Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re coming live now from Minneapolis—I should say our guests are coming live from Minneapolis. I’m here in the studio. Our guests are Ray McGovern, former senior analyst with the CIA, and Scott Ritter, member of the UN inspection team in Iraq. And just so we’re clear on Mr. Ritter’s credentials, the hiring of the UN inspection team—which I said in the original introduction was part of a US government appointment, which is not quite right—it’s a UN hire, but the hire has to be approved by the US government and was at the time. And also just for a little further piece of information, Scott Ritter was, in his previous life, and still, I believe, a member of the Republican Party. Though I guess it’s rather obvious, he shares some rather serious differences with the previous and current leadership of the Republican Party. Scott, it’s pretty obvious that the US media gave up their journalistic chops almost completely in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Two or three years after the war we got some mea culpas from many people in the media. But has anything actually changed? Do you think that US television news is doing a better job covering the real geopolitics of this world?

SCOTT RITTER, FORMER UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR: No, I don’t. I mean, I was actually invited to a conference in Calgary, Canada—University of Calgary held it—where we discussed the role of the media in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. And I said that it’s very difficult for any American media professional to actually responsibly use the title “journalist,” because a journalist is supposed to be an unbiased reporter of the facts, whereas it seems in the United States we seem to be more propagandists. And that is indeed the case today. We had very few people in what’s called the mainstream media who operate in an unbiased fashion.

JAY: What’s an example of that? Like, what’s happening now where the media in your opinion’s getting it wrong?

RITTER: Well, first of all, it’s the context of a story. Let’s take a look at the situation we face in just covering national politics. The media will either apply an Obama spin or a McCain spin, but very rarely do you see somebody step aside and actually apply a factual spin. This is because the media is linked now to, you know, corporations who view the news not as this journey of seeking truth, but a journey of seeking advertising income. And so the news is shaped not so much by what the reality is taking place on the ground but how it can be sold, packaged and sold.

JAY: What’s wrong with the way the media’s covering Iran, for example?

RITTER: Well, to give you an example, we’ve allowed a nation, a complicated nation state of over 70 million, to be personified in the individual of one, its president, Ahmadinejad. We basically have said that this nation that gave us Cyrus the Great, Darius, that gives us this great tradition of culture is now simply this straggly, bearded, beady-eyed lunatic that we say runs Iran. Well, he doesn’t run Iran. He’s the president of a nation whose Constitution gives supreme authority not to the president but the supreme leader. And then we turn around and we put words in his mouth. I’m not here to defend Ahmadinejad, but he’s been accused of saying things, for instance that he believes that Iran’s policy should be to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Well, he didn’t say that; he said something completely different.

JAY: Now, we’ve covered that story, where you can translate that to “Israel should be removed to the pages of history,” and there’s other, various ways to look at it. And I think the point is is that there’s nothing in what he said that would suggest that Iran wants to wipe Israel to the pages of history. But let me ask you something very specific on the Iran question, ’cause the media has adopted complete amnesia on this, as have almost the entire political elite, and I’m kind of wondering why, how they—the two parts of it—. I’m going to ask you part one and I’m going to ask Ray part two. Part one is: anything the IAEA says about the Iranian nuclear program seems to be more or less irrelevant. There seems to be a feeling that no matter what inspectors say, inspections aren’t really going to find the truth. And I guess what boggles my mind is how correct the inspectors in fact turned out to be in Iraq. But is the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, are they capable of knowing what’s truthful and what isn’t truthful about any possible Iranian weapons program?

RITTER: Well, the IAEA operates under a mandate in a similar way that the UN inspectors, when I was an inspector, operated under a mandate. Their mandate is, of course, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, specifically, a safeguard agreement that’s been signed between Iran and the international community. It should be noted that whenever the IAEA refers to inspections that are linked to this mandate, they note that Iran is in full compliance with its obligations, that there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, that the totality of Iran’s nuclear material is accounted for, and that the IAEA has a full understanding of the scope and scale of Iran’s enrichment program. The perversion of the inspection process comes when the United States inserts intelligence information outside the framework of the mandate and then insists that the inspectors go to Iran and confront Iran with this dubious intelligence, for instance the stuff that’s derived from a laptop computer that came from the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group. Now the inspectors go in, operating in a manner which is not mandated by the Non-Proliferation Treaty or their safeguards agreement, ask questions to the Iranians which are rejected by the Iranians as being outside the scope of their work. The Iranians say, “We refuse to answer questions posed by the CIA through the inspectors. This is not what the agreement called for.” And then the media spins this up as “Iran is not cooperating with the inspectors.” Therefore the technical judgments of the inspectors are somehow called into question. This is absurd in the extreme. The technical judgments are proper, they are correct, and they clearly point to the reality that there is no ongoing nuclear weapons program in Iran as we speak. But this has spun out of control again by the use of the inspection process by the United States government.

JAY: Now, the media rarely reports on an IAEA report at all. If they do, it’s like a one-day wonder and it’s gone. But I think one of the reasons why the media doesn’t play this angle of the story you’re talking about is that we never hear it from within the leadership of the Democratic Party. The Democrats and Republicans seem so on the same page here, yet everybody has access to the same information you and others do. I mean, isn’t that part of the problem with the media is that they just report what the leadership of the two parties say? They don’t do any of their own work?

