Democracy Now: Ritter & Hersh on Iran


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Target Iran: Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and Investigative 
Journalist Seymour Hersh on White House Plans for Regime Change

The Pentagon has announced plans to move additional warships and strike aircraft
into the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. We air an 
in-depth discussion between two of the leading critical voices on the Bush 
administration¹s policy in Iran: former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, 
author of "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime 
Change", and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for 
The New Yorker magazine. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to the latest on Iran ­ the New York Times is reporting the United 
States and Britain will soon move additional warships and strike aircraft into 
the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. Senior U.S. 
officers told the paper that the increase in naval power should not be viewed as
preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that 
the ability to hit Iran would be increased.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group entered the Persian Gulf on
Dec. 11. Another aircraft carrier, the Stennis, is expected to depart for the 
Gulf within the next month. The military said it is also taking steps to prevent
Iran from blocking oil shipments from the Gulf.

Well today on Democracy Now we present an in-depth discussion between two 
figures who have critical of the Bush administration¹s policy on Iran. Scott 
Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote 
the book "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime 
Change." Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for 
The New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a 
public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter¹s new book.

€ Scott Ritter. Former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. His new book is
"Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change."

€ Seymour Hersh. Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New 
Yorker magazine.


This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide 
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AMY GOODMAN: Today on a Democracy Now!, we present an in-depth discussion 
between two figures who have been very critical of the Bush administration's 
policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in 
Iraq. He recently wrote the book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House¹s
Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning 
investigative journalist for the New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter 
and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter's 
new book. Seymour Hersh began the conversation.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: So, Scott, in your book you write at some point -- you list a 
-- you have an account of some of the things that are going on today inside 
Iran. You say Israel and the United States were carrying out -- this is on page 
147, etc. -- were carrying out a full-court press to try and identify and locate
secret nuclear facilities inside Iran. Israel made heavy use of its connections 
to the Iraqi Kurdistan and to Azerbaijan to set up covert intelligence cells 
inside Iran, whose work was allegedly supplemented with specially trained 
commandos entering Iran disguised as local villagers.

€ The United States was conducting similar operations using Iranian opposition 
forces, in particular the MEK -- that¹s the Mujahideen cult, which is a 
terrorist group, defined by us as an at-one-time anti-Saddam, now anti-Iran 
group that works very closely still with us, despite its being listed as a 
terrorist group.

€ And you describe using opposition forces inside Iran and the MEK to conduct 
cross-border operations under the supervision of the CIA. The US has also made 
use of its considerable technical intelligence-collection capabilities, focusing
the attention of imagery and electronic eavesdropping satellites, etc., for 
operating along Iran¹s periphery. The problem was that neither the Israelis nor 
the United States could detect any activity whatsoever that could point to a 
definitive location on the ground where secret nuclear weapons activity was 
taking place.

€ A couple of questions. Says who? I haven¹t read this in the New York Times. 
You don¹t source it. What¹s the source? And what do you know? And how do you 
know this?

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, as I mentioned in the back, where I talk about sources, 
most of that information is readily available in the press -- not the American 
press. You¹re not going to read about it in the New York Times, you¹re not going
to read about it in the Washington Post, you probably won¹t read about it in 
most mainstream English-language newspapers. But, you know, we used to have an 
organization in the CIA called FBIS, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 
that would translate the newspapers of the various nations around the world to 
give you literally a bird's-eye view of what¹s going on in that country.

€ So if you read the Azeri press, for instance, you¹ll find out that the Israeli
Mossad has upped its efforts to build a station in Azerbaijan. And the Azeri 
press will delve into that more. Why does the Mossad want to build a station 
operating? There¹s a couple reasons. One, the Mossad is working with the Azeri 
population. You know, there is a Jewish minority in Azerbaijan that has 
emigrated to Israel. And so, there¹s a number of Azeri Israelis that the Israeli
government now is bringing back to Azerbaijan to work on this issue. This is 
spelled out in the Azeri press, so if you want to get some good insights, read 
the Azeri press. Read the Turkish press. The Turkish press will also talk about 
what¹s going on in Iran and Azerbaijan. This will give you the leads.

€ And then, because I¹m not an active in-service intelligence officer anymore, I
will take these leads and call friends who are active serving intelligence 
officers. And while they¹re not going to divulge classified information, I¹ll 
say, ³Hey, I read something, where certain activities are taking place. Can you 
comment on this news?² We¹ll sit down over some beers, and they¹ll comment. And 
then you dig even further. And I¹ll tell you that I wrote the book before I went
to Iran. But when I got to Iran and I talked to Revolutionary Guard commanders, 
what surprised me is that they knew all this. The Iranians were very cognizant 
of what was going on in the Azeri section of Iran, in the Kurdish section. They 
could quote, you know, chapter and verse about what the CIA is up to, what the 
Israelis are up to.

