Scott ritter, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector in Iraq and now a Marine Corps reserve major, is a self-assured, physically imposing man who is not easily intimidated. "When I went into Iraq, ladies and gentlemen, I was the top dog," Ritter told a vocal audience of students during a speech sponsored by the student lecture board at the Salomon Center on December 1. "Iraqis growled at me. I growled back."
Ritter radiated that same self-confidence when challenged by some angry students in attendance, who seemed to view him as an official representative of U.S. foreign policy. Ritter responded by welcoming the chance to engage in an open discussion on Iraq, referring as he began his speech to a sheet of questions designed, he said, "to make Ritter squirm." Ritter used the questions, which had been distributed by a coalition of campus groups opposed to U.S. intervention in Iraq, to further engage his listeners. And judging by their response, the students seemed split between those who support the disarmament of Iraq, even if that involves the use of force, and those who believe that U.N. sanctions there should be lifted immediately.
Ritter led the audience through his seven years of Iraqi arms inspections. He explained how the Iraqis encouraged confrontation by using what he termed "extraordinary measures" to conceal their weapons. To find them, inspectors had to use extraordinary measures in return. "Some people might call that intelligence work," Ritter said. "I call that doing my job in accordance with Security Council resolutions." The New Yorker has described this combative approach, as embodied by Ritter, "peacekeeping as a different kind of warfare."
Ritter quit his post as chief weapons inspector in late August to protest what he views as the failure of the United States to enforce the disarmament agreements signed by Iraq and the United Nations at the end of the Gulf War. "It's time the United States began to behave like a world leader and start formulating policies that are reflective of a true world leader," Ritter said, criticizing what he sees as a lack of vision in American foreign policy toward Iraq. At the same time, he insisted that the way out of the current impasse is for the United States to assume its responsibility as the world's last superpower and assert its moral authority.
"We have to stand firm because we have to set a precedent," Ritter told the audience. If Iraq is allowed to flout arms inspectors or have sanctions lifted without completely disarming, Ritter said, other nations will believe they, too, can ignore international law without consequences.
Many students seemed surprised to hear that Ritter believes sanctions should never have been imposed on Iraq in the first place. "Sanctions disgust me," he insisted. "I resigned in protest over what I viewed as U.S. hypocrisy in terms of its conduct of foreign policy in Iraq," Ritter said in response to a challenge from one audience member. His disgust, he added, does not detract from his insistence that Iraq comply with its disarmament agreement.
Ritter urged students to find better solutions to the Iraqi conflict and to pressure the Clinton Administration into creating a substantive Iraqi policy. "If something's not done you're going to find this country going to war," Ritter said. "For what purpose? Something has to be done, and maybe it can start here."