Ritter to L.A.: Stop the madness

“The important thing to know about Scott Ritter,” goes Seymour Hersh’s much-quoted line about the former UN senior weapons inspector in Iraq, “is that he was right.”

That may be true for a bottom-liner like the veteran investigative journalist Hersh, but there’s a lot more to know about Ritter than that: First, he’s a Republican and hardcore American patriot who served eight years as a U.S. Marine intelligence officer before becoming a senior U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. So when Ritter’s assessment that Iraq was hiding no weapons of mass destruction during our long run-up to war turned out to be on the mark, you tend to think it was more than just a lucky guess.

The other thing that comes across loud and clear about Ritter is how passionate and combative he is about restoring our country’s values as defined by the Constitution. It’s easy to see why the Bush administration and its media lapdogs tried so hard to discredit him during that period and why today, with Ritter now sounding alarms about what he sees as an impending war with Iran, you’re less likely to hear about it on TV than at a neighborhood town hall meeting like the three he conducted last week in Southern California.

I caught Ritter Friday night in Oak Park, when he and longtime media critic and pundit Jeff Cohen each addressed a hundred or so people at the local community center. They had also appeared the previous couple of nights at a Santa Monica church and a theater in Santa Barbara. The events were co-sponsored by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and U.S. Tour of Duty, an anti-war group.

Ritter wouldn’t seem to have much in common with Cohen, a Democrat who played the resident liberal on CNN’s “Crossfire” for a time, talked politics on MSNBC, produced “Donahue,” and founded the national media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Cohen, funny and affable, is used to basking in the spotlight, while the straitlaced Ritter comes off angry, like a man fed up with being ignored.

But Iraq has brought them together. Both decry the rush to war there and now, seemingly, in Iran, and both have written books (Ritter’s “Target Iran” and Cohen’s “Cable News Confidential”), which they’re signing at these events. While Ritter repeatedly blasted the imperialist aggression of Bush and his neo-con cabal, Cohen’s focus was more on their enablers in the corporate media.

Ritter said an attack on Iran will be inevitable in a few weeks when a fourth U.S. battle carrier group takes position within striking distance of Tehran. Answering questions from the crowd, he said the administration knows sustaining another long-term military conflict would be impossible, which is why he predicted our use of tactical nuclear weapons should the American people and Congress fail to stop the aggression before it starts. Cohen, citing the growth of organized anti-war opposition, said he was more optimistic about the future than Ritter, which under the circumstances was not a particularly high bar to jump.

Mary Pallant, a PDA activist, said former L.A. Times columnist and editor in chief of truthdig.com, Robert Scheer will soon be scheduled to appear at the Oak Park community center as part of his current speaking tour.

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