€ But, you know, again, the bottom line is, why don¹t I footnote this? For 
probably the same reason why a lot of people don¹t footnote things, because if I
commit to a specific piece of information coming from a specific written source,
that means that another piece of information that I don¹t commit to a specific 
written source, where did that come from? Well, maybe it came from a human 
source. Now, I¹ve just made it easier in this day and age for those who don¹t 
want factual information to get in the hands of the average American citizen, 
those who want to keep American foreign policy and national security policy 
secret from the Americans they are supposed to be protecting. They¹ll go after 
these people, and you know they go after these people. And I¹m going to do 
everything I can to ensure that I don¹t facilitate harm coming to those who have
the courage to assist me in trying to get facts out to people so they can know 
more about this problem we call Iran.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: Why doesn¹t my colleagues in the American press do better with 
this story?

€ SCOTT RITTER: One of the big problems is -- and here goes the grenade -- 
Israel. The second you mention the word ³Israel,² the nation Israel, the concept
Israel, many in the American press become very defensive. We're not allowed to 
be highly critical of the state of Israel. And the other thing we're not allowed
to do is discuss the notion that Israel and the notion of Israeli interests may 
in fact be dictating what America is doing, that what we're doing in the Middle 
East may not be to the benefit of America's national security, but to Israel's 
national security. But, see, we don¹t want to talk about that, because one of 
the great success stories out there is the pro-Israeli lobby that has 
successfully enabled themselves to blend the two together, so that when we speak
of Israeli interests, they say, ³No, we're speaking of American interests.²

€ It¹s interesting that AIPAC and other elements of the Israeli lobby don¹t have
to register as agents of a foreign government. It would be nice if they did, 
because then we¹d know when they¹re advocating on behalf of Israel or they're 
advocating on behalf of the United States of America.

€ I would challenge the New York Times to sit down and do a critical story on 
Israel, on the role of Israel's influence, the role that Israel plays in 
influencing American foreign policy. There¹s nothing wrong with Israel trying to
influence American foreign policy. Let me make that clear. The British seek to 
influence our foreign policy. The French seek to influence our foreign policy. 
The Saudis seek to influence our foreign policy. The difference is, when they do
this and they bring American citizens into play, these Americans, once they take
the money of a foreign government and they advocate on behalf of that foreign 
government, they register themselves as an agent of that government, so we know 
where they're coming from. That¹s all I ask the Israelis to do. Let us know 
where you¹re coming from, because stop confusing the American public that 
Israel's interests are necessarily America's interests.

€ I have to tell you right now, Israel has a viable, valid concern about 
Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. If I were an Israeli, I would be extremely 
concerned about Hezbollah, and I would want to do everything possible to nullify
that organization. As an American, I will tell you, Hezbollah does not threaten 
the national security of the United States of America one iota. So we should not
be talking about using American military forces to deal with the Hezbollah 
issue. That is an Israeli problem. And yet, you¹ll see the New York Times, the 
Washington Post and other media outlets confusing the issue. They want us to 
believe that Hezbollah is an American problem. It isn¹t, ladies and gentleman. 
Hezbollah was created three years after Israel invaded Lebanon, not three years 
after the United States invaded Lebanon. And Hezbollah¹s sole purpose was to 
liberate southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. I¹m not here to condone or 
sing high praises in virtue for Hezbollah. But I¹m here to tell you right now, 
Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization that threatens the security of the 
United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, in conversation with 
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. We¹ll be back with them in a 


AMY GOODMAN: We return to the conversation at the Ethical Culture Society 
between Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh. Scott Ritter is author of the book, 
Target Iran: The Truth About the White House¹s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour 
Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker 
magazine. This is Seymour Hersh.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: So, in your book, speaking of Israel, it¹s sort of interesting 
reading through it. Let¹s see. Essentially, you describe Israel as viewing Iran 
-- the notion of an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat. You 
describe how Israel collects intelligence -- we could also call it ³spies² -- on
the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is all sort of revelatory stuff, in
a way -- not the first part, but certainly this, that Israel has penetrated and 
worked very closely with people inside the IAEA, has apartments, safe houses in 
Vienna, where it does business and basically operates politically inside the 

€ Three, you describe in great detail -- again, I think in more detail than has 
ever been made public -- how much the Israelis have worked very closely with the
MEK, the cult, this terrorist group that¹s now pretty much in play again -- 
we¹ll get to that in a minute -- in not only in terms of supporting it and 
urging us, the United States, to support it, but also much of the intelligence, 
most of the main things that were learned in this administration about the 
Iranian nuclear weapons programs, were announced by MEK officials over the 
years, particularly in August of 2002. There was a major announcement of the 
underground facilities, a place that many of you now know, Natans. And the 
extent of digging inside Iran was made public by the MEK. And you write in your 
book repeatedly how Israel was the source for that intelligence and basically 
was using the MEK to proselytize and propagandize in America. You also describe,
as we said earlier, extremely active operations by Israel inside Iran, running 
agents, etc., collecting intelligence.

