iranians themselves. And they're doing the same thing in Iran
today. And the Israelis are detecting this deep tunneling activity,
and they're sending elements in to do reconnaissance on that,
but they're not finding any evidence of nuclear-related activity,
because there isn't any going on.
But again, thanks to konseptsia, Gilad,
and the way the Israelis now do their assessments, they immediately
equate deep tunneling and a nuclear enrichment program to mean
that there's a secret underground nuclear weapons program. Faith-based
analysis has trumped fact-based analysis, and because of the pressure
put on American policymakers by the Israeli lobby, our own government
has now embraced this point of view. And this is very dangerous,
ladies and gentleman, because if we accept at face-value, without
question, the notion of a nuclear weapons program in Iran, that
means the debate's over. It's over, because if Iran has a nuclear
weapons program that operates in violation of international law,
it's very easy for American policymakers to talk about the imperative
to confront this.
And if you can't confront it successfully
diplomatically, that leaves only the military option on the table.
And right now, that's the direction we're heading, because the
debate's over, apparently, about whether or not Iran has a nuclear
weapons program, even though the IAEA has come out and said there's
no evidence whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration's allegations
that such a weapons program exists. Note, I didn't say that the
IAEA said there is no such weapons program -- they can't prove
But note that the Bush administration
has taken this and now changed course, like they did with Iraq.
Saddam said, "We don't have any weapons. The inspectors aren't
finding any weapons. Keep looking." Why? Because the onus
isn't on the inspectors to find the weapons. The onus is on Iraq
to prove that none exist. But how can you prove a negative? The
same thing is in play today with Iran. We have told the Iranians
it is their responsibility to prove to the international community
beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no nuclear weapons program
in Iran. How can you prove a negative?
But that's not the point, because it's
not about a nuclear weapons program. It's about regime change
and the Bush administration using the perception of threat from
a nuclear weapons program to achieve their ultimate objective
of regional transformation, which is, again, a policy born more
in Tel Aviv than Washington, D.C.
SEYMOUR HERSH: OK. Digression. One of
the things you and I used to talk about was, when Scott was an
inspector from '91 to '98, he got in a lot of trouble, an awful
lot of trouble, with his government, because he would take highly
classified information to Israel to be analyzed first, remember?
Particularly some of the overhead stuff, U-2 stuff. And that caused
you a lot of investigations, a lot of problems in terms of --
just of loyalty issues. But still, the fact is you thought so
highly of Israel. I remember you telling me years ago that they
could understand what was going on from satellite photographs
in six or seven hours. If you gave it to the American system,
we were dealing in a week, and you would get a bad analysis. No,
that's just -- you had a lot of faith in their intelligence capability.
So, what the hell is going on there? Is
it as simple as that? Is it just as simple as a few people at
the top playing Ahmed Chalabi? Or is it -- what happened? Why
aren't they calling it the way, if you're right, they should?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, I think it
comes down to -- you know, the Bush administration likes to talk
a lot about the nexus, the nexus between weapons of mass destruction
I'll talk about the nexus between the
neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., and the right wing of the
Likud Party in Israel. These elements, these political elements
have been working hand-in-glove for many, many years. And now
that the neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., have seized power,
have gained power, attained power, now that they're in power,
the right wing in Israel has to play this game. They have to deal
with the cards that they've been dealt. And so, they're not going
to stand up to the United States. You're not going to sit there
and try and encourage the United States to make a move on Iran
using fact-based information.
You've got to understand there are certain
buttons you need to push in Washington, D.C., to get American
politicians to move in a certain direction. And you've got to
keep it simple. And the simplest thing is to say that there is
a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And then, you've got to push
some more buttons, because you don't want to treat that in isolation.
You want complicate it further: that nuclear weapons program is
in the hands of a nation that is a state-sponsor of terror --
Iran. And the terrorist organizations that they sponsor are inclusive
of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Liberation Organization Fatah
wing. This is all part of the same problem, you see.
