Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Hi. Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re joined now live from Minneapolis—joining us is Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector for the UN and worked for the US government in that capacity; and with Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who had the opportunity to brief President Reagan in national security briefings. Welcome, both of you gentlemen. So I’ve introduced both of you. And Ray, I’m going to start with you, asking a question. With McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, you’re kind of left with the impression that just about anybody with any common sense could be president. I don’t think anyone would hire a CEO of a company with that kind of standard, but maybe it works. And what was your experience when you briefed President Reagan? He didn’t have much foreign policy experience. Does it really matter what a president knows before they’re president?

RAY MCGOVERN, EX CIA OFFICER: Well, of course it does. I was shocked. I found it bizarre. And I tend to look at things through a foreign policy perspective—that’s been my whole shtick, my whole career. The notion that this woman [inaudible] from the presidency could seriously be considered as someone to lead our country in a complicated world such as we can find is bizarre. You know, you really have to think this thing through. And if Russia has now become a force to contend with, mostly because of our own policies in confronting and sort of engaging people around Russia’s perimeter, well, the question is how the Russians would look at this. They already very clearly think that the candidate here in Minneapolis, or St. Paul, is a little, shall we say, impulsive, angry, and not to be depended upon to act rationally. And what will they think of Sarah, Sarah Palin? They don’t know what to think. But what does that inject? That injects a very serious mode of instability, of uncertainty, and for any foe of the United States, for any contender or any antagonist. It just makes it a much more dangerous world.

JAY: Well, to some extent Reagan set the bar in some ways with the idea that all you need is someone with common sense. And the professionals will offer various options, and someone with common sense can make the right choice, and certainly that’s the message McCain is sending with the pick of Palin. But to some extent, isn’t that also what Obama’s telling us, that what you really want in a president is judgment, not expertise? What do you make of that?

MCGOVERN: Well, Reagan depended on all his top national security advisors, such as they were. Reagan didn’t make too many decisions on his own, except for some of the really big ones about whether to trust the Russians, and he came down right on those things. But you have to have some measure of experience, and you have to be able to choose advisors that are worth your choice to advice you. Now, there’s no indication at all that Sarah Palin has any kind of experience that would allow her to put a claim to having that kind of judgment. Barack Obama has had [to] do a lot of judging in Illinois and now in the Senate. And so the comparison really pales—pardon the pun—Palin pales in significance with respect to her putative competitors.

JAY: Scott, do you have any thoughts on the Palin choice?

SCOTT RITTER, FORMER UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, first of all let’s acknowledge that it’s not that Governor Palin could never be a viable presidential candidate: she certainly can be a viable presidential candidate. You know, with Ronald Reagan, which is a figure that you’ve mentioned, and Barack Obama, both had gone through a preparatory phase, okay? Reagan had been injected into the national political stream. He was a national political player. He challenged Gerald Ford in 1976. He had four years of preparation prior to his run for successful presidency in 1980. And so one can say that Ronald Reagan not only had been tested, but Ronald Reagan had been injected into the political mainstream and was preparing for holding executive office at the national level. Barack Obama likewise has been injected into the political mainstream and has been tested by a period of, you know, Democratic, you know, competition. This is something that Governor Palin has not been subjected to. And it’s not as though she had been given a tip-off that “You may be vice president.” My understanding is that John McCain had only met her one time prior and that she was a last-minute choice. She is not being selected because of her ability to govern the United States of America; she is being selected because she is a woman. And I think we need to understand that I’m not saying that women can’t govern—of course they can. But this is an insult to all American women, because it is basically saying that we are playing a truly partisan political game, we are putting the gender issue out there in a very cheap manner. Could Governor Palin be president of the United States? Yes. Is she qualified to be president of the United States now, which is the critical question that must be asked as we consider her as a vice-presidential candidate? The answer is no, not at all.

JAY: I guess, if you wanted a qualified woman, he could have started with—qualified within his terms of reference, perhaps not opponents’ terms of reference, but he could have gone to Condoleezza Rice.

RITTER: There’s many women out there who have been tested on the national screen, who are familiar with executive governance at the federal level, who could fill this job. Governor Palin is not one of these women.