€ So, tell us about you and Israel. Are you anti-Semitic? Are you anti-Israel? I
know you served there. Tell us about it.

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, I am not anti-Semitic, and I¹m definitely 
not anti-Israeli.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: You¹re certainly not a self-hating Jew, let's make that clear.

€ SCOTT RITTER: No, I could be a self-hating goyim, but... Unless there¹s 
something in my past we haven¹t uncovered yet.

  € SEYMOUR HERSH: Like some senators, right?

€ SCOTT RITTER: But it¹s irrelevant. The bottom line is I consider myself to be 
a friend of the state of Israel. I consider myself to be a true friend of the 
Israeli people. But I define friendship as someone who takes care of a friend, 
who just doesn¹t use or exploit a friend. And, you know, there¹s that old adage:
friends don¹t let friends drive drunk. We used to use that in the anti-drug 
campaign, the anti-alcohol campaign. That¹s how I view my friendship with 
Israel. And when I see a friend preparing to drive drunk or doing something 
that¹s going to be harmful to them, or to me, I¹ll say, ³No,² I¹ll say, ³Stop.² 
So my criticism of Israel is not from some, you know, Jewish-hating anti-Semitic
foundation of myself. No.

€ As I point out to people, I spent a couple weeks in 1991 working with people 
to stop Iraqi ballistic missiles from landing on Israeli soil. A lot of good 
Americans lost their lives in that effort, and we took it seriously. I spent 
four years in Israel working with the Israeli government on the issue of Iraq. I
was very close with Israeli intelligence, very close with the Israeli 
government, and I have a lot of sympathies for them. I know how they work. I 
know who the players are.

€ And I will say this: if I were Israeli, I¹d be doing exactly what they¹re 
doing. Alright? They have a legitimate concern here. Let's not kid ourselves. 
It¹s a small little country. And if a nuclear device goes off inside that small 
little country, Israel ceases to exist as a viable nation-state. They can¹t 
afford any room for error. There is no margin of error here.

€ That¹s why Israel has taken the position that not only will they not tolerate 
an Iranian nuclear weapons program, they will not tolerate nuclear technology 
that is usable in a nuclear weapons program, in this case, enrichment technology
that Iran is permitted to have under Article 4 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 
Israel says no. If Iran can enrich to levels that are usable in a nuclear 
reactor, that same technology can be used to enrich to levels usable in a 
nuclear device. Therefore, the Israeli position is ³not one spinning rotor,² 
meaning not one centrifuge allowed to operate inside Iran. That¹s a 
zero-tolerance policy.

€ Now, Iran¹s a big country that carried out a covert program. You know, let's 
mention this, too. When the MEK gave the briefing in August of 2002 using what 
many people have said is Israeli information, guess what? They were right. Let¹s
not forget that. They didn¹t come out and spew garbage. This was not Ahmed 
Chalabi making stuff up. This is the MEK representative saying there is a 
facility in Natans involved in the enrichment of uranium, that is being kept 
secret from the world. And they were right. So let¹s give a little tip of the 
hat to the Israeli intelligence community for getting it right.

€ But there¹s a difference between getting the intelligence right and getting 
the policy right. And I will tell you right now that the Israelis have the 
policy wrong, because they have created a system of analysis that deviates from 
the lessons learned from the Yom Kippur War. At the end of the Yom Kippur War, 
they basically said there will be no more ³konseptsia,² meaning we¹re going to 
have a concept of what the enemy thinks. We¹re going to conceive what the enemy 
thinks, project what the enemy thinks.

€ And they got it wrong. They projected that the Egyptians would never attack on
the dates that people talked about. Next thing you know, you¹ve got the Third 
Egyptian Army rolling across the Sinai, and the Israelis got serious problems. 
They said, ³It will be fact-based analysis from now on, and we will double-check
and we will triple-check.² One of the more interesting Israelis I¹ve met was the
Doubting Thomas. He¹s the guy -- he¹s a colonel. All information that went to 
the director of military intelligence came through him, all assessments. He sat 
down and picked them apart. And basically, if you made an assertion, he said, 
³How do you know this?² If you said x, he said, ³Why isn¹t it y?² And you had to
answer him. You had to come back and explain this, and only then did the 
analysis get to the director of military intelligence, who is the head of 
national assessments in Israel. He then takes it to the prime minister. So, 
imagine that, being the head of state, getting quality intelligence from your 
intelligence community that¹s been double-checked, triple-checked, questioned, 
so there¹s no room for error.

