Scott Ritter vs Richard Butler
Jude Wanniski
January 15, 2003

 

Memo: To Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Debate on the Donahue Show

Following is a partial transcript of Monday nightís debate on MSNBCís Phil Donahue Show. It is the first time that former UNSCOM weapons inspectors Scott Ritter and Richard Butler have appeared in a television face-off since Ritter quit UNSCOM in 1998. It is a fascinating exchange, for as it proceeds we see a steady convergence of opinion between the two men and past differences explained by a difference in wording. Where Butler for years has said we know Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction, and that Ritter has agreed on that point, Ritter insists he never said he knew for a fact that such WMD were hidden, and that further inspections would be needed to nail down those suspicions. In the end, the two agree heartily that inspections should continue until the issues are resolved, and there should be no unilateral action by Washington on mere suspicions that Iraq poses a threat. The complete transcript can be read at http://www.msnbc.com/news/859114.asp Iíve lopped off the tail end of the call-in Q&A, which adds little to the informative nature of the program.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight: As the president continues to beat the war drum, tens of thousands of Americans are sent to the Persian Gulf. Is January 27 a deadline for war or a speed bump to a diplomatic solution?

DONAHUE goes inside the issues with two men on polar opposite sides:
former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who claims Iraq is not a threat; and his former boss, Ambassador Richard Butler, who says Iraq poses the greatest threat to global security.

DONAHUE, a live studio audience, and your phone calls-America speaks out on Iraq, starting right now.

(APPLAUSE)

PHIL DONAHUE, HOST: Good evening and welcome to DONAHUE.

Tonight, we have an exclusive television event... weíre talking about going to war with Iraq.

Debating now, for the first time face to face, are two men once charged with the task of ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. That was then. And now, they are bitterly disagreeing on how much of a threat Saddam is to the world. Here are Ambassador Richard Butler, MSNBC analyst and former executive chairman of the United Nations special commission charged with the disarmament of Iraq; and Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector, under Butler. Scott Ritter is here and so is Ambassador Butler. (APPLAUSE)

DONAHUE: Well, Scott, you wrote a book titled ďEndgame.Ē You once reported to Richard Butler. He was your boss. And now you disagree with him. Kindly make your case, Mr. Ritter, sir.

SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, I think the basic issue of disagreement is what exactly constitutes the threat that Iraq poses today. I think, clearly, Richard and I understand that Iraq is obligated to disarm, that they possessed massive quantities of weapons of mass destruction and they have an obligation...

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: That's right.
So, you say massive quantities.

RITTER: They had massive quantities.

DONAHUE: You said had. Past tense?

RITTER: Absolutely.

BUTLER: I thought you said has. They had. Which one?

RITTER: Had. Possessed. Past tense.

And they were obligated, under international law, to be disarmed by weapons inspectors. I served seven years as a weapons inspector, from 1991 to 1998. And Ambassador Butler was my boss from the summer of 1997 until my resignation in August 1998. And, during that period of time, we did our job. We weren't able to complete our job.

We make it clear. To disarm, to do what you're obligated to do under international law, a couple things have to have happen. One, Iraq must fully cooperate with the inspectors. And I think we can be in agreement that, during our time in UNSCOM, Iraq never completely cooperated.

BUTLER: Phil, we're going to have a very dull debate, because, so far, I agree with everything he said.

(LAUGHTER)

RITTER: Two, the Security Council must enforce its law. If youíre going to pass a law, you have got to enforce it. And, clearly, when Iraq is obligated to disarm and they donít cooperate with the inspectors, the Security Council needs to do something. If they don't, you don't have viable inspections. And, three, the integrity of the inspection process must be respected throughout. That means that, not only do we hold Iraq accountable to the rule of law, but we ourselves, in implementing the rule of law, must likewise.

And this is where I have a problem. You see, the United States government has a policy of regime removal, getting rid of Saddam Hussein. And, since 1991, my experience has been that that policy of regime removal, which has taken priority over disarmament, corrupted the integrity of the process.

