Autumn 2005: the US 'window' for striking Iran

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter tells Tom Farrell why he thinks the Bush administration intends to 'decapitate' the administration in Iran – possibly as soon as this autumn

'The Bush administration has been very successful in playing upon the fears of the American people. That's why we found ourselves at war in Iraq and tragically, that's probably why we're going to find ourselves at war with Iran."

Scott Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq who became a leading critic of the US-led war. Ritter told an audience in Washington on 18 February this year that the Bush administration had drawn up a plan to bomb Iran, a statement he reiterated in a March article published by Al Jazeera. He spoke to Village after a protest at the Menwith Hill RAF base near Harrogate, Yorkshire, organised by the UK Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB).

Tom Farrell: George W Bush has spoken of "all options on the table" regarding the Iranian nuclear programme. When might military action take place?

Scott Ritter: I know that they're looking at fall (autumn) 2005, that's the window they're looking at. In the same way that, before the Iraq war, I told people that the date was October 2002, and it was. In the spring of 2002, the Bush administration had set its date as October. But you had political realities come in: you had to bring the British in; they had to take a pause for diplomacy so it got pushed to March 2003. Whether or not the Bush administration will be able to move in the fall of 2005, I don't know.

The strategy is simple: to shift the nuclear weapons issue in Iran out of Vienna (headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency) to the Security Council; demand that the Security Council impose stringent economic sanctions; and, when the Council baulks, they have John Bolton (US ambassador to the UN) stand up and say, "this organisation no longer counts, the United States is going for it unilaterally", and for Bush to make a move.

TF: Would Britain back Bush's war on Iran?

SR: They may not be military partners but when you take a look at the role Blair plays in facilitating Britain's role as part of the EU Three (with France and Germany) and maintaining the notions of a nuclear weapons programme, this provides legitimacy to the Bush administration... I think they'll join with air power.

TF: There are already 130,000 American troops in Iraq and the US military is afflicted by serious recruitment shortages. Would the operation in Iran resemble those conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq?

SR: Well, first of all, the ideologues who are formulating a potential move on Iran are not speaking of a war of occupation. That requires a large number of troops to physically occupy the soil. The formulators of conflict with Iran believe that the Iranian people just need a little nudge before they rise up and overthrow the rule of the mullahs.

It's what the Bush administration has already started to implement. As we speak, there's sufficient American airpower pushed forward in that region to carry out a sustained aerial campaign against Iran that goes beyond simply neutralising the nuclear reactor.

It speaks of neutralising air-defence systems, command-and-control systems, and another category, "national leadership" targets. They speak of "decapitation" of the rule of the mullahs, creating a sense of instability that will promote the Iranian people's rising up and taking over.

The problem that happens is that, once that occurs, what if the Iranian people don't rise up? And I think history shows that when you bomb a country, the people don't rally around those who bomb them.

TF: Would the majority of the American public support action against Iran?

SR: Most American people accept without question the Bush administration's contention that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors don't know what they're talking about when they say that there are no nuclear weapons in Iran.

The majority of the American people will accept without question any notion that the Bush administration puts forward that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that threatens international peace and security.

The media will be hesitant to speak up and raise their hands and ask these questions because they've already been pre-programmed to accept Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil".

Iran is a state not worthy of support. Therefore, if you stand up and say "Hey, I want some evidence about this nuclear weapons programme", you will be called a sympathiser for a terrorist state. And there are not too many Americans right now who are willing to stand up and be accused of that. They're intimidated, they're fearful.

It's not just the American citizens, it's the American media. The shameful performance the American media had in the build-up to the Iraq war is being repeated today when it comes to Iran.

TF: After WMDs and al Qaida links failed to materialise in Iraq, how do you see action against Iran being "spun" by the Bush administration?

SR: The Bush administration speaks of a nuclear weapons programme but has failed to provide any information to sustain that allegation other than, because Iran is a nation awash in a sea of oil, there could be no logical reason for Iran seeking a nuclear energy programme. Although, in 1976, the administration of President Ford thought it was okay for Iran to have a nuclear energy programme.

Who was Secretary of Defence at that time? Donald Rumsfeld. Who was White House Chief of Staff? Dick Cheney. Both of them said that the Shah of Iran has every right to pursue a nuclear programme that includes the complete fuel cycle. Now, 30 years later, they've changed their mind. Why? Because of politics, not realities.

TF: While US military casualties near the 2,000 mark in Iraq, does the expansion of military operations into Iran (and possibly Syria) necessitate introducing a draft in the States?

SR: I actually believe that the draft is inevitable if the Bush administration continues to pursue this policy in Iraq. We simply don't have enough troops. But the Bush administration will be very clever in how they get the draft in. They will confront Congress with certain "financial realities" associated with expanding an all-volunteer force in a time when recruitment levels can't be met and Congress will make the decision to move to the draft so the Bush administration will have its cake and eat it. The Bush administration will orchestrate events so that it'll be Congress that gets the blame, not the administration.

TF: Might an anti-war candidate be put forward by the Democrats in the 2008 Presidential election?

SR: In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on an anti-war platform: he was going to get out of Vietnam. But it took four more years. He invaded Cambodia and Laos and thousands of Americans, (and) hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, Vietnamese died. If, in 2008, the Democrats elect a President on an anti-war platform, are we going to get out of Iraq or are we going to fall into the same pattern?

First of all, I think the chances of the Democrats electing somebody in 2008 are slim to none. I'll give the following reasons. Most mainstream Democrats are fatally compromised on two issues. First is the war in Iraq: they voted in favour of this war and that vote will come back to haunt them forever. John Kerry was called a "flip-flopper" and most Americans don't want to vote for a flip-flopper, but for somebody who at least stands for something, even if it's wrong.

The second area that they're compromised on is (that) most mainstream Democrats voted in favour of the largest violation of American constitutional rights in modern history, the Patriot Act. These two votes have fundamentally corrupted mainstream Democrats to the point that they probably can't get a viable candidate.

TF: Will American opinion have turned against the Republicans by then if the war continues on its current course?

SR: Let's say (the Democrats) do, they get a candidate and they win in 2008. That candidate is going to have to negotiate very tough things. There's not a single American figure of stature who says "out of Iraq now!".

They all say that we have to stay the course, that we have to have stability, that we can't abandon the Iraqi people... What you're probably going to see, regardless of Democrats or Republicans, is, to use the Vietnam analogy, a gradual "Vietnamisation" of Iraq, where we create an artificial political entity, we prop it up with an artificial political entity and then we bail out and, within two years, it will collapse into chaos and anarchy but we'll say it's not our fault, it's the failure of the Iraqi people. p