€ But an interesting thing happened in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Some 
personalities took over. One, in particular, I write about in the book: Amos 
Gilad, then a brigadier general. I think he left as a major general. But Amos 
Gilad brought back into fruition the notion of konseptsia. You see, he conceived
the notion of a nexus combining Iran with Hezbollah with Hamas. And he said 
Israel is at threat. This whole thing is lumped together, and we have to deal 
with it all. And the head that has to be cut off, if we¹re going to succeed, is 
Iran. Iran is the threat. Iran is the problem. Iran must be dealt with. And he 
started slanting the intelligence assessments that were being presented to the 
director of military intelligence, this time on what I¹ll call faith-based 
analysis, his gut feeling, his belief, but not the facts. This isn¹t sound 
factually based analysis. This is a deviation. And unfortunately, the 
politicians bought off on it.

€ And again, because we have yet, today, to be able to separate in the American 
policy formulation that involves Israel, separate Israeli interests from 
American interests, the Israeli government has been very successful in using the
pro-Israeli lobby to make sure that the Israeli concerns, the Israeli point of 
view, becomes the American point of view. And that¹s what¹s happening here.

€ But, yes, Israel has agents operating inside Iran. They better have agents 
operating inside Iran. I wish we had more agents operating inside Iran, so we 
knew more what¹s going on. Can you blame Israel, because they care about nuclear
weapons, for trying to get close to the International Atomic Energy Agency? We 
do it. Why is the world surprised that Israel is going to do it? When you have 
inspectors that go into a nation that you have deemed hostile, you want to know 
what they know. You also want to help guide them. Israel did this in Iraq. And I
have to say it was very honorable, what they did. They didn¹t go in to corrupt 
the inspection process. They went in to improve, to enhance the inspection 

€ But with Iraq, it was fact-based analysis. That¹s why, at the end of the day, 
the Israeli government was willing to accept that Iran had been virtually 
disarmed, that almost all the WMD had been accounted for. In 1998, that was the 
assessment. Thanks to Amos Gilad, by 2003 Iraq¹s weapons of mass destruction had
been reborn, and he didn¹t have to explain how they had been reborn. It was 
konseptsia. It was a gut feeling. They were there because Saddam¹s bad.

€ The same thing is happening with Iran today, because all of this intelligence 
that¹s being done has uncovered a nuclear enrichment program, not a nuclear 
weapons program. But the Israelis have already concluded, thanks to Amos Gilad 
and his konseptsia, that a nuclear weapons program exists. Therefore, if you¹re 
not finding evidence of it, it means you¹re not looking in the right places. So 
then you begin to speculate. How many people here remember underground 
facilities in Iraq, Saddam¹s tunnels, everything buried? Well, there weren¹t, 
were there?

€ Well, guess what. The Israelis talk about tunnels in Iran. And there are 
tunnels in Iran. The Iranians have been working with the North Koreans for the 
last couple decades to perfect deep tunneling techniques, and they are boring in
the ground. You saw all those little Hezbollah tunnels in South Lebanon that 
were so effective against the Israelis? They were dug by the Iranians with North
Korean assistance. That comes from the Iranians themselves. And they¹re doing 
the same thing in Iran today. And the Israelis are detecting this deep tunneling
activity, and they¹re sending elements in to do reconnaissance on that, but 
they're not finding any evidence of nuclear-related activity, because there 
isn't any going on.

€ But again, thanks to konseptsia, Gilad, and the way the Israelis now do their 
assessments, they immediately equate deep tunneling and a nuclear enrichment 
program to mean that there¹s a secret underground nuclear weapons program. 
Faith-based analysis has trumped fact-based analysis, and because of the 
pressure put on American policymakers by the Israeli lobby, our own government 
has now embraced this point of view. And this is very dangerous, ladies and 
gentleman, because if we accept at face-value, without question, the notion of a
nuclear weapons program in Iran, that means the debate¹s over. It¹s over, 
because if Iran has a nuclear weapons program that operates in violation of 
international law, it¹s very easy for American policymakers to talk about the 
imperative to confront this.

€ And if you can¹t confront it successfully diplomatically, that leaves only the
military option on the table. And right now, that¹s the direction we¹re heading,
because the debate¹s over, apparently, about whether or not Iran has a nuclear 
weapons program, even though the IAEA has come out and said there¹s no evidence 
whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration's allegations that such a weapons 
program exists. Note, I didn¹t say that the IAEA said there is no such weapons 
program -- they can¹t prove that.

€ But note that the Bush administration has taken this and now changed course, 
like they did with Iraq. Saddam said, ³We don¹t have any weapons. The inspectors
aren¹t finding any weapons. Keep looking.² Why? Because the onus isn¹t on the 
inspectors to find the weapons. The onus is on Iraq to prove that none exist. 
But how can you prove a negative? The same thing is in play today with Iran. We 
have told the Iranians it is their responsibility to prove to the international 
community beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no nuclear weapons program in
Iran. How can you prove a negative?