And I think we have to identify that this corrupting influence does have an influence on what takes place and how we interpret what goes on vis-a-vis Iraq. Let there be no doubt. During the seven years that I was a weapons inspector, the United States took advantage of the unique access we enjoyed as inspectors in Iraq to seek information about the security of Saddam Hussein and attempt to eliminate Saddam Hussein. And this corrupted the integrity of the work of the weapons inspectors. And, ultimately, this is why there are no weapons inspectors in Iraq today. Now, we have inspectors in Iraq today...

BUTLER: But there are weapons inspectors in Iraq.

RITTER: No, no. We don't have UNSCOM there today. Now, we have inspectors back, UNMOVIC. And theyíre doing their job. Iraq is not interfering, to date. And the Security Council said they will enforce the law. But let there be no doubt. The United States has a policy of regime removal and the United States still intends on getting rid of Saddam Hussein, regardless of what international law says. And they will and are corrupting the integrity of the inspection process at this point in time. And thatís my bone of contention. Unfortunately, Richard, it was during your tenure as executive chairman, when you were captain of the UNSCOM ship, that we ran aground, that the United States did its worst in regards to abusing the inspection system. So, with all due respect, I hold you a little bit accountable for what occurred.

DONAHUE: Ambassador Butler, you wrote a book titled ďFatal Choice: Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Missile Defense.Ē We should say that you served as ambassador from Australia to the United Nations. And now you find your former employee-youíre taking some incoming here. Your comments, please.

BUTLER: Iím not sure what the applause was about. Was that because of what Scott said about...

DONAHUE: I think it was, sir.

BUTLER: About what the United States has done? Was it?

BUTLER: Well, thatís really very sad, because, up to that point, I agreed with what Scott said, Phil.

Scott, you know as well as I do that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction and did use them. You know as well as I do that, when they threw us out four years ago, they continued to have retained quantities of weapons of mass destruction. Now, you will remember, when you resigned, that there was an enormously hostile situation toward us, you and me and our organization, in the Security Council. In particular, the Russians were saying that we were lying, that we were wrong, and that we had to get out of Iraqís life and so on. And even though there was such a hostile situation, in my final report to the Security Council, in which I said, look, Iraq still has retained weapons of mass destruction, even the Russians in the end had to go along with that.

Now, thatís a baseline. And thatís a baseline that weíre still dealing with today. Four weeks ago, when Iraq tabled a 12,000-page declaration on its weapons of mass destruction, which began with an enormous lie, where they said they have none, one of the ways they sought to sustain that lie was to refuse to give any account of those weapons that you and I left behind four years ago, that even the Russians agreed to were there, the whole international community agreed to were there.

Iraq today doesnít address that at all. So, thatís my first point, Phil. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction from the past that need to be accounted for. How good they are, how dangerous they are is another question. And Scott and I might actually agree that theyíre not as dangerous as some people say. But there can be no doubt that Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction, retains them to this day, and they need to be accounted for.

Secondly, what happened in the four years after we were thrown out? What happened? Now, there, you and I might agree. There's actually a lot of speculation and a lot of doubt. And I think this is the area within which the Security Council, the United States, and other governments, need to make themselves very clear. Did Iraq produce more? Does Iraq continue to constitute a threat to the region and beyond, because of what had happened in the past and what it may have produced under circumstances of four years where they had no inspection? We don't know about that. And itís that unclarity about that that is proving to be very, very difficult.

But, finally, what we do know is this; 2 Ĺ weeks from now, the man who succeeded me in that job, Hans Blix, will report to the Security Council. And, Phil, I want to clear something up. A lot of people have been saying that this report on the 27th in January is the end game. It is not.

DONAHUE: Is it the beginning of the end game?