And in doing so, Israel now complicates
America's overall policy posture vis-a-vis the Middle East, because
now it becomes very difficult to treat the Palestinian situation
in isolation. It becomes very difficult to treat the Hezbollah
situation in isolation or to treat Iran in isolation. Israel has
lumped it all together, because they know how to play the American
political game, I think, better than we know how to play the American
political game. So this is about domestic politics trumping intelligence
and sound analytical processes.
SEYMOUR HERSH: I think a lot about the
neocons, and what's interesting about the neocons and their influence,
as you say, is that if you look at it, in the last few years,
they've really lost a lot of the intellectual leadership from
direct policy input. Wolfowitz is gone. Richard Perle certainly
was no longer head of the Defense Policy Board. He's on the outside.
Douglas Feith, who was an undersecretary of defense and very important
to Rumsfeld, is gone. So with some of their more important acolytes
out of the way, why are we still talking about the neocons? What
is it about us that enables them to keep on going, even though
many of their leaders -- nobody would define either Bush or Cheney
or Rumsfeld as neocons before 2001. They were just realist conservatives.
How have we gotten to -- what's your guess about it? I mean, I
don't have an answer. Do you have an answer?
SCOTT RITTER: I don't have a definitive
answer, but I would say this. If you want to attribute anything
to the empowerment of the neoconservatives, attribute eight years
of Clinton presidency. You see, the neoconservatives had thrived
under the presidency of Ronal Reagan, because we had an evil empire
back then, you see? You had an enemy, a focal point. And so, they
could sit there and talk about global hegemony, talk about global
domination, and no one would hold them to task, because it was
widely recognized that we were engaged in a global struggle with
another global superpower.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the neoconservative
thinkers, these global hegemonists, said, "We can't allow
any power or group of powers to step into that vacuum." This
is 1991, 1992. In fact, in 1992, under the direction of Dick Cheney,
who was at that time the Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz
and Scooter Libby helped author a vision statement, a policy statement
for the Defense Department, that talked about how we divide the
world into spheres of strategic influence and how we will intervene
unilaterally, prevent preemptively, militarily, if required, to
dominate these regions, and that's what we need to do with the
fall of the Soviet Union.
There was a little hiccup along the way
of that becoming policy, called an election, where George Herbert
Walker Bush, the heir to Ronald Reagan, got defeated, and Bill
Clinton came in. And when Clinton came in, all these neoconservative
ideologues, who had been shaping and influencing policy for 12
years, were no longer in power. And what they did is they all
went off to roost in various neoconservative or conservative or
right-leaning think tanks, and they festered for eight years,
perfecting this poison that became their policy. And then, when
George Bush -- George Walker Bush -- got elected, they came in
and assumed power, but they had eight years to basically put a
spit shine on their vision of how the world would look.
And they didn't have an easy time early
on. There was a lot of hiccups. If you remember, in the summer
of 2001, how critical people were of the Bush administration,
of Donald Rumsfeld, of these neoconservative thinkers, because
their ideology wasn't melding with the post-Clinton reality.
Thanks to September 11, 2001, 19 criminals
who hijacked four airplanes and flew them into three buildings
and a farm field, all that changed. The neoconservatives were
successfully able to exploit the ignorance-based fear of the American
public to sell them a bill of goods about the world we live in.
And as a result, they had a seamless transition from an ideology
that America should reject at face value, and it now has become
the official policy of the United States of America, the national
security policy or strategy of the United States of America, first
promulgated in September 2002, most recently updated in June 2006.
This policy is almost word for word the same doctrine that Wolfowitz
penned in 1992, that the Project for a New American Centry put
out in 1997. And it is now that which defines how America interfaces
with the rest of the world.
