Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter’s participation in a symposium at the University of Tokyo on 6 February presented his first opportunity to publicly address Secretary Colin Powell’s presentation of “evidence” to the UN. Building 900 of the Komaba campus is not a large building but was packed over 500 strong, the walls lined with standing spectators. Although there were not security checks for the audience Ritter’s bodyguard stood off-stage right, and his Japanese counterpart for the politician on the panel opposite. In his welcoming remarks a representative of the sponsoring citizen’s group thanked Ritter for coming at short notice and for flying economy class. During his four days in town he was interviewed on two national evening news shows (on News 23 former inspector Kurada Hideo sat as character witness and offered the highest praise for his integrity), met with members of the Lower House of the National Diet, and held a news conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in addition to the symposium.
Ritter’s talk at Tokyo U was straight-forwardly critical of both the Bush administration’s progress towards war and the general US stance towards Iraq since arms inspections began in 1991. The US insistence on “regime-change” had “polluted the integrity” of the UN inspection process as it came to gather intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s security. Upon expulsion Ritter warned both the US government and the UN that although 90 to 95% of Iraq’s weapons and 100% of all munitions factories were destroyed they could be re-built in six months and there was reason for concern.
Four years hence the inspectors have returned and found nothing, a situation that is utterly unacceptable to the US. This is so, Ritter explained, because it would allow Iraq a path to return to the international community and an ending of sanctions with the current “regime” intact. Therefore the tenor of Colin Powell’s evidence was to show inspections useless and the Iraqi military masterful at the art of deception; “Can you imagine trying to find 18 trucks (allegedly mobile chemical factories) in a country the size of Iraq?” he pointed out with some humor. He summed up the “evidence” as “circumstantial with no hard facts”, the intercepted conversation provided without a clear context, and defectors’ testimonies no matter what the circumstances “uniformly unreliable”.
Sitting on the panel Professor Takahashi Kazuo of Japan’s University of the Air seconded Ritter’s viewpoint of the evidence: Could not have the information of the “terrorist training camps” in the North been shared with the UN, he pondered. Furthermore Saddam Hussein’s “evilness” surely extends back to the 1980’s when Rumsfeld had visited him, or was he less so at this point (audience laughter)? Lower House Representative Sutô Nobuhiko of the opposition Minshutô party expressed his consternation that there was no live televised feed broadcast of the UN session on any of the networks (public t.v. NHK drops the ball again). Tokyo U Professor Kang Sang-jung was a sobering presence. As a Japanese born of Korean ancestry he voiced his concern over the current demonization in Japan’s media of North Korea; indeed, he intoned, where is the US going to turn its attention to next upon “completion” of the Iraq campaign? Quoting an article by George Kennan he opined that US foreign policy is stuck in a militaristic “realism” that seeks to repeat the “Japanese success” of primacy given to bombing as a precursor to democracy. What’s to happen if other stronger nations come to view this as viable standard of foreign policy, he asked. Independent journalist Tanaka Sakai the odd man out in his belief the US would not invade — seemed to second this point in his assertion that this realpolitik does not account for the possibilities for indigenous Islamic democratic movement.
Ritter, already successful at communicating his ideas to the audience through his skilled interpreter (I especially appreciated his “provoking a war with Iraq” becoming “pulling-out a military response” in Japanese) at this point came into his rhetorical best: The Neo-cons who have “seized control” of the decision-making hierarchy are drunk with power, and “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”. His appeal for Japan to “take the key” and “raise their flag proudly” went down particularly well with the audience, for Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s exhortation for the same a year ago clearly meant for those in attendance quite a different banner. A good portion of Ritter’s message is in the presentation. It is clear, with short sentences and key words that can appeal to a listener’s sense of fairness–framework, rules, integrity, law. US neo-con policy is bound to harsher descriptors poisonous, affrontive, drunk. The message is simple and Ritter the messenger is able to convey it so appealingly well not only because he believes in it but because he is a concerned insider, the “warrior at heart” ex-Marine who is speaking out in defense of country and international law. “To be critical is to be patriotic, not treasonous”, and “Opposing an illegal war is the most pro-American act.” He is the law-and-order kinda guy who opened his talk with of explanation of the three conditions that must be fulfilled if weapon’s inspection is to be successful: 1) Iraq must give full cooperation, 2) the Security Council must be willing to enforce its resolutions, and 3) Inspectors and the inspection process must operate within the framework of the resolution. His major point was that first two are in place, it is the US that undermines the third, and this unilateralism is not reflective of democracy but imperialism.
I am usually not stirred to pride for my birth country by the words of a Republican, but it happened that night and it gives me pause to consider another aspect of Ritter’s manner: it is political, almost like a stump speech. This is pure conjecture, of course, but it is plausible. Robert Novak’s sentiments in his 10 February article are shared by many others on the American right and even in the GOP and there may even be tacit approval of Ritter from some within his own party. The party will require a new public face if the Middle East situation spins out of control and there is intra-party strife aimed at removing the current dominating faction, and that would be Ritter’s moment. If that moment comes and he does come to a position of political authority I hope that he lives up to his words spoken on that chilly evening.
Debate Update: Koizumi VS Kan
Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and opposition leader Kan Naoto (Minshutô Democratic Party) went toe-to-toe again yesterday during question time in the National Diet. Although his Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo in news conference praised the veracity of Powell’s claims the following exchange (taken from the 13 February Asahi Shinbun) reveals he is still sticking to “wait and see” and like much of the world waiting for the UN report:
Kan: France, Germany, and Russia in a joint statement believe the inspections should be given more time. Are you for or against this?
PM: First Iraq has to comply fully with the UN resolution. I am requesting the US build international support, and while keeping an eye on the situation would like to continue working towards a peaceful resolution.
Kan: Why don’t you come right out and say you are waiting for the US to make their move and then you will follow accordingly?
PM: I am coming out and saying what needs to be said. I am waiting for the UN report on the 14th and then will make our policy clear. This is not evasion.
Kan: What exactly is the Bush administration wanting: The removal of Iraqi WMD’s, or the actual removal of the Saddam Hussein government?
PM: It is not only the White House but the entire international community that demands weapons removal. The onus is on Iraq to show that they have none.
Kan: Don’t you believe that a preemptive attack without another resolution goes against the UN Charter?
PM: I am not saying that the US will attack. There will be consultations in the Security Council. What will happen after that I cannot tell.
Meanwhile Yomiuri Shinbun Japan’s largest daily has been noticeably pro-US in their reporting and yesterday sported a color front-page photo that disturbingly resembled the home page of the Self-Defense Agency: three battle-class frigates escorting and refueling a US battleship in the Indian Ocean. The Asahi Shinbun has gone several miles in the opposite direction and last week ran a black editorial cartoon of a rough and bruised American flag with several of its tiles fallen out.
ADAM LEBOWITZ teaches at Nihon University and has lived in Japan for 12 years. Mr. Ritter’s comments on Hans Blix’s 27 January report are at http://www.ribbon-project.jp/SR-shiryou/shiryou-02e.htm as part of the Japanese website concerning his visit. Streaming of his interviews on Japanese t.v. are also available through this site. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org