BUTLER: Well, if you look at the resolution under which he is operating, it says that he will give a situation report after 60 days. And that will be very important. And I think we already have a good idea of what he will say, because heís hinted at it and the facts are out there. What he will say is this:

One, as I said, Iraq has not accounted for all the weapons of the past. There remain things that need to be accounted for.

Two, the inspection process in the last few weeks has been OK, but itís not actually been really serious.

Three, Iraq has not proactively cooperated. There are places to which it should have invited the inspectors to go which it did not. And I suspect-and this is a prediction and itís always dangerous-I expect that he will then say: I need more time.

So, to get down to where we are politically, the United States of America, the British, others in the Security Council,will have to decide on the 27th of January, do we give that more time? Or do we say, itís over; letís enforce the law?

DONAHUE: Would you want to answer that yourself, that question?

BUTLER: I hope he says, letís give it more time.

DONAHUE: You would like to see him continue the weapons inspection process.

BUTLER: I think for a while. This first 60 days was to be a situation report. More will be required.

DONAHUE: Do I understand that an assault in the summer is not a feasible idea?

BUTLER: I donít work on that stuff, Phil. Iím not a military person.

DONAHUE: Not your job. Mr. Ritter, a comment on the final point that he made-briefly, please.

RITTER: What Iíll say is this, is, I take strong disagreement with the contention that you know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

BUTLER: Oh, come on, Scott. Thatís on the public record.

RITTER: Of course itís not. The public record actually says, with all due respect...

BUTLER: You signed the papers to me, when you worked for me, advising me-with all of your intellect and knowledge, you signed pieces of paper to me saying that Iraq has hidden weapons of mass destruction.

RITTER: Never. I signed pieces of paper to you that said we have credible intelligence information that says Iraq has it. And I asked you permission to carry out an inspection. But, understand, itís an investigation. You just made a definitive statement that says you know Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. But, with all due respect, Richard, that is never reflected in any of the documents, even the one you just mentioned.

BUTLER: Thatís not true.

RITTER: It is true. I have it here tonight. Do you want to go through the document page by page and show the people?

DONAHUE: Well, probably not.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTLER: Itís absolutely established that Iraq has not accounted for...

RITTER: Bingo. I agree with that, has not accounted for. But thatís an accounting issue.

BUTLER: So, where are the 500 shells with mustard in them? Where is the 400 tons of

RITTER: These are good questions, but do you have evidence that they have it?

BUTLER: Where are the missiles?

RITTER: Do you know they have it for a fact, that they possess it as we speak? Or is the problem that Iraq has provided an accounting that we donít have evidence to back it up, that we canít confirm the Iraqi version of disposition? My point is...

BUTLER: Why are you assuming such a degree of innocence on the part of the Iraqis?

RITTER: Because 200,000 Americans are going to war based upon a perception of a threat. You testified before the U.S. Senate that Iraq has these weapons. And people listened to you and they gave that credibility, when the fact is, you do not know with absolute certainty that Iraq has these weapons.

BUTLER: Scott, the United States...

(APPLAUSE)

RITTER: And I'm not going to stand by and let Americans die in combat because people like you mislead the American Congress. I just won't allow that to happen.

BUTLER: Oh, for God's sake, for Godís sake, I mislead the American Congress?

RITTER: You said you know where the weapons are. Where are they?

BUTLER: Please allow me to finish. There is on the record at the United Nations pieces of paper signed by you...

RITTER: I have them here.

BUTLER: ... addressed to me, saying, these people have concealed weapons. Please authorize me to go find them.

RITTER: And you signed those documents.

BUTLER: Sometimes I did and sometimes I told you no.

RITTER: Give me an example when you said no.

BUTLER: I told you no because I thought what you were doing was excessive.

RITTER: Give me an example, Richard.

BUTLER: Come on.

RITTER: No, please, in front of the people here tonight. Youíve said this many times. Youíve brought my credibility into question. I can document every time weíve met, every time I briefed you, and every time you signed it. Please, for the benefit of the public tonight, one example of when you turned me down.

