The only hope for Iraq to achieve stability again is through a coaltion of Sunni tribes - the Shias are simply too fragmented. And the only way to achieve a Sunni tribal coalition is by handing control back to the Baath party. They will bring stability back to Iraq. They will be brutal unfortunately. But better that than US soldiers kicking in doors. That's a gestapo tactic.

We will lose in Iraq. Iraq is in for a decade of pain and suffering, pain and suffering that needn't take place. Get the troops out now.

That's Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq, speaking Saturday night in Prague to the American Voices Abroad conference I mentioned below.

For me, this was a new one: I'd like to know if even George Galloway has ever said that power must now be returned to the Baathists as the only hope for Iraq.

Scott Ritter is a great speaker and I highly recommend him should you ever get the chance. He is also a bit of a motormouth, and might leave you with the impression of a needlessly high word-to-argument ratio. However, he is highly competent in flow, and preaching to an audience of the converted Saturday night, he was very much on message.

Pity about the message.

The incredible gullibility of being Czech

Ritter began his talk with what I thought was a spectacularly condescending putdown of the Czechs. It is appropriate, he said, to be meeting here in Prague at a time when the Czech Republic is making the mistake of committing military resources to the illegal conflict in Iraq. The Czechs suffered long under the previous regime and may be under the mistaken impression that they owe a debt of gratitude to the US for its part in the downfall of the Soviet Union. How naive! Czechs, he said, "slavishly" follow the US and fail to question its motives. For more on this, read his his op-ed piece from last week's Prague Post.

Though Ritter normally speaks very quickly, at times hardly stopping for breath, his introductory remarks were clearly aimed at Czechs in the audience, and it seemed to me that during that part he spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as you would to a young child. That along with the simple fact that he couldn't be more wrong did not auger well for the rest of the talk. (Memo to Ritter: a majority of Czechs polled before the war expressed oppostion to it.)

The theme of the evening was the US (or George Bush) and its (or his) true, unadmitted intentions in Iraq. Ritter's vehicle in developing that theme was his experiences as a weapons inspector. And his has been a remarkable career: from blood and thunder gung-ho marine lieutenant to respected arms inspection officer in Russia in the 80s to intelligence officer in Gulf War I and finally chief inspector during the first inspections regime in Iraq after the war. He projects the unmistakable aura of a super-competent, take-charge, get it done now kind of person. Undoubtedly he did his job very well. I wonder if he would disagree with the statement that he may have done his job too well, at least for some.

Ritter says he was ill used by the CIA. The Agency not only provided him intelligence on Iraqi WMD programs, something he needed to do his job, but they planted spies in the inspection teams as well - and the Iraqis cottoned on to it. It is that fact, says Ritter, and not the desire to prevent discovery of WMD, that made Saddam so intransigent and uncooperative toward the UN inspectors.

More importantly, he says, Iraq simply had no WMD. Every inspection Ritter's team performed to verify Iraqi declarations panned out. Not a single surprise inspection on the advice of the American, British or Israeli intelligence services turned up a thing. Ritter thinks this shouldn't surprise anyone. The shelf life of the constituents and growth media needed to produce chemical or biological WMD is short - three years maximum. You can't, therefore, bury a chemical weapons program and dig it up years later and restart it.

It all makes a compelling story, and I don't doubt that a lot of it is true. When he relates his specific experiences, there is no hint of disingenuousness. (I also doubt whether he is telling the whole technical story.) If his goal is to proclaim that both the UN and the US (and ally) failed to give him due credit and admit that Iraq, at least on his evidence, could not be proven to be hiding WMD, he has a case to make.

But like many anti-war/anti-Bush evangelists, he goes a whole lot farther.

The empire that will be America

America today is about imposing a broad, imperial hegemony on the world.

That's a direct quote. Ritter, changing into high gear, can come to no other conclusion from the way the Bush administration made WMD the official pretext for war and the fact that none so far have been found. The US clearly lied. It attacked Iraq which was "no threat, no enemy!" and thereby proved that it wishes simply to extend American power by force. And we are off to the races.

Don't believe that the US has any interest in bringing democracy to Iraq. This is demonstrably not so, says Ritter, in the plain language used by the Americans in justifying the invasion: non-compliance with UN resolutions. That's what they said - see? right here? - and they can't go retroactively claiming justification for other reasons now. It's not allowed.