€ But that¹s not the point, because it¹s not about a nuclear weapons program. 
It¹s about regime change and the Bush administration using the perception of 
threat from a nuclear weapons program to achieve their ultimate objective of 
regional transformation, which is, again, a policy born more in Tel Aviv than 
Washington, D.C.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: OK. Digression. One of the things you and I used to talk about 
was, when Scott was an inspector from ¹91 to ¹98, he got in a lot of trouble, an
awful lot of trouble, with his government, because he would take highly 
classified information to Israel to be analyzed first, remember? Particularly 
some of the overhead stuff, U-2 stuff. And that caused you a lot of 
investigations, a lot of problems in terms of -- just of loyalty issues. But 
still, the fact is you thought so highly of Israel. I remember you telling me 
years ago that they could understand what was going on from satellite 
photographs in six or seven hours. If you gave it to the American system, we 
were dealing in a week, and you would get a bad analysis. No, that¹s just -- you
had a lot of faith in their intelligence capability.

€ So, what the hell is going on there? Is it as simple as that? Is it just as 
simple as a few people at the top playing Ahmed Chalabi? Or is it -- what 
happened? Why aren¹t they calling it the way, if you¹re right, they should?

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, I think it comes down to -- you know, the Bush 
administration likes to talk a lot about the nexus, the nexus between weapons of
mass destruction and terrorism.

€ I¹ll talk about the nexus between the neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., 
and the right wing of the Likud Party in Israel. These elements, these political
elements have been working hand-in-glove for many, many years. And now that the 
neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., have seized power, have gained power, 
attained power, now that they¹re in power, the right wing in Israel has to play 
this game. They have to deal with the cards that they¹ve been dealt. And so, 
they're not going to stand up to the United States. You¹re not going to sit 
there and try and encourage the United States to make a move on Iran using 
fact-based information.

€ You¹ve got to understand there are certain buttons you need to push in 
Washington, D.C., to get American politicians to move in a certain direction. 
And you¹ve got to keep it simple. And the simplest thing is to say that there is
a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And then, you¹ve got to push some more 
buttons, because you don¹t want to treat that in isolation. You want complicate 
it further: that nuclear weapons program is in the hands of a nation that is a 
state-sponsor of terror -- Iran. And the terrorist organizations that they 
sponsor are inclusive of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Liberation 
Organization Fatah wing. This is all part of the same problem, you see.

€ And in doing so, Israel now complicates America's overall policy posture 
vis-a-vis the Middle East, because now it becomes very difficult to treat the 
Palestinian situation in isolation. It becomes very difficult to treat the 
Hezbollah situation in isolation or to treat Iran in isolation. Israel has 
lumped it all together, because they know how to play the American political 
game, I think, better than we know how to play the American political game. So 
this is about domestic politics trumping intelligence and sound analytical 

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter is the author of Target Iran: The Truth About the 
White House¹s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning
investigative journalist with the New Yorker magazine. His book is called Chain 
of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. They¹re speaking at the Ethical 
Culture Society in New York. [Š] We'll come back to Ritter and Hersh in a 


AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation between Pulitzer Prize-winning 
journalist Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter. This is Seymour Hersh.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: I think a lot about the neocons, and what¹s interesting about 
the neocons and their influence, as you say, is that if you look at it, in the 
last few years, they¹ve really lost a lot of the intellectual leadership from 
direct policy input. Wolfowitz is gone. Richard Perle certainly was no longer 
head of the Defense Policy Board. He¹s on the outside. Douglas Feith, who was an
undersecretary of defense and very important to Rumsfeld, is gone. So with some 
of their more important acolytes out of the way, why are we still talking about 
the neocons? What is it about us that enables them to keep on going, even though
many of their leaders -- nobody would define either Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld 
as neocons before 2001. They were just realist conservatives. How have we gotten
to -- what¹s your guess about it? I mean, I don¹t have an answer. Do you have an

€ SCOTT RITTER: I don¹t have a definitive answer, but I would say this. If you 
want to attribute anything to the empowerment of the neoconservatives, attribute
eight years of Clinton presidency. You see, the neoconservatives had thrived 
under the presidency of Ronal Reagan, because we had an evil empire back then, 
you see? You had an enemy, a focal point. And so, they could sit there and talk 
about global hegemony, talk about global domination, and no one would hold them 
to task, because it was widely recognized that we were engaged in a global 
struggle with another global superpower.