SEYMOUR HERSH: But, Scott, answer the
question. If they fester, why are they festering? Why do they
continue to have this influence? You've mentioned another one
that's gone: Libby -- when so many of the intellectual gurus of
that group -- I mean, certainly Wolfowitz, Libby was very important,
too. Why, given the collapse of policy in Iraq, which is becoming
increasingly obvious to everyone, why are we still there? Why
is this country still basically -- the policies of the country
still neoconservative? What has been festered? What has been inculcated
in us? What's going on?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, the reason
why I talked about the festering is to point out that they had
12 years of being in power, followed by eight years of being able
to take their policy to think tanks and work on it. So that's
20 years that the neoconservatives were able to develop and perfect
SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah, but we've got a constitution.
We've got a congress. We've got a press. We've got a bureaucracy.
What's going on?
SCOTT RITTER: Because on September 11th,
the United States of America suffered its worst defeat, not at
the hands of terrorists, but at the hands of the neoconservatives,
who basically allowed the terrorists to win by turning America
on itself. We have a congress, but Congress only counts when it
functions. And when Congress refuses to carry out appropriate
oversight, when Congress refuses to hold the President accountable
for policy decisions, when Congress stands by idly while we violate
international law and indeed the Constitution of the United States,
invading a sovereign state without just cause, allowing the torturing
of individuals to occur by American service members, when Congress
sits by and tolerates warrantless wiretappings, they don't function
as a legitimate branch of government.
SEYMOUR HERSH: OK, but let's just go back.
We all agree on Congress. But the fact is that when Olmert was
here in May, the prime minister of Israel, and gave a speech about
Iran to a joint session of Congress, the big applause lines, the
standing o's came when he criticized Iran and raised the specter
-- the same language you were talking about -- this existential
language, this threat, and that was a standing ovation. The fact
of the matter is that no matter how you describe it, no matter
how we perceive it, if the President orders a military attack
on Iran, Congress will rubberstamp it. There's no question about
that, in my view. I don't know what you think. And I guess, heuristically,
if you will, what's your guess? We want to do a lot of questions,
because there may be somebody here who disagrees with what Scott's
saying. It takes an awful lot of courage, but anyway.
SCOTT RITTER: I try not to be controversial.
SEYMOUR HERSH: But, so, what's your guess?
What happens? October surprise next year? What do you think? What
do you think? What's in line for us?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, let's
start with what you're talking about: the standing ovation that
Olmert gets. Why? Why would he get this standing ovation? Because
the United States of America has been preconditioned since 1979
to accept at face value anything negative said about the Islamic
Republic of Iran. Now, there's a lot of negative things that can
be said about the Islamic Republic of Iran. But unfortunately,
by allowing ourselves to create this filter that says we don't
recognize anything positive, only the negative, we create the
conditions where we don't question negative date. And therefore,
when people say Iran is a threat, we agree. And this has been
going on since 1979. So the American public, and indeed the American
Congress, is preconditioned for war, for confrontation with Iran.
That's why we can have a policy that transitions from dual containment
under the Clinton administration to regime change under the Bush
administration, without any significant debate taking place whatsoever.
And because this condition exists, there
will be war with Iran, unless a little miracle occurs, called
the Democrats winning Congress, creating enough friction to stop
the war, in the November elections. But even if that occurs, as
you pointed out, there is no separation between the Democratic
Party and the Republican Party on the issue of Iran. Everybody
sits there and says. "Wait a minute, we're losing the war
in Iraq, and there's 65% of the population that's turned against
this war. Certainly we're not going to go to war with Iran."
Again, I mean to correct the American
public here. 65% of the American public aren't antiwar. They're
just anti-losing. You see, if we were winning the war in Iraq,
they'd all be for it. If we had brought democracy, they'd be cheering
the President. It wouldn't matter that we violated international
law. It wouldn't even matter that we lied about weapons of mass
destruction. We'd be winning. God bless America. Ain't we good?
USA, USA! But we're losing, so they're against Iraq.
But what happens when you get your butt
kicked in one game? You're looking for the next game, where you
can win. And right now, we're looking for Iran for a victory.