It's also not allowed, apparently, to rejoice in the fact that Iraq for the first time in decades lives out from under the heel of a fascist dictatorship. It goes without saying that the Iraqi human rights record under Saddam was not discussed all evening. Ritter: sure, Saddam was bad and I have no love for him. Another direct quote: "But he [Saddam] ruled the country for 30 years and at least built up a stable bureaucracy. Iraqis today don't have even that." Iraq was better off before the invasion, he said. I saw many heads nodding in fervent agreement.

It gets better (or worse?). Iraqis, we are assured, supported the invasion in advance...because they trusted the US when it said Saddam had WMD and must be disarmed. More naive foreigners, it seems. When it became obvious that no WMD will be found (when exactly was that?), Iraqis said

Damn you, America! You killed us for a decade for no reason!

Ritter is referring to the UN sponsored sanctions against Iraq. He apparently believes that the sanctions were held determinedly in place by a series of US presidents against the wishes of all the other members of the security council. No mention of abuses of the oil for food program, no admission that Saddam himself profited hugely from the sanctions regime both financially and politically, characterizing them to his people as simple aggression.

And not once during the evening did Ritter or any questioner ask, "might not the Iraqis today be glad to be free of Saddam and optimistic at the chance to develop democracy? Might they be happy that a regime that killed hundreds of thousands is gone?" I want to stress that. Not once was it suggested that Iraqis might have any other reason to be glad of an invasion of their country than to rid it of WMD. On the contrary, Iraqis know today that the US is in Iraq "illegally" and want them out.

A sick country, a sick society

Several times during his talk Ritter proclaimed that he was a "proud American, a patriotic American." That can't be doubted. One of the few moments of comedy came when an older American lady plaintively asked him if his feelings of pride didn't amount to "blind patriotism" (a dirty word). I mean, she said, what right do we have to think we are better than anyone else? [audience: applause] I wear the uniform and I took the oath, answered Ritter. I believe America again can be the greatest country in the world! [audience: nervous chuckles.] Another questioner prompted him, "is it true that you voted for Ronald Reagan?" [audience: laughter] Ritter: "I am a lifelong registered Republican. I voted for Ronald Reagan twice, I voted for George Bush, Sr., and I voted for George W. Bush." [audience: GAASSSP!!] "But George Bush lied to me. He lied to us all."

I note that he was happy enough with Reagan/Bush truth telling over Iran-contra to vote for Bush Sr. in 1988. But then in those days he had no axe to grind with an administration he thinks has dissed him.

American is sick today because we have forgotten how to be citizens, how to hold our leaders to account, says Ritter. It's shameful that more of us don't vote, that we accept unquestioningly what we are fed. "America today is not a representative democracy," he says. It's hard to find fault with a message urging more civic participation. I can't disagree that our low voter turnout rates are bad. But the idiocy of the statement that the US is not a representative democracy makes the whole discussion moot.

And spot the quantum leap. And the interesting abandonment of the useful legal standard of strictness in making a case. The US has embarked on a crusade of global imperial domination (pretty good for a sick country) and we all just sit there. The evidence for this is as follows:

a) Scott Ritter's findings in Iraq were manipulated for political purposes, and
b) the stated reasons for the Iraq invasion (WMD) have not been proven.

Is all that clear? Because if the US and Britain can't go justifying their illegal war on a sovereign state on any old pretext like human rights and regional stability when their original, official pretext was WMD (which it wasn't, for fuck's sake!), then Scott Ritter can't go adding any new reasons for his conclusions, either! (If this sounds to you like the level of debate found in the average schoolyard, it's sounding just about right.)

Thus, ladies and gentlemen, we have: Scott Ritter's WMD findings ignored - WMD given as justification for Iraq invasion - no WMD found yet - US policy bent on "total, imperial hegemony." Quod erat demonstrandum. Thank you very much for your kind attention.

There's an old episode of Seinfeld where Jerry buys a blazer from a swanky clothes boutique. The salesman flirts with and eventually begins dating Elaine. Jerry gets annoyed when the salesman ignores him and won't acknowledge his status as Elaine's former boyfriend. Jerry decides to return the blazer. The clerk asks him, "and can I ask your reason for returning it?" Jerry: "for spite." The manager is called to confer. "I'm sorry, sir, we cannot accept returns for spite."

Jerry: "OK, then...I'm returning it because it doesn't fit me."

Manager: "Too late! You already said spite!"

I think that pretty much sums up the world according to Scott Ritter and the good members of American Voices Abroad.

Steve | 20:43 |