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Experts see grim prospects in Iraq, Iran

ritter & galbraith
Scott Ritter and Peter Galbraith photo by Bill Reed

By Christian Avard | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted October 13, 2006

CHESTER — Two distinguished Iraq War critics believe violence will escalate, especially if the U.S. takes military action against Iran, and doesn’t help to turn Iraq into at least three separate self-governing regions.

That was the assessment by former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith and former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter who spoke before a full house at the Old Stone Church in Chester on Oct. 7.

“My talk tonight is not going to get me too many invitations from L. Paul Bremer,” quipped Galbraith, to the delight of the audience. Bremer, who served as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, lives in Chester. Galbraith lives in nearby Townshend.

Galbraith recounted some of his experiences from The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. He contends the Bush administration’s incompetence regarding planning for a military occupation has greatly contributed to the mess U.S. forces currently face. The most glaring example was the widespread looting after the invasion.

“One of the things which has greatly contributed to the mess that we’re in was a failure to prevent the looting of Baghdad,” said Galbraith. “It wasn’t just a matter of too few troops, it was that there was no plan to do so. … It turns out that if you loot and burn every government ministry, you can’t get the government back working, and if you can’t get the government back working you can’t make the lives of Iraqis better and they’re going to get mad at you.”

Galbraith provided a solution, but one that was tough to swallow. “The Bush administration had absolutely no intentions of winning this war. Winning as defined by the president means … a unified and democratic Iraq. But what would it take to have a unified and democratic Iraq? The southern half of Iraq is controlled by theocracies. If we wanted democracy in the south and if we wanted the central government in Baghdad to control the south, we would have to dismantle the theocracies and disband the militias. That would mean taking on a whole new enemy in Iraq — the Shias are three times more numerous as the Sunni Arabs.

“You’re also going to have to end the civil war. What would it take to do that? One of the things you can’t do is to stand up Iraqi forces, because the Iraqi forces are either Sunni or Shia. They are partisans in the civil war and of course a major part of the Shia military are the police, they are responsible for many of the atrocities committed on the Sunnis. So if we can’t use the Iraqi forces to stop the civil war, we would have to become the police of Baghdad, and if you’re going to have to police, you’re going to need more troops than we now have.”

Rather than preserving or holding together a unified Iraq, Galbraith believes the U.S. must accept the reality of Iraq’s breakup and work with the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the existing semi-independent regions. In addition, he suggests that U.S. forces be redeployed to Kurdistan where they will be welcomed and can keep tabs on al-Qaeda.

“This is not going to produce a happy outcome. There are plenty who criticize this approach but it seems to me its incumbent upon those that do to come up with an alternative. There is no magic wand that’s going to fix this,” he said.

While Galbraith focused much of his talk on what he called the shocking incompetence of the Bush administration, Ritter turned the audience’s attention to the ongoing crisis with Iran, which he believes is a more dangerous threat. In his latest book, Target Iran, Ritter argues the saber rattling with Iran is part of a neo-conservative strategy to bring about regime change.

“In October 2002, we heard the president tell the American public in Cincinnati, Ohio, that he knew Saddam Hussein reconstituted his chemical and biological weapons capabilities. What we now know is … these weapons did not exist at the time of our invasion in 2003 and have not existed since the summer of 1991,” said Ritter. “So what we have here is a situation where there can be no doubt that the United States was using the fear generated by the ignorance of the American people about the reality of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to produce an outcome of regime change that fulfilled the policy objectives of the national security strategy. So let there be no doubt with this audience tonight that the same game is being played today vis-à-vis Iran.”

The only solution Ritter suggests is genuine diplomacy. “Let’s face it. Iran is not black and white. It’s gray. The thing about gray is that you can’t talk about solving gray with a bullet. If you want to solve the Iranian problem, then we need to talk about genuine diplomacy.”

For example, Ritter said that the U.S. has brokered ongoing diplomatic efforts with North Korea, but not with Iran — both of whom Bush has dubbed part of the “axis of evil.”

“We have ongoing diplomatic interaction with the North Koreans as we speak. We have sent official U.S. delegations to North Korea. We have received North Korean delegations. But we have still not exercised diplomacy when it comes to Iran,” Ritter said.

“The U.S. prepared to go to war with Iran and if you think war with Iraq is bad then let me tell you, an American war with Iran will be worse and ultimately will require the use of American nuclear weapons to achieve a result that is unachievable.”