€ When the Soviet Union collapsed, the neoconservative thinkers, these global 
hegemonists, said, ³We can¹t allow any power or group of powers to step into 
that vacuum.² This is 1991, 1992. In fact, in 1992, under the direction of Dick 
Cheney, who was at that time the Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz and 
Scooter Libby helped author a vision statement, a policy statement for the 
Defense Department, that talked about how we divide the world into spheres of 
strategic influence and how we will intervene unilaterally, prevent 
preemptively, militarily, if required, to dominate these regions, and that¹s 
what we need to do with the fall of the Soviet Union.

€ There was a little hiccup along the way of that becoming policy, called an 
election, where George Herbert Walker Bush, the heir to Ronald Reagan, got 
defeated, and Bill Clinton came in. And when Clinton came in, all these 
neoconservative ideologues, who had been shaping and influencing policy for 12 
years, were no longer in power. And what they did is they all went off to roost 
in various neoconservative or conservative or right-leaning think tanks, and 
they festered for eight years, perfecting this poison that became their policy. 
And then, when George Bush -- George Walker Bush -- got elected, they came in 
and assumed power, but they had eight years to basically put a spit shine on 
their vision of how the world would look.

€ And they didn¹t have an easy time early on. There was a lot of hiccups. If you
remember, in the summer of 2001, how critical people were of the Bush 
administration, of Donald Rumsfeld, of these neoconservative thinkers, because 
their ideology wasn¹t melding with the post-Clinton reality.

€ Thanks to September 11, 2001, 19 criminals who hijacked four airplanes and 
flew them into three buildings and a farm field, all that changed. The 
neoconservatives were successfully able to exploit the ignorance-based fear of 
the American public to sell them a bill of goods about the world we live in. And
as a result, they had a seamless transition from an ideology that America should
reject at face value, and it now has become the official policy of the United 
States of America, the national security policy or strategy of the United States
of America, first promulgated in September 2002, most recently updated in June 
2006. This policy is almost word for word the same doctrine that Wolfowitz 
penned in 1992, that the Project for a New American Centry put out in 1997. And 
it is now that which defines how America interfaces with the rest of the world.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: But, Scott, answer the question. If they fester, why are they 
festering? Why do they continue to have this influence? You¹ve mentioned another
one that¹s gone: Libby -- when so many of the intellectual gurus of that group 
-- I mean, certainly Wolfowitz, Libby was very important, too. Why, given the 
collapse of policy in Iraq, which is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone, 
why are we still there? Why is this country still basically -- the policies of 
the country still neoconservative? What has been festered? What has been 
inculcated in us? What¹s going on?

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, the reason why I talked about the festering is to 
point out that they had 12 years of being in power, followed by eight years of 
being able to take their policy to think tanks and work on it. So that¹s 20 
years that the neoconservatives were able to develop and perfect its ideology.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah, but we¹ve got a constitution. We¹ve got a congress. We¹ve
got a press. We¹ve got a bureaucracy. What¹s going on?

€ SCOTT RITTER: Because on September 11th, the United States of America suffered
its worst defeat, not at the hands of terrorists, but at the hands of the 
neoconservatives, who basically allowed the terrorists to win by turning America
on itself. We have a congress, but Congress only counts when it functions. And 
when Congress refuses to carry out appropriate oversight, when Congress refuses 
to hold the President accountable for policy decisions, when Congress stands by 
idly while we violate international law and indeed the Constitution of the 
United States, invading a sovereign state without just cause, allowing the 
torturing of individuals to occur by American service members, when Congress 
sits by and tolerates warrantless wiretappings, they don¹t function as a 
legitimate branch of government.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: OK, but let¹s just go back. We all agree on Congress. But the 
fact is that when Olmert was here in May, the prime minister of Israel, and gave
a speech about Iran to a joint session of Congress, the big applause lines, the 
standing o¹s came when he criticized Iran and raised the specter -- the same 
language you were talking about -- this existential language, this threat, and 
that was a standing ovation. The fact of the matter is that no matter how you 
describe it, no matter how we perceive it, if the President orders a military 
attack on Iran, Congress will rubberstamp it. There¹s no question about that, in
my view. I don¹t know what you think. And I guess, heuristically, if you will, 
what¹s your guess? We want to do a lot of questions, because there may be 
somebody here who disagrees with what Scott¹s saying. It takes an awful lot of 
courage, but anyway.

  € SCOTT RITTER: I try not to be controversial.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: But, so, what¹s your guess? What happens? October surprise next
year? What do you think? What do you think? What¹s in line for us?

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, let's start with what you're talking about: 
the standing ovation that Olmert gets. Why? Why would he get this standing 
ovation? Because the United States of America has been preconditioned since 1979
to accept at face value anything negative said about the Islamic Republic of 
Iran. Now, there¹s a lot of negative things that can be said about the Islamic 
Republic of Iran. But unfortunately, by allowing ourselves to create this filter
that says we don¹t recognize anything positive, only the negative, we create the
conditions where we don¹t question negative date. And therefore, when people say
Iran is a threat, we agree. And this has been going on since 1979. So the 
American public, and indeed the American Congress, is preconditioned for war, 
for confrontation with Iran. That¹s why we can have a policy that transitions 
from dual containment under the Clinton administration to regime change under 
the Bush administration, without any significant debate taking place whatsoever.

