Iraq is out of the news, mostly, except for the occasional report of a missile fired from a US jet flying over it on patrol. And Maj. Scott Ritter is off the air. We came to know Ritter, the former Marine Corps officer, this past August through his noisy resignation from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), set up to monitor Iraqi disarmament. Through the threats of bombing, an aborted war in November, Operation Desert Fox in December and the demise of Iraqi disarmament altogether in January, Ritter became an American icon, providing commentary on NBC, and was the source of a constant stream of revelations appearing in the Washington Post, The New Yorker and other media outlets, perhaps most notably the Israeli press. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I got to know Scott as a fellow NBC military analyst.)
Scott is former chief weapons inspector for UNSCOM and the originator of, and subsequent leader of, UNSCOM’s Concealment Inspection Unit, which secretly installed listening devices to intercept Iraqi communications. The intelligence specialist was taken on by the commission in 1991 and originally assigned to sort out Iraq’s ballistic missile program. His expertise stemmed from his work during the Gulf War as a Scud-missile tracker, where he earned an equal reputation for tumultuousness. Self-confident, outspoken, huge, Ritter does things his own way.
Endgame is thus a strange (though not necessarily unexpected) departure in the annals of book writing. Most provocative nonfiction authors marshal their best material for publication.
But not Scott.
Ritter’s work since 1991 rivals any spy movie or novel: the cover provided for CIA and other intelligence agents, the eavesdropping in Baghdad, the penetration of high-level communications, the involvement–witting and unwitting–in coup attempts and target selection. Major Ritter blew open this web of covert activities and dealings that were a part (and took advantage) of UNSCOM’s presence in Iraq. Yet to read Endgame, one might conclude that Ritter is merely an innocent and focused disarmament alpha dog. One might accept at face value his indignant posture regarding the CIA’s misuse of UNSCOM. One might believe his stance that Washington pulled the rug out from underneath a neutral and unimpeachable organization just when the holy grail was within reach.
On the former subject, Ritter steers clear of further accusation and detail about the CIA, I suspect to deflect attention from his own role as the chief covert coordinatorfor the UN organization, and perhaps also because the government rattled its sabers about the possibility of legal action in response to the book. On the latter charge of Washington going soft on Saddam and obstructing UNSCOM, Ritter fails to substantiate his central point.
On paper, the alpha dog is a pussycat.
There is no question that the US government–most centrally through its bombing in December–is responsible for the death of UNSCOM. But in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Scott Ritter “doesn’t have a clue.” We now know that UNSCOM, in legitimate pursuit of its Security Council mandate, was forced to establish an unprecedented intelligence capacity to break through Iraq’s incredible wall of lies regarding its weapons-of-mass-destruction program. The international consensus to get to the bottom of Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons was virtually unanimous. Even Security Council member Cuba voted in 1991 to allow U-2 spy flights over the country.
To build the necessary internal technical expertise and to avoid dependence on the United States–or any other nation–the first UNSCOM chairman, Swedish ambassador to the US, Rolf Ekéus, created a multinational knowledge base and a permanent organization. It was a good thing: UNSCOM remained focused on its singular task even though there were many occasions when world interest in Iraq waned. Yet this organization, created with the expectation that it would finish its work in six to nine months, soon celebrated its second, then its third and then its fourth anniversary, and there was no real end in sight.