DONAHUE: I'll give you an opportunity to answer that question when we come back in just a moment.

(APPLAUSE)

DONAHUE: Weíre back, talking about going to war with Iraq. Weíre talking with two men with firsthand experience. You said that he never said no to you.

RITTER: Well, that's my recollection. I've just asked Ambassador Butler to provide me with an example.

DONAHUE: Regarding what, to those who have joined us late? Said no to what, Scott?

RITTER: I worked for Ambassador Butler. And I would present him with my assessments in regards to the situation, how Iraq was concealing, and brief him on potential inspection opportunities. I would present the appropriate paperwork. And he would sign off on them. And my recollection of the events are that, during my entire tenure working for Ambassador Butler, he never once said no.

BUTLER: Thatís not my recollection, Phil, but I donít want to make this go on into a sterile point.

Look, when Scott resigned from UNSCOM service, he wrote a letter that I found deeply appealing. And I want to share this with you. He really did. He said that he was in despair-not the exact words, Scott. Forgive me. I donít mean to...

DONAHUE: Itís all right. Thatís all right. BUTLER: But he basically said he was in despair at a process that was not being allowed to do its job properly.

DONAHUE: I recall.

BUTLER: He said bad inspections are worse than no inspections. And I wrote back to him saying: I accept your resignation. I thank you and your wife for the fabulous service youíve done to the world. And I said-using for the French philosopher, I said: I may never agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. And I do that here tonight, Scott. I don't agree with some of the things youíve said. I defend your right to say them. Phil, I think thereís a bigger picture here.

DONAHUE: What is that?

BUTLER: The bigger picture is, what do we do about weapons of mass destruction, of which Iraq is only one case?

DONAHUE: We have almost 250,000 of our finest young men and women gathering now.

BUTLER: Right.

DONAHUE: Around in the region. And we have two of the main players in the inspection drama disagreeing about whether or not Saddam Hussein is a threat. This is more than just a dialogue between two patriots.

BUTLER: Oh, you mean these two players?

DONAHUE: Yes.

BUTLER: Oh, come on. Come on. Look, I think Scott and I would agree that weapons of mass destruction are bad for peopleís health.

DONAHUE: We all agree.

BUTLER: OK? And we have to do something about it.

DONAHUE: Right.

BUTLER: I'll tell straight up what my concern is. I have no doubt about the evil that Saddam Hussein constitutes.

DONAHUE: Everybody says...

BUTLER: No doubt that he has weapons of mass destruction that need to be accounted for, and probably made more. But what I am concerned about is that, if we go and attack Iraq on the basis of their weapons of mass destruction, that people will ask, why now? Why this country now? What about the other weapons of mass destruction in the world? Or are you really just about oil or whatever? We have to be a whole lot clearer about the reasons for which weíre doing this, given that our record on weapons of mass destruction isn't good enough. Saddam's is one thing. But what about ours? What about other countries?

DONAHUE: Hang on one second. If you believe he has weapons of mass destruction, then you agree with President Bush. That's why weíre going to get him. What are we waiting for? You have just given a resounding endorsement to the president's policies.

BUTLER: Thatís what the president says is his policy. But there are other ways of skinning this cat. Why isn't Saddam in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, like Milosevic? Heís killed a million people. Why isnít he being tried for crimes against humanity, for example? Why havenít we pursued that? Do you agree?

RITTER: Well, again, what I would like to say is this. Weíre talking about going to war here. And this is a very serious issue, one that I think we both are in agreement with. This is not a game, no matter what the media does.

DONAHUE: No, no, no, we know that, Scott. We know that.

RITTER: Itís not a game. Itís real.

So, there has to be real justification. And the justification has to be a threat posed to international security or to the security of the United States by Iraqís weapons of mass destruction. I share your concern over the Iraqi declaration. I find them insufficient in terms of closing all the gaps.