€ And because this condition exists, there will be war with Iran, unless a 
little miracle occurs, called the Democrats winning Congress, creating enough 
friction to stop the war, in the November elections. But even if that occurs, as
you pointed out, there is no separation between the Democratic Party and the 
Republican Party on the issue of Iran. Everybody sits there and says. ³Wait a 
minute, we¹re losing the war in Iraq, and there¹s 65% of the population that¹s 
turned against this war. Certainly we¹re not going to go to war with Iran.²

€ Again, I mean to correct the American public here. 65% of the American public 
aren¹t antiwar. They¹re just anti-losing. You see, if we were winning the war in
Iraq, they¹d all be for it. If we had brought democracy, they¹d be cheering the 
President. It wouldn¹t matter that we violated international law. It wouldn¹t 
even matter that we lied about weapons of mass destruction. We¹d be winning. God
bless America. Ain¹t we good? USA, USA! But we¹re losing, so they¹re against 

€ But what happens when you get your butt kicked in one game? You're looking for
the next game, where you can win. And right now, we¹re looking for Iran for a 
victory. We¹re going to go to war with Iran. When? Not in October, I¹ll tell you

€ There¹s a couple things that have to happen before we go to war with Iran. 
There has to be a serious diplomatic offensive to secure the military basing 
required to support the aerial forces necessary for sustained bombardment and 
the logistic apparatus that goes along with that -- the fuel, the bombs, the 
support personnel, the maintenance. We haven¹t done that. We¹re doing it. There 
has to be political preparation here at home. The Bush administration is not a 
dictatorship yet. They still have to go to Congress, and they still have to get 
a degree of congressional approval for military operations against Iran. Not 
that much, though. I mean, everybody is aware that after 9/11, Congress pretty 
much gave the Bush administration a blank check to wage war anyway they saw fit,
so long as it dealt with the global war on terror. And the President --

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: Be specific. The October 2002 resolution was not just limited 
to Iraq, you¹re exactly right.

  € SCOTT RITTER: No, it¹s a global war on terror.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: It gave him the right to -- he¹s got a blank check. He does 
have that.

  € SCOTT RITTER: A blank check to do it.
  € SEYMOUR HERSH: That¹s literally correct.

€ SCOTT RITTER: Now, he has to be smart about this. Yes, he can wage war, but he
needs to ensure that Congress continues to fund the war. So that¹s why he will 
go to Congress. He will make the case for Iran. But, as I said, Congress is 
already preprogrammed to nod their head yes and stamp anything he signs.

€ The most important thing is the American military, getting the American 
military positioned. The easy thing is getting the air forces positioned, the 
naval force and air forces that will do the bombardment. The hard thing is 
getting the American military leadership to go along with that, and that might 
be the one little glimmer of hope that¹s out there, because if we can get a 
Democratic-controlled congress that is not afraid to exercise its oversight 
responsibility and holds hearings, where it brings in military professionals and
liberates them to speak critically of bad policy, which is the duty and 
responsibility of every general officer.

€ There¹s a gross dereliction of duty taking place today in the United States, 
where our general officers remain mute while they are on active duty. Suddenly, 
when they retire, they get great courage. They can speak out. But you know what?
It¹s too late. Too many of your men have died. You should have spoke out sooner.
And hopefully with a Democratic congress, the generals will speak out. Look at 
the standards set by the British military. The British chief of staff has come 
out and finally spoke truth to power by saying, ³Mr. Blair, your war is not only
not winnable, but it¹s destroying the British army. And if we want to have an 
army in five to ten years, we have to change our policy.² Maybe American 
general's will follow that precedent.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: I¹ve had some smart Arabs I know, who are not anti-American, 
per se, but increasingly, of course, getting that way, say to me that one other 
-- there¹s another -- they had another vestige of hope, which was that after the
disaster in Lebanon -- and the Israelis are sort of now, their position is we 
suffered a technical knockout, it wasn¹t a complete knockout. They¹re finding a 
little grace in it. But some of the bright Arabs I know said maybe the Israelis 
will move to the center. Maybe that¹ll, one way, will save us. ³Save us,² being 
the world, in their view. Certainly the oil world in the Middle East, from 
continued war. And they said, perhaps -- giving up on the notion that America 
would move, but maybe the Israeli population would move to the center. No sign 
yet of it. I don¹t see it.

