- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

If you're confused about which Scott Ritter statements you can now believe about the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, you're not alone. The Ritter of today, who speaks before the Iraqi parliament denouncing President Bush's policies and asserting that Saddam poses no threat to American interests, used to be a tough-minded hawk when it came to Iraq.

When Mr. Ritter, a Gulf War veteran, resigned from the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) the agency charged with ensuring Iraqi disarmament in August 1998, he said his departure should serve as a "wake-up call" about the United Nation's abandonment of the goal of eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. In a blistering letter to UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, Mr. Ritter sharply criticized the Clinton administration and the U.N. Security Council for not being vigorous enough about insisting that Iraqi mass-destruction weapons be destroyed. He also accused U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of serving as a "sounding board" for Iraqi complaints aimed at impeding UNSCOM's work.

"Iraq is not disarming," Mr. Ritter said on Aug. 27, 1998. Baghdad's failure to do so "means that Iraq will, in effect, win the Gulf War."

In the weeks after these parting shots, he was severely criticized by the Clinton administration, in particular Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and publicly ridiculed by administration supporters on Capitol Hill like Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.

But, when it comes to Iraqi disarmament, by far the most critical event of the past four years occurred in October 1998, when Saddam effectively forced UNSCOM out. Instead of taking military action to make Saddam back down, the Clinton administration effectively acquiesced to pressure applied on his behalf from Russia, France and China to put UNSCOM out of business and install a much weaker disarmament apparatus in its place. But the Iraqis have refused to permit the new inspection teams to enter the country.

The bottom line? With inspectors having been barred from Iraq for close to four years, Saddam has faced no constraints on his ability to continue with his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. That's arguably the most fundamental thing that's changed since Mr. Ritter quit UNSCOM. How then can Mr. Ritter credibly appear before the Iraqi parliament as he did on Sept. 8 and declare that Iraq "is not a threat to its neighbors," and that Iraq's unaccounted-for weapons materiel "does not constitute a viable weapons capability?"

Mr. Ritter's assertions have, quite understandably, left former colleagues such as Mr. Butler and former UNSCOM inspector David Kay scratching their heads. Both men have essentially said that either Mr. Ritter was lying when he resigned four years ago, or he is lying now. Messrs. Butler and Kay are too gentlemanly to say it, but Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard reported last Nov. 19 that Saddam welcomed Mr. Ritter to Baghdad in July 2000 in order to produce a "documentary" film called "Shifting Sands," which Mr. Ritter says is aimed at "de-demonizing" Iraq. The film was financed with $400,000 from Shakir al-Khafaji, an Iraqi-American real-estate developer from Michigan whom Mr. Ritter admits is "openly sympathetic" with Saddam's regime. Mr. Khafaji, the Standard reported, accompanied Mr. Ritter as he filmed the documentary.

Some people have reached the obvious conclusion that the money may have effected his opinion. But others who are familiar with Mr. Ritter believe that his ferocious anger at U.S. and U.N. pusillanimity in 1998 has somehow been converted in his mind to defending Saddam. Whatever the explanation for his currently unsupportable assertions, it is a sad turn of events for a once admirable Marine.

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