JAY: So let’s switch topics. I was mentioning to you a little earlier, when people ask about The Real News Network and they say, “Well, what would you have done differently?” I always point to Colin Powell’s speech at the United Nations, where he presented what he said was incontrovertible evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And then people say, “Well, how could you have done it any differently?” And I say—we’ll play this for people later—I said all we had to do was take our AP News feed and show a speech from Scott Ritter given in Tokyo on the same day that Powell spoke, where Ritter said—and Ritter being a former weapons inspector in Iraq, so he should know—that everything that Powell was saying was not provable, in fact, and at the very least one needed the inspection process to finish, and that a lot of what Powell was saying was likely to be fabrication. One could have at least shown Ritter’s argument and given people a chance to have some of a debate. We did a survey: as far as we know, AP footage that was available to every news organization in the world, nobody, as we know, picked it up. But my question to you, Scott, is this: McCain was on the Foreign Relations Committee, as were many Democrats. How could they not know that most of this was bull? And while the Democrats kind of have the excuse of saying, “Well, we didn’t know we were really mandating a war; we thought it was leveraged for inspections”—a dubious argument—McCain was not on that. McCain wanted the war and was for the invasion. So is McCain not implicated in supporting what—and I’m asking you—would he not have known these were fabrications?

RITTER: Look, John McCain and I have a relationship. Not the kind that Clinton that with others, but I know John McCain. I’ve met testified before John McCain. I can say before my September 1998 testimony that I was in John McCain’s office preparing for this testimony, and we were talking about the shortfalls of the United Nations investigation and the need for the United States to support the inspectors in completing their task. All John McCain was interested in is taking the dataset that I provided him out of context to score political points against Bill Clinton, which is what he did during that testimony. John McCain is a political animal. We need to understand that. He’s not this uber-president, this uber-patriot, this person who puts America first—this is all a show. John McCain puts the Republican Party first and foremost. It’s about scoring political points. He did this in 1998, and he did this in the lead-up to the war. McCain was empowered in 2000, 2001 to act responsibly in a period of time when he could have pushed for meaningful hearings. It’s the same empowerment that existed with John Kerry, and with Chuck Hagel, with Richard Luger, and with others who could have said, “This is the time to have meaningful hearings about Iraq, where we’ll put forward the totality of the case. We will subject it to pros and cons and have the kind of debate, dialog, and discussion that the Congress of the United States is meant to have in conducting oversight of policy.” McCain chose not to do this. McCain chose to rubber-stamp the case for war. And we need to understand that McCain knew the truth.

JAY: That’s my question to you. Is there any evidence? Do you know he should have known? From what I understand, McCain should have known most of what Powell was saying and most of that evidence was manipulated and fabricated. Do we know that McCain should have known that?

RITTER: Absolutely. I can tell you that in preparing to testify before the Senate in the summer of 2002, I was asked by John Kerry—not John McCain—to put my concerns in writing. I did so. —Excuse me. I’m sorry. This is in 2000. I put my concerns in writing, an article in the Arms Control Today journal, which is the journal of record for arms control issues. A copy of this was provided to every senator and representative. It was called, basically, the case for the qualitative disarmament of Iraq. It laid forth the case that Iraq has been disarmed factually, with documents, etcetera. McCain was aware of this; McCain knew everything that I was saying. It wasn’t McCain’s job, however, to embrace the truth; it was McCain’s job to embrace a policy of regime change. John McCain was involved in a policy of regime change as early as 1997, where he endorsed a program put forward by neoconservative thinkers to pressure Bill Clinton to sign what has now become the Iraq Liberation Act. That is what motivates John McCain [inaudible].

JAY: This is the Project for a New American Century.

RITTER: Well, I mean, he wasn’t a charter member of that, but the Project for a New American Century pushed for the Iraq Liberation Act, which John McCain supported wholeheartedly. John McCain’s program has always been regime change in Iraq, not disarmament or embracing the truth.

JAY: I mean, some of the key members of the Project for a New American Century, which advocates the projection of American military power as the fundamental way to reshape the world, some of those key players are now McCain’s senior foreign policy advisors, people like Randy Scheunemann and James Woolsey. And they’re part of something called the Committee on the Present Danger, which is filled with people from Project of a New American Century.

