In the midst of ongoing speculation about the possibility of a U.S. bombardment of Iranian nuclear targets, the blogosphere has been buzzing over comments made by former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter at an antiwar event in Olympia, WA, on Feb. 18. Ritter, an outspoken opponent of the war on Iraq, surprised the crowd with details about a conversation he said he'd had with a source connected to the Bush administration back in October 2004. He claimed that he had been told, in confidence, that President Bush had signed off on military plans calling for the aerial bombardment of Iran in June 2005.
Reached by Salon for comment, Ritter confirmed his earlier statement. He would not identify his source other than to say that he or she was affiliated with the Bush administration, and had sought him out for his "expert advice on Iraq."
"I was approached on my ideas on how to stabilize Iraq," said Ritter. "My number one piece of advice was, don't bomb Iran. The response was, it's out of anybody's hands. It's a done deal."
Ritter said he had decided to come forward after hearing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say that the administration was not considering such an attack. "She's lying through her teeth," says Ritter.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press quoted President Bush as saying that it is "simply ridiculous" to assume that such an attack was imminent. He said that he would seek a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian arms issue, but that "all options" were "on the table" nonetheless.
In a recent article in the New Yorker , investigative reporter Seymour Hersh described extensive U.S. reconnaissance efforts in Iran for the purpose of assessing Iran's nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities. He contrasted the Bush administration's public position on Iraq with statements from a "high-level intelligence official," who told him: "It's not if we're going to do anything against Iran. They're doing it."
Hersh also went on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart and suggested that the administration may be planning an attack sooner than it will admit. "The plan is to get three or four dozen targets, hit them by air this summer, maybe, or whenever, and the thinking is, if they can show that the theocracy isn't that powerful, the people will rise up," Hersh told Stewart.
According to Ritter, the June date is based on Israel's eagerness to launch a preemptive attack on Iran before the country can make large strides in its nuclear development.
Some bloggers are wondering why Ritter, who has been inconsistent in his assessment of Iraq's weapons program, had access to such information. As chief U.N. arms inspector in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, he was passionately convinced that Saddam Hussein was concealing WMD. During a testimony before Congress in 1998, Ritter was greeted as a "true American hero" by Republicans anxious to make a case to go to war. In the run-up to war in Iraq, however, he insisted that Iraq had never had WMD and called the President's justification for pre-emptive war "the most calamitous international deception of modern times."
Jeremy Shapiro, a national security expert at the Brookings Institute, says the idea that the President has signed off on a June directive to bombard Iranian targets is "inconceivable."
"First of all, I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that we have sufficient intelligence on what the appropriate targets are to hit," he told Salon. "Secondly, the President doesn't tend to make decisions on this type of thing that far in advance."
Shapiro also said Israel would need U.S. military backing for any offensive, and found it unlikely that it would be willing to engage in an attack against our wishes. He was dubious that an attack would have any kind of dramatic effect on the Iranian program, and might even embolden the country to redouble its efforts.
In Shapiro's view, the Bush administration will continue to seek leverage through a balance of diplomacy and hawkish posturing. "I think it's quite clear that an attack is not their preferred outcome," he said. But it is "very important at all points in the negotiation to assert that they would be willing to do this."