However, the Iraqis have provided an accounting. And until which time we can demonstrate that this accounting is false, that they actually possess weapons, I'm in favor of pursuing weapons inspections until hell freezes over before we send any Americans across the line of departure into harmís way. And my big concern is that the United States government-and, unfortunately, I've heard you say things that echo this-have stated, without any doubt, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has chemical weapons. Iraq has biological weapons.

And the America public accepts this without debate. There must be a debate. There must be a dialogue, because, ladies and gentlemen, the United States government has lied about Iraq in the past. The United States government has a policy of regime removal, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, that has been in place since 1991 and has corrupted the moral character of the international communityís effort to disarm Iraq. Understand that, in December 1998, it wasnít Iraq that kicked the inspectors out. It was a phone call from Peter Burleigh to you that got the inspectors out, so the United States could initiate a bombing campaign, Desert Fox, which used U.N. intelligence to target Saddam Hussein. That destroyed the credibility of the inspection

DONAHUE: Ambassador, briefly, sir.

(APPLAUSE)

BUTLER: You said briefly, right? Scott has just covered 15 things.

DONAHUE: Well, Iím sorry.

BUTLER: OK, Phil. But it's too hard to cover that briefly. Let me just try and encapsulate it this way. I agree with some of the things that Scott said. I profoundly disagree with some others.

DONAHUE: The U.S. military is on the move, and it appears the prospect of war is looming. Is there anything that could stop the president from pushing forward with plans to take on Saddam Hussein? Two former weapons inspectors divided over the issue take on each other.

DONAHUE: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JANUARY 24, 1991)

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it is the United States' view that we must keep the United Nations sanctions in place as long as he remains in power. And this also shows we cannot compromise for a moment in seeing that Iraq destroys all of its weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, and we will not compromise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - SEPTEMBER 12, 2002)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DONAHUE: That was four months ago my president said that. His father made those observations 12 years ago.Welcome back. Weíre live at 30 Rockefeller Center. And you had just received long pass from Mr. Ritter, here, Ambassador Butler. How would you respond to do observations that he made?

BUTLER: Well, Phil, as I said, Scott made some points that I agree with and others that I donít. I think weíd better move this program along into some of the heavier issues, and so I wonít go into that. But let me must make this point, and maybe Scott can find favor with this. The problem I have with what the president of the United States has said is that if the U.N. doesnít do it, we, the U.S., will. OK?

Now, the ďitĒ is disarming Saddam. I think thatís really important. I think Scott would probably agree with that. I think itís really important that we control weapons of mass destruction around the world. The thing I have a problem with is when George W. Bush says weíll do it by ourselves if the U.N. won't do it. Why, Phil? Because that's against international law. Thatís wrong. The United States is not able...

(APPLAUSE)

DONAHUE: To what, sir?

BUTLER: International law since the Second World War in the charter of the U.N., the thing that we all live by, says that every state shall be independent. Every state, country, that is, shall be able to choose its own government. All political disputes must be settled by peaceful means, and it is against the law to invade or attack anyone. The only use of force that is legal is A, in your own self-defense, and B, when the Security Council says that itís OK to defend the peace.

Now, Washington will say that an attack upon Iraq is OK to defend the peace. And this is maybe where Scott and I will join each other. We need evidence for that. We need something better than the simple threat by George W. Bush that says, If you won't do it, we will.

DONAHUE: Right.

BUTLER: That sounds awfully lot like American imperialism to me, and I think thatís very dangerous.

(APPLAUSE)

DONAHUE: Tonight we're asking you if you are in favor of the U.S. going to war with Iraq. So log on and vote on donahue.msnbc.com. Over 3,800 of you have already cast your vote, and here are the results so far: 25 percent in favor the U.S. going to war, and 71 percent are against it. Four percent of you aren't sure. There's still time to vote. We'll have final results at the end of the show.