SCOTT RITTER: Well, the most important thing is to understand the reality that Iran is squarely in the crosshairs as a target of the Bush administration, in particular, as a target of the Bush administration as it deals -- as it relates to the National Security Strategy of the United States. You see, this isn’t a hypothetical debate among political analysts, foreign policy specialists. Read the 2006 version of the National Security Strategy, where Iran is named sixteen times as the number one threat to the national security of the United States of America, because in the same document, it embraces the notion of pre-emptive wars of aggression as a legitimate means of dealing with such threats. It also recertifies the Bush administration doctrine of regional transformation globally, but in this case particularly in the Middle East. So, we’re not talking about hypotheticals here, regardless of all the discussion the Bush administration would like you to believe there is about diplomacy. There is no diplomacy, as was the case with Iraq. Diplomacy is but a smokescreen to disguise the ultimate objective of regime change.or just listen to the whole damn thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about similarities or differences you see between the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and what’s happening now with Iran?
SCOTT RITTER: The biggest similarity that we need to point out is that in both cases no evidence was put forward to sustain the allegations that are being made. Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction programs, reconstituting chemical, biological, nuclear, long-range ballistic missile programs. There was an inspection process in place that had access, full access to the facilities in question, and no data was derived from these inspections that backed up the Bush administration's allegations. And yet, Iraq was told, it’s not up to the inspectors to find the weapons. It’s up to Iraq to prove they don't exist. Iraq had to prove a negative. And they couldn't. We now know that in 1991, Saddam Hussein had destroyed the totality of his weapons programs. There weren’t any left to find, discover. There was no threat.
We now have Iran. It’s alleged to have a nuclear weapons program. And yet the International Atomic Energy Agency, the inspectors who have had full access to the sites in Iran, have come out and said, “Well, we can’t say that there isn’t a secret program that we don’t know about. What we can say, as a direct result of our investigations, there is no data whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration's claims that there is a nuclear weapons program.” And yet, the Bush administration once again is putting the onus on Iran, saying, “It’s not up to the inspectors to find the nuclear weapons program. It’s up to the Iranians to prove that one doesn’t exist.” Why do we go down this path? Because you can’t prove a negative. There’s nothing Iran can do that will satisfy the Bush administration, because the policy at the end of the day is not about nonproliferation, it’s not about disarmament. It’s about regime change. And all the Bush administration wants to do is to create the conditions that support their ultimate objective of military intervention.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter, one of the things you talk about in your book is that no attention has been paid to the Supreme Leader's pronouncement in the form of a fatwa, that Iran rejects outright the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
SCOTT RITTER: Well, when we say “Supreme Leader,” first of all, most Americans are going to scratch their head and say, “Who?” because, you see, we have a poster boy for demonization out there. His name is Ahmadinejad. He’s the idiot that comes out and says really stupid vile things, such as, “It is the goal of Iran to wipe Israel off the face of the world,” and he makes ridiculous statements about the United States and etc. And, of course, man, he -- it’s a field day for the American media, for the Western media, because you get all the little sound bites out there, Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. But what people don't understand is, while he can vocalize, his finger is not on any button of power. If you read the Iranian constitution, you’ll see that the president of Iran is almost a figurehead.
The true power in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah Khamenei. He is supported by an organization called the Guardian Council. Then there’s another group called the Expediency Council. These are the people that control the military, the police, the nuclear program, all the instruments of power. And not only has the Supreme Leader issued a fatwa that says that nuclear weapons are not compatible with Islamic law, with the Shia belief system that he is responsible, in 2003 he actually reached out to the Bush administration via the Swiss embassy and said, “Look, we would like to normalize relations with the United States. We’d like to initiate a process that leads to a peace treaty between Israel and Iran.” Get this, Israel and Iran. He’s not saying, “We want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.” He is saying, “We want peace with Israel.” And they were willing to put their nuclear program on the table.
Why didn’t the Bush administration embrace this? Because that leads to a process of normalization, where the United States recognizes the legitimacy of the theocracy and is willing to peacefully coexist with the theocracy. That’s not the Bush administration's position. They want the theocracy gone. They will do nothing that legitimizes that, nothing that sustains peace. They rejected peace. So, it’s not Ahmadinejad that represents the threat to international peace and security when it comes to American-Iranian relations. It’s the Bush administration, because the Bush administration refuses to put peace on the table.
AMY GOODMAN: The scenario you envision around the U.S. and Iran?
SCOTT RITTER: War. The bottom line is that the Bush administration has two more years left to govern here in the United States. They have a policy of regional transformation in the Middle East: regime change. We see that policy in play today in Iraq with all of its horrible manifestations. You’d think that they would have learned something, but they haven’t.
Look, Bush has already said that he doesn’t want to leave Iran to the next president, that this is a problem he needs to solve now. And the other factor that we haven’t woven in here that we need to is the role played by Israel in pressuring the United States for a very aggressive stance against Iran. Israel has drawn a red line that says, not only will they not tolerate a nuclear weapons program in Iran, they will not tolerate anything dealing with nuclear energy, especially enrichment, that could be used in a nuclear program. So, even if Iran is telling the truth -- Iran says, “We have no nuclear weapons program. We just want peaceful nuclear energy” -- Israel says, “So long as Iran has any enrichment capability, this constitutes a threat to Israel,” and they are pressuring the United States to take forceful action.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way?
SCOTT RITTER: Oh, it’s diplomatic pressure. We see -- starting in 2002, you saw the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister come running to the United States in the lead-up to the war with Iraq, saying, “Hey, let's not worry too much about Iraq. That’s not really a big problem. I know we’ve got a lot of rhetoric going on about weapons of mass destruction, but the big problem’s Iran.” And the Bush administration said, “We don't want to talk about Iran right now. We’re dealing with Iraq.” In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel came and said, “Alright, thank you for getting rid of Saddam. We now want you to focus on Iran.” And the United States continued to put Iran on the back burner. And it wasn’t until the Israeli government leaked some intelligence to an Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, who came out and said, “Hey, look, there’s this site in Natanz. They’re doing enrichment there.” And suddenly the United States was forced to say, “Oh, we’ve got to put Iran back on the front burner.” And it’s been Israel that’s been dictating the pace of media operations, let’s say, on Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter, both the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner have said covert actions have already begun in Iran, U.S. military. Do you think that is true?
SCOTT RITTER: I respect the reporting of Seymour Hersh. I respect the analysis of Sam Gardiner. And I respect the integrity of people who have talked to me who are in a position to know. Look, we’re already overflying Iran with unmanned aerial vehicles, pilotless drones. On the ground, the CIA is recruiting Mojahedin-e-Khalq, recruiting Kurds, recruiting Azeris, who are operating inside Iran on behalf of the United States of America. And there is reason to believe that we’ve actually put uniformed members of the United States Armed Forces and American citizens operating as CIA paramilitaries inside Iranian territory to gather intelligence.
Now, when you violate the borders and the airspace of a sovereign nation with paramilitary and military forces, that’s an act of war. That’s an act of war. So, when Americans say, “Ah, there’s not going to be a war in Iran,” there's already a war in Iran. We’re at war with Iran. We’re just not in the declared conventional stage of the war. The Bush administration has a policy of regime change. They’re going to use the military, and the military is being used.
What are the chances that some of these covert ops trigger something in the next 3 weeks?