We're going to go to war with Iran. When? Not in October, I'll
tell you that.
There's a couple things that have to happen
before we go to war with Iran. There has to be a serious diplomatic
offensive to secure the military basing required to support the
aerial forces necessary for sustained bombardment and the logistic
apparatus that goes along with that -- the fuel, the bombs, the
support personnel, the maintenance. We haven't done that. We're
doing it. There has to be political preparation here at home.
The Bush administration is not a dictatorship yet. They still
have to go to Congress, and they still have to get a degree of
congressional approval for military operations against Iran. Not
that much, though. I mean, everybody is aware that after 9/11,
Congress pretty much gave the Bush administration a blank check
to wage war anyway they saw fit, so long as it dealt with the
global war on terror. And the President --
SEYMOUR HERSH: Be specific. The October
2002 resolution was not just limited to Iraq, you're exactly right.
SCOTT RITTER: No, it's a global war on
SEYMOUR HERSH: It gave him the right to
-- he's got a blank check. He does have that.
SCOTT RITTER: A blank check to do it.
SEYMOUR HERSH: That's literally correct.
SCOTT RITTER: Now, he has to be smart
about this. Yes, he can wage war, but he needs to ensure that
Congress continues to fund the war. So that's why he will go to
Congress. He will make the case for Iran. But, as I said, Congress
is already preprogrammed to nod their head yes and stamp anything
The most important thing is the American
military, getting the American military positioned. The easy thing
is getting the air forces positioned, the naval force and air
forces that will do the bombardment. The hard thing is getting
the American military leadership to go along with that, and that
might be the one little glimmer of hope that's out there, because
if we can get a Democratic-controlled congress that is not afraid
to exercise its oversight responsibility and holds hearings, where
it brings in military professionals and liberates them to speak
critically of bad policy, which is the duty and responsibility
of every general officer.
There's a gross dereliction of duty taking
place today in the United States, where our general officers remain
mute while they are on active duty. Suddenly, when they retire,
they get great courage. They can speak out. But you know what?
It's too late. Too many of your men have died. You should have
spoke out sooner. And hopefully with a Democratic congress, the
generals will speak out. Look at the standards set by the British
military. The British chief of staff has come out and finally
spoke truth to power by saying, "Mr. Blair, your war is not
only not winnable, but it's destroying the British army. And if
we want to have an army in five to ten years, we have to change
our policy." Maybe American general's will follow that precedent.
SEYMOUR HERSH: I've had some smart Arabs
I know, who are not anti-American, per se, but increasingly, of
course, getting that way, say to me that one other -- there's
another -- they had another vestige of hope, which was that after
the disaster in Lebanon -- and the Israelis are sort of now, their
position is we suffered a technical knockout, it wasn't a complete
knockout. They're finding a little grace in it. But some of the
bright Arabs I know said maybe the Israelis will move to the center.
Maybe that'll, one way, will save us. "Save us," being
the world, in their view. Certainly the oil world in the Middle
East, from continued war. And they said, perhaps -- giving up
on the notion that America would move, but maybe the Israeli population
would move to the center. No sign yet of it. I don't see it.
SCOTT RITTER: Well, there is a significant
-- I mean, that's one of the things that strikes me when I travel
to Israel. It's like anything, traveling to Iran, you suddenly
have this veil lifted, because, of course, you're not going to
get a true picture from the American media about what Iran is,
and most Americans, I don't think, have a genuine picture of what
Israel is, unless you've gone to Israel, traveled to Israel, met
the Israelis. It's a very diverse society. It's not homogeneous
at all, especially politically. You know, you sit three Israelis
around a table, you get seven different opinions. And that's the
truth. These people love politics. They're concerned. They're
engaged. And there is a viable powerful moderate and progressive
element within Israel.