RITTER: Randy Scheunemann’s a very dangerous figure, and I would appreciate it if more media outlets, including yours—and you seem to be cognizant of who he is. Randy Scheunemann is the classic behind-the-scenes player in the neoconservative cabal. He was the national security advisor for Trent Lott when he was the Senate majority leader. He’s the man who empowered Ahmad Chalabi in the Iraqi National Congress to bypass the constitutionally mandated processes of governance, to get direct access to the president and the vice president, to manipulate intelligence that led us down the path to war. He’s doing the same thing with Iran today. It’s a very important name, and it’s important that we link this man with John McCain, because we need to know what kind of president will John McCain be. I think it’s clear by the kind of people he surrounds himself with.

JAY: Well, you’ll be happy to know that sometime, I hope, in September or October we may actually start the Randy Scheunemann Show, because we agree with the importance of this. UUUUUUIf people watch The Real News, by November 4 everyone’s going to know the name Randy Scheunemann. But I also think James Woolsey is probably every bit as much—needs to be part of that conversation.

RITTER: Absolutely.

JAY: Over to Ray. Ray, I have a question for you, following up on what Scott and I have been talking about, which is: why are the Democrats not going after McCain on what he knew and when he knew and why he didn’t open his mouth? And let me just add this: if there’s many people talking about impeachment of Bush-Cheney for lying to go to war, if in fact there’s even talk of a criminal case against Bush after he leaves office for murder—but I don’t hear a word out of the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, going after McCain for being implicated in lying to the American people. We hear lots of talk about his honorable service.

MCGOVERN: Well, I think the short answer is that the Democratic leaders are almost equally responsible or almost equally well informed in those days to have been able to step up to the plate. One person that Scott did mention is Joe Biden. Joe Biden, you know, he was the new Bill Fulbright. Before the war, he completely disregarded his Constitutional prerogative and duty to get balanced testimony to find out whether Iraq was really a threat to us. He abdicated that responsibility, lined up a whole bunch of neoconservatives, and didn’t do his job. He was a big cheerleader for the war. Now maybe he’s come around a little bit. He can claim that he was deceived by the bad intelligence, the corrupted intelligence. Of course, some of them were. But, you know, the most egregious beef—if I could use that word—the most egregious beef that I have against John McCain is this. I was an army officer. Scott, of course, was a [inaudible] tenured Marine officer. We took our oaths to the Constitution seriously, and what we both learned was that officers don’t lie, okay? Now, there’s one egregious incident that not many people know about, and that is the deliberate Israeli attack on USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, with intent to sink the ship and have no survivors. There’s no question that it was intentional and that that was the objective; the evidence is complete on that. Now, John McCain’s father was told by President Johnson and Secretary McNamara to make it out to be an Israeli mistake, that it was a mistaken-identity thing—pure, pure, unadulterated, manufactured deceit. Okay? Now the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son, but what did the son do? The son gratuitously revealed his enslavement to the Israel lobby by endorsing a book that was written just a couple of years ago which said, “Oh, it was just a terrible mistake.” It was an American judge who wrote this. His name is [Jay] Cristol. And he wrote this book, and it was sort of the defense against the airtight case against the Israelis for having tried to destroy the Liberty. I mean, we have voice intercepts now released by NSA Israeli pilots: “But that’s an American ship.” “Omit. Omit. Strike it.” Okay? Now, let me just finish here. The point is this, that despite the fact that 34 American sailors were killed that day and 171 wounded, John McCain for political advantage endorsed the known cover-up of this incident by exculpating the Israelis, writing a nice review saying “He’s got it right.” He didn’t need to do that. And if I recall correctly, he was a naval officer himself. That to me is beyond the pale, and that to me persuades me that this is a disingenuous, unreliable, deceitful person to have done this for political advantage, currying favor with the Israel lobby.

JAY: Ray, we’re going to take to take a short break. I don’t know anything about this particular incident, so I can’t question you about it, but I’d like to in the future, and, actually, we’ll do a segment sometime in the coming weeks about just this question, and then we can try to explore it. We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I want to ask both of you about the role of the media in terms of creating a kind of reinforcement of a mythological narrative about the world versus what you guys know to be the real world. So please come back and join us after this short break.

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