Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Speaking Engagement

Our local high school has been hosting a Participation in Government speaker series. On Wednesday, November 28, they hosted a session on Pre-emptive War, the War in Iraq, and a potential War with Iran, with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Until this week, efforts to “find” an additional speaker with contrasting views had been unsuccessful. Then a fellow parent shared with me about his appearance, discussed my willingness to step forward, and they asked me to participate.

The format allowed each of us 10 minutes to present our views on the three topics in turn, followed by student questions. I started. I used a brief outline, Ritter appeared to speak extemporaneously. Students and an adult or two asked questions, and towards the end the teacher who organizes the sessions augmented with questions of his own. Most allowed both of us to respond, but most were primarily directed at Ritter, but he was often offered to let me lead in response and I always had an opportunity to rebut or otherwise offer my own response.

My first impression of Ritter was of a very professional and courteous, even likeable man. His military background is evident. He was very respectful during the entire exchange, and had researched me at least as thoroughly as I researched him.

Here’s an outline of what I presented to open the session:

Pre-emptive War:

Just War Concept -- the morality of war

Why and How wars start

Aggressive, reactive, retributive, pre-emptive

Cold War, MAD, emergence of terrorism

Lessons from September 11th:

War as Risk Management

Threat of Nuclear proliferation, other WMD

Terror as proxy for state to state warfare

Potentially catastrophic cost of inaction

The War in Iraq:

Gulf War and “Cessation” of Hostilities

UN Security Council Resolutions (1991-2002)

Iraq Regime Change as official US policy (1998)

9/11 Aftermath, change in strategy:

Waiting for imminence can be catastrophic

State sponsors of terror, “safe harbor” & terror proxies

WMD Proliferation as terror threat

Middle East and Regional Threats

Human Rights and Democracy Promotion

Pre- and Post-Invasion Intelligence

Possible War with Iran:

Iran “at war” with US since 1979

Iranian proxies: Hezbollah, Shiite Militias

Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFP)

IEDs, weapons, funding, terrorist training

Regional influence & destabilization

Human Rights and Democratization

Iranian nuclear program:

Financial & technical resources driven by intent

Repeated obstruction and deception towards IAEA

Avowed aim the obliteration of Israel

Concerns about proliferation, “nuke by proxy”

Ritter centered his 10 minutes on the premise that the US signed international treaties, that those treaties take on the force of law, that he “swore an oath” to defend and support the constitution (he made very forceful declarations along these lines often). He quoted UN Charter, explained the prescribed military actions that the UN holds member countries can take that would be “legal” and “lawful.” He placed the entire issue of us going to war (previously in Iraq or in future in Iran or elsewhere) completely in the context of international treaty, UN mandate, with only cursory mention of the US Constitution or US war powers and authority.

I later challenged that formulation on the basis of US national sovereignty, and that the US can never sign a treaty that can abridge rights and powers granted by the Constitution (surely he can’t be enforced, either, without loss of national sovereignty. Ritter then seemed to reorient his line of reasoning to address what he felt were the unconstitutional aspects of our military actions in Iraq (and even Afghanistan).

I highlighted that for several decades, and all modern wars (since WWII), all three branches of Government have been complicit in allowing Congress to abrogate its Constitutional obligations to declare war (War Powers Act), Congressional authorizations for Presidential use of military force, etc. Hold Congress to its obligations, I’d agree, but to allow Congress to then escape responsibility and only blame the President is allowing those complicit to evade responsibility twice: first in the votes to authorize, then second in turning around and blaming the President with the results, as if they were innocent bystanders.

Ritter obviously tailored what might have been a different, more strident kind of presentation, were he not before a student audience. It really was a good, vigorous debate. He knows his UN Charter, for sure, perhaps more than he knows his Constitution, but he knows better than I, though I’m certain he cherry picks from the US defining documents. He is quite passionate and forceful, makes effective argument, and it’s hard to argue against his resume. I’m glad I didn’t. Despite his later claims to cherish US Sovereignty (“we don’t need the UN or other international problems to fix things we did ourselves, the American people can do that ourselves”), Rittre clearly buys in to the whole UN as final arbiter for Right and Wrong and international law. I responded by describing UN involvement in wars, peacekeeping as absolute disasters that usually make matters worse: UN corruption, violence, criminal activities, other malfeasance.

He made the claim that we made Al Qaeda stronger, that we haven’t beaten them anywhere, that we discredited ourselves and our ideals by our actions. He responded to questions about Guantanamo, torture, Geneva Conventions, and our standing legally, internationally, in harsh terms. Illegal, immoral, and he would immediately close Gitmo and prosecute anyone guilty of torture.

I replied with a fuller explanation of what Geneva means to signatories and non-signatories, the significance of unlawful combatants, how to conceptually deal with terrorists as POWs, when you can’t have prisoner exchanges or terms of surrender with non-state, unlawful combatants or even with the militaries of non-signatory countries. Problematic, and in other eras, such people found on the battlefield were summarily executed, and the Geneva Conventions can be found to approve of such actions. (Not that I advocate same, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?)

I also said there’s one place that we actually DID defeat Al Qaeda: Iraq. We have decimated them there, handed their hats to them, and they have suffered a terrible public relations and psychological defeat – which is the only plane on which they could ever be successful. Our military might, coupled with Iraqi resolve and citizen rejection of their foreign terrorists – smashed Al Qaeda. So much for their invincibility.

I found myself time and again returning to the context of decisions, viewing decisions in light of potential, known and unknown threats. I stressed repeatedly that we are already at war, were already at war, and that our enemies used (and use) terror proxies to do what they can’t or won’t do explicitly, openly, with their military forces. State sponsors of terror, in many ways, are more dangerous than the minions they fund, sponsor, host, hide, and direct. Safe havens should be of great concern, and nuclear and other WMD proliferation is a grave threat.

As I stated several times, there is a potentially catastrophic cost of inaction, which serious minded leaders must confront. (And do, when they are in the decision seat.)

Just based on a search I did yesterday, Ritter appeared less than 2 months ago in a college forum in Syracuse. He had appeared in a couple of forums hosted by the local public television station. As he arrived today, Ritter stated that he had earlier that day appeared at a similar forum, likewise sponsored by the local PBS affiliate. He told me that such forums often consist entirely of like-minded speakers, rather than people with contrasting views.

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