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, there is a significant -- I mean, that¹s one of the things
that strikes me when I travel to Israel. It¹s like anything, traveling to Iran, 
you suddenly have this veil lifted, because, of course, you¹re not going to get 
a true picture from the American media about what Iran is, and most Americans, I
don¹t think, have a genuine picture of what Israel is, unless you¹ve gone to 
Israel, traveled to Israel, met the Israelis. It¹s a very diverse society. It¹s 
not homogeneous at all, especially politically. You know, you sit three Israelis
around a table, you get seven different opinions. And that¹s the truth. These 
people love politics. They¹re concerned. They¹re engaged. And there is a viable 
powerful moderate and progressive element within Israel.

€ The battle with Hezbollah this past summer, this conflict in South Lebanon 
that bled over into northern Israel, could go either way. On the one hand, there
are elements that are seeking to exploit the fear factor, the fact that 
thousands of Hezbollah rockets landed on Israel, to say, ³Never again, never 
again. We must redouble our efforts to confront.² But taking a look at how 
enfeebled the Israeli military was in its response, how Hezbollah was actually 
empowered, the Israelis might actually come to realize the lesson we¹re learning
in Iraq, which is you cannot militarily defeat an organization that has as its 
roots the legitimate concerns of an indigenous population. And I¹m not here to 
condone Hezbollah or sing its virtues, but I will tell you this, Hezbollah is an
organization of Southern Lebanese Shia. That belong in South Lebanon. They¹re in
South Lebanon. And Israel may have learned a hard lesson, that you just can¹t 
bomb these people into submission, so they might move to the center.

€ SEYMOUR HERSH: [inaudible] is standing. We want to do one more question. Let 
me ask him one more question. One last question, which is, OK, briefly, we go to
war. We begin a massive bombing campaign. Take your pick. Odds are it¹s going to
be systematic, at least three days of intense bombing, decapitation probably, 
which -- that is one of the things you do when you begin a bombing attack, like 
we did against Saddam twice and like the Israelis did against Hezbollah when 
they targeted Nasrallah. And I think we and the Israelis are now 0-for-8, almost
as bad as Shrummy and his elections. But anyway, so the question then is -- we 
go to war -- tell us what happens next, in your view.

€ SCOTT RITTER: Well, it¹s, you know -- it¹s almost impossible to be 100% 
correct, but I¹ll give you my best analysis. The Iranians will use the weapon 
that is the most effective weapon, because the key for Iran -- you know, Iran 
can¹t afford, if this -- remember, the regime wants to stay in power, so they 
can¹t afford a strategy that gets the American people to recognize three years 
in that, oops, we made a mistake. I mean, if that was Saddam¹s strategy, it 
failed for him, because he¹s out of power. Yeah, we realize we made a mistake 
now in Iraq, but the regime is gone. So the Iranians realize that they have to 
inflict pain upfront. The pain is not going to be inflicted militarily, because 
we're not going to commit numbers of ground forces on the ground that can cause 
that pain. The pain will come economically.

€ Our oil-based economy is operating on the margins, as we speak. We only have 
1.0% to 1.5% excess production capacity. If you take the Iranian oil off the 
market, which is the first thing the Iranians will do, we automatically drop to 
around minus-4%, which means there ain¹t enough oil out there to support the 
globe¹s thirst for oil, especially America¹s thirst for oil. And we're not the 
only ones drinking it? You think for a second the Chinese and the Indians, the 
world¹s two largest developing economies, are going to say, ³Hey, Uncle Sam, 
we¹ll put everything on hold, so we can divert oil resources, so you can feed 
your oil addiction, because you attacked Iran²?

€ And it¹s not just Iranian oil that will go off the market. Why do you think we
sent minesweepers up there? We¹ve got to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. The 
Iranians will shut it down that quick. They¹ll also shut down oil production in 
the western oil fields of Saudi Arabia. They¹ll shut down Kuwaiti oil 
production. They¹ll shut down oil production in the United Arab Emirates. 
They¹ll shut down whatever remaining oil production there is in Iraq. They¹ll 
launch a massive attack using their Shia proxies in Iraq against American 
forces. That will cause bloodshed.

€ The bottom line is, within two days of our decision to initiate an attack on 
Iran, every single one of you is going to be feeling the consequences of that in
your pocketbook. And it¹s only going to get worse. This is not something that 
only I recognize. Ask Dick Lugar what information he¹s getting from big 
business, who are saying, ³We can¹t afford to go to war with Iran.²

  € SEYMOUR HERSH: Final question: given all this, are we going to do it?

  € SCOTT RITTER: Yes, we're going to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh. Ritter¹s latest book is called 
Target Iran: The Truth About the White House¹s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour 
Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker 
magazine. His latest book is called a Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to 
Abu Ghraib. They were speaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture at an
event sponsored by the Nation Institute. Again, the latest news, the Pentagon 
has disclosed plans to send more warships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf 
within striking distance of Iran.

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