If you followed the more fevered antiwar commentary during of the Iraq war years, you might have encountered the byline of Scott Ritter. A former U.N. weapons inspector who supported Saddam Hussein’s ouster in the 1990s, even reproaching the Clinton White House for failing to use the threat of invasion as leverage against the Iraqi dictator, Ritter later became convinced that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that regime change was not only unjustified but was the product of a deliberate “intelligence conspiracy” by the Bush administration.
For a time, that explosive claim earned Ritter high-profile media appearances and the adoration of the anti-war left, whose darkest imaginings Ritter confirmed. Then Ritter faded from view, a casualty of his own increasingly outlandish claims and a child sex sting in which Ritter was caught trying to solicit lewd meetings with minors online.
Ritter’s tarnished reputation has now received a partial laundering from the New York Times. While not shying away from Ritter’s disturbing sexual deviancy, the Times nonetheless attempts to cast him as a flawed but prescient prophet who was right about Iraq while the Bush administration and much of the foreign policy establishment was wrong. For a man desperate to salvage some measure of public dignity, it’s understandable that Ritter would cling to this self-serving version of recent history. Unfortunately, and as with so much of what Ritter has contributed to the public record, it’s also false.
Conveniently omitted by the Times is that Ritter did not simply claim that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He claimed that the Bush administration knew this to be case before the war started and then “fabricated intelligence to back up its decision to go to war.” The claim became the centerpiece of the anti-war left and Democrats’ attacks on the Bush administration, which they charged had “lied” the country into war using manipulated intelligence assessments. Yet that claim was provably untrue. For instance, a 2004 report on prewar intelligence by the bipartisan Senate intelligence committee “found no evidence that the [intelligence community’s] mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of political pressure.” Ritter, so far from heroic whistleblower, was just plain wrong.
And not just about Iraq. Even as the Times repeatedly cites Ritter’s vindication on WMDs, it ignores his far more numerous collection of failed and evidence-free predictions and pronouncements. In June 2005, for example, Ritter announced that the Bush administration was readying for an attack on Iran. He even wrote a book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change, fleshing out assertion. The left-wing blogosphere lapped it up. But it was, of course, baseless.
For all his professed concern for evidence, Ritter showed a consistent willingness to ignore it when it suited his anti-war biases. Following Israel’s bombing of Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear facility in September 2007, Ritter immediately denounced the attack as unjustified. “There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction,” Ritter insisted. But American intelligence agencies disagreed. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that “al-Kibar was part of a nuclear weapons program.” Had al-Kibar been allowed to become fully operational, according to Hayden, it would have produced enough plutonium for one or two nuclear bombs within a year. Ritter was thus repeatedly guilty of the very charge he leveled against the Bush administration: suppressing evidence that did not fit into his preconceived assessment.