There are two specific lessons President Clinton could learn from Scott Ritter: The first is that if you're going to deal with foreign adversaries like Saddam Hussein, you'd better be ready to follow through. The second is that it's better to resign your job than to bring shame to the position you hold.
Mr. Clinton should sit still and listen. Mr. Ritter, of course, is the former Marine intelligence officer who worked for UNSCOM, the United Nations unit charged with destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. A few weeks ago, Mr. Ritter testified bluntly before Congress that UNSCOM's efforts to carry out inspections in Iraq were repeatedly blocked. He expected such blockage from Saddam Hussein-but that's not what frustrated him. His frustration came when the blockage came from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and from the U.S. National Security Advisor.
Mr. Ritter said such interference by members of the Clinton administration occurred at least seven specific times. He told Congress that "the U.S. has undermined UNSCOM's efforts through interference and manipulation-usually coming from the highest levels of the administration's national security team."
Now here's a twist! For my entire adult life, I've heard good folks worry that the United Nations was forever finding ways to compromise the sovereignty of the United States. But this may be one of the first times the UN had seriously set about doing something important and worthwhile-only to be compromised in its mission by the United States itself.
And don't think for a minute this is nothing more than some crank conservative phobia. A.M. Rosenthal, writing in The New York Times, spelled out the likely consequences: "Neither Mr. Ritter nor any of the other UN inspectors believes that without enforcement Saddam will allow the full inspection he promised. That would end his programs for weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ritter told senators that without effective inspections, Saddam Hussein would have nuclear weapons within three years. And he said that without that inspection Saddam would have bacteriological weapons in six months."
One of those months has already passed since the Ritter testimony-and the clock is ticking.
The Clinton administration's excuse, of course, has been that the "time wasn't right," and that Mr. Ritter and the rest of us naive onlookers simply don't understand the complexities and nuances of foreign policy. The Times said Secretary Albright "acknowledged that concerns about creating a deep split in the UN Security Council had prompted her to question the timing of certain inspections of suspected weapons sites in Iraq." To which former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger replied: "The trouble with that approach is that it is never the right time for decisive action. It is not enough for the Secretary of State to reiterate the empty threats we have been making for a year."
Actions speak much louder than the lady's words-and the actions that followed were the withdrawal of half the U.S. Navy's task force that had been positioned near Iraq. They were all sent home.
No one should doubt Mr. Ritter's professionalism. By every account, when Mr. Ritter comments on inspections of weapons sites and production factories in places like Iraq, he knows what he is talking about. Richard Butler, who is the chief UN weapons inspector, says only good things about his former employee.
But confrontation over principle is something the Clinton administration is unwilling to countenance-even when the opponent is as universally known for evil as Saddam Hussein is. So on he goes, laughing up his sleeve at our lack of credibility, merrily creating all the nuclear and biological weapons he wants, and without fear even of increased sanctions, much less the military response we promised.
Yet however forbidding all those signs may be, however much more real Saddam's threats may have become-the terribly ominous threat to our national security is not from without. The scary threat lies in the fact that so far there has been only one Scott Ritter.
From every side, there have been disagreements with the Clinton administration's policy. On every front, there have been criticisms of the cowardly lack of willingness to stand up to Saddam. Even traditionally liberal media have taken the president to task, and some have bluntly made the connection between his self-imposed weakened condition at home and his subsequent inability to confront a foreign adversary.
Only Scott Ritter, however, has done the costly thing. Only Scott Ritter has resigned his job in protest. Like a true Marine, Mr. Ritter was willing to set aside his career and his livelihood so that he could speak up for a principle he considered crucial for the well-being of his country.
The oddity is that in today's climate it might be easier to lay down your life for your country than it is to lay down your reputation and your career. Somehow, we're conditioned to expect the first response from a Marine-and from all our armed forces. It's the second response, though, that in this unprincipled and amoral age really grabs our attention. Wouldn't it be something if it grabbed the attention of our president as well?