The battle with Hezbollah this past summer,
this conflict in South Lebanon that bled over into northern Israel,
could go either way. On the one hand, there are elements that
are seeking to exploit the fear factor, the fact that thousands
of Hezbollah rockets landed on Israel, to say, "Never again,
never again. We must redouble our efforts to confront." But
taking a look at how enfeebled the Israeli military was in its
response, how Hezbollah was actually empowered, the Israelis might
actually come to realize the lesson we're learning in Iraq, which
is you cannot militarily defeat an organization that has as its
roots the legitimate concerns of an indigenous population. And
I'm not here to condone Hezbollah or sing its virtues, but I will
tell you this, Hezbollah is an organization of Southern Lebanese
Shia. That belong in South Lebanon. They're in South Lebanon.
And Israel may have learned a hard lesson, that you just can't
bomb these people into submission, so they might move to the center.
SEYMOUR HERSH: [inaudible] is standing.
We want to do one more question. Let me ask him one more question.
One last question, which is, OK, briefly, we go to war. We begin
a massive bombing campaign. Take your pick. Odds are it's going
to be systematic, at least three days of intense bombing, decapitation
probably, which -- that is one of the things you do when you begin
a bombing attack, like we did against Saddam twice and like the
Israelis did against Hezbollah when they targeted Nasrallah. And
I think we and the Israelis are now 0-for-8, almost as bad as
Shrummy and his elections. But anyway, so the question then is
-- we go to war -- tell us what happens next, in your view.
SCOTT RITTER: Well, it's, you know --
it's almost impossible to be 100% correct, but I'll give you my
best analysis. The Iranians will use the weapon that is the most
effective weapon, because the key for Iran -- you know, Iran can't
afford, if this -- remember, the regime wants to stay in power,
so they can't afford a strategy that gets the American people
to recognize three years in that, oops, we made a mistake. I mean,
if that was Saddam's strategy, it failed for him, because he's
out of power. Yeah, we realize we made a mistake now in Iraq,
but the regime is gone. So the Iranians realize that they have
to inflict pain upfront. The pain is not going to be inflicted
militarily, because we're not going to commit numbers of ground
forces on the ground that can cause that pain. The pain will come
Our oil-based economy is operating on
the margins, as we speak. We only have 1.0% to 1.5% excess production
capacity. If you take the Iranian oil off the market, which is
the first thing the Iranians will do, we automatically drop to
around minus-4%, which means there ain't enough oil out there
to support the globe's thirst for oil, especially America's thirst
for oil. And we're not the only ones drinking it? You think for
a second the Chinese and the Indians, the world's two largest
developing economies, are going to say, "Hey, Uncle Sam,
we'll put everything on hold, so we can divert oil resources,
so you can feed your oil addiction, because you attacked Iran"?
And it's not just Iranian oil that will
go off the market. Why do you think we sent minesweepers up there?
We've got to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. The Iranians will
shut it down that quick. They'll also shut down oil production
in the western oil fields of Saudi Arabia. They'll shut down Kuwaiti
oil production. They'll shut down oil production in the United
Arab Emirates. They'll shut down whatever remaining oil production
there is in Iraq. They'll launch a massive attack using their
Shia proxies in Iraq against American forces. That will cause
The bottom line is, within two days of
our decision to initiate an attack on Iran, every single one of
you is going to be feeling the consequences of that in your pocketbook.
And it's only going to get worse. This is not something that only
I recognize. Ask Dick Lugar what information he's getting from
big business, who are saying, "We can't afford to go to war
SEYMOUR HERSH: Final question: given all
this, are we going to do it?
SCOTT RITTER: Yes, we're going to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter and Seymour
Hersh. Ritter's latest book is called Target Iran: The Truth About
the White House's Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is a
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker
magazine. His latest book is called a Chain of Command: The Road
from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. They were speaking at the New York Society
for Ethical Culture at an event sponsored by the Nation Institute.
Again, the latest news, the Pentagon has disclosed plans to send
more warships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf within striking
distance of Iran.