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With the world watching intently as events unfold in Iraq, former United Nations arms inspector Scott Ritter, who spent seven years searching for hidden biological,chemical, and nuclear weapons in and around Baghdad, shared his controversial opinions before a Kennedy School audience at a brownbag luncheon Sept. 25. The luncheon was co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Calling the current crisis a “grave situation,” Ritter spoke passionately of his opposition to unilateral U.S. action in Iraq without solid evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
“We are talking about going to war citing the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It’s important to define that threat,” he said. He emphasized that the United States cannot act “until the facts of the situation are brought to bear.”
Determining the facts, Ritter said, will be a difficult, but not impossible task – if U.N. inspectors are allowed to resume the work interrupted in 1998 when they were withdrawn from Iraq. “We did a pretty damn good job,” he told the audience, referring to the work of his weapons inspection team. “We were able to overcome the obstacles and expose the lies.”
To simply assume Iraq has weapons of mass destruction now, without solid current evidence, would be “irresponsible,” Ritter said. “We have no evidence that can support a fact of sustained Iraqi capability.”
When questioned pointedly about what it would take for him to support military action against Iraq, Ritter responded that “if Iraq lies and the weapons inspectors uncover (weapons of mass destruction) then we are in a position to assume ill intent. We are going to need to find a smoking gun. Then the president could go to Congress and seek a resolution.”
When asked by a Kennedy School student whether or not it might serve the Iraqis best in the long term if the Iraqi regime were overthrown now, Ritter responded by calling for a measured and thoughtful approach to the current crisis. “This is a defining moment in our history,” he said. “We are talking about the core values of our country.”
“Before we bomb Iraq,” Ritter told the audience, “let’s make sure this policy adheres not only to international law, but to the law of the United States of America.”
Ritter’s advice to the next team of inspectors heading to Iraq was simple. “Assiduously adhere to the law,” he said. “The job is to disarm – pure and simple."