RITTER: Look, I mean, this comes back to what Ray had talked about earlier, which is the influence of Israel on the American foreign policy position in the Middle East. We are not allowed, from a media perspective, from a political perspective, to inject reality when that reality contradicts the perception that’s put forward on behalf of the state of Israel. Israel has said that Iran constitutes a threat to the security of Israel, therefore the security of the world, in the form of a nuclear weapons program. And this is the clear black-and-white case they’ve made that cannot be factually sustained. The IAEA’s presentation oftentimes directly contradicts the case that Israel has put forward. But because no politician in America wants to be seen as casting him- or herself in a potentially anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian light, the facts are swept under the rug, and we go forward in this very intellectually and morally dishonest manner.

JAY: Ray, the other piece of this which the media ignores is the National Intelligence Estimate, which for a few weeks was an explosion that seemed to be blowing up the whole Bush-Cheney version of Iran. And there was lots of talk about now that there can’t be an attack, you know, whether or not there’s an attack being planned. Certainly the mythology about Iran seemed to be exploded, one would think, once and for all. And I understand the influence of organizations like AIPAC, the Israeli lobby in the United States, and the state of Israel, but certainly the Project for a New American Century and the whole neocon agenda. There’s also a segment of American elite that has this agenda themselves. But go back again to the media. It’s not like Israel’s standing there telling the media to forget the National Intelligence Estimate, yet everyone has moved on as if the National Intelligence Estimate never happened. It’s really quite remarkable. How do you explain how this works?

RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER SENIOR ANALYST, CIA: I like the way Scott Ritter addresses things. It’s very clear that it’s due to the Israel lobby. It’s very clear to the fact that no US politician can risk being objective on these matters. The National Intelligence Estimate, completed in November of last year and issued on December 7, the sanitized version said that Iran had ceased working on the nuclear-weapons-related part of its nuclear program, pure and simple. And the date of that was mid-2003. Next judgment, we assess with reasonable confidence that they have not restarted this program since then, and the date of information for that is about a year ago. Now, the president [inaudible] off to Israel within three weeks and told the Israeli leaders, well, he didn’t break. He has these 16 intelligence agencies, but he has a different view, and so did Cheney. And instead of challenging that, the Democratic leaders wouldn’t risk challenging that. Why doesn’t the president [inaudible]? Well, maybe it does [inaudible] the Democrats. So that’s why it never comes to the fore. And what we have now—and, you know, I’m really thinking a lot about my Russian experience in looking at their media—what the Russians can do, what anyone can do, is look at our Pravda, which is the editorial page of The Washington Post, and you’ll see all these things reflected. They don’t reflect what the estimates say; they say they reflect what the president says. And the verbs of choice now are that, “Well, we don’t know. We don’t know whether the Iranians have restarted their nuclear weapons program.” Well, there’s an easy way to find out. What you do is you send the estimate back to the same 16 agencies that created the first estimate, and you do what we used to call a memorandum for holders, a memorandum for the holders of the original estimate, one year old, and you say, “Update it. Is there new information? Does any of the new intelligence change the judgment that they have stopped their nuclear-weapons-related program?” Well, that hasn’t been done. And the reason it hasn’t been done is because it’s too dicey politically in this country, especially in media before a national election.

JAY: Ray, there was an exception to this, though, and an interesting one, I thought. Both senators Webb and Biden opposed the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, and quite vigorously, both of them—I think Webb particularly vigorously. And certainly Kyl-Lieberman came out of the AIPAC lobby. Kyl-Lieberman are honorary co-chairs of the Committee on the Present Danger, and Lieberman is always honorary something at AIPAC. But Webb and Biden stood up on Iran. And I remember Biden, in one of the early primary debates, being very opposed to an aggressive rhetoric about Iran. In fact, I remember him saying that if you want to stop any possible Iranian nuclear program, the first thing you do is stop threatening regime change. Now, certainly that—.

MCGOVERN: And begin talking to them.

JAY: Yeah, and begin talking to them. And Obama’s been talking about unconditional negotiations. So just as a final question, just sort of a two-parter here, which is, one, there are times when some of the senators have stood up on something which is clearly an AIPAC-Israel lobby agenda and opposed it, Kyl-Lieberman being one. And number two, given that, one would think at least the media could remember that much, but you don’t get that in television media either.

MCGOVERN: Well, that’s true, but this was particularly insane. What was proposed, of course, is a blockade of Iran—an act of war—and the other legislation that had been proposed. And that was, you know, easier than usual to get people [inaudible] and say, “Look,” you know, “you really want to authorize or suggest to the president that he do an act of war against Iran?” So it was not a matter of great courage here, especially if Biden had his eye on being the vice presidential candidate—of course he’s going to fit in with Obama. And Obama, you know, who’s to dispute what Obama says? The sensible, human thing to do is to talk to the Iranians without preconditions, without saying, “You have to give us all we want before we talk to you.” How can that be defended? And so, yeah, it worked this time.

JAY: Just, Scott, final question for you, a follow-up on this. Is it possible what’s happening there was Biden and Webb were particularly close to the military leadership, and the military leadership, as far back as Kyl-Lieberman, did not want steps towards war. And certainly Mullen, when he was in Israel, made it very clear that he was not in favor of any Israeli attack on Iran. So are we seeing here in Biden and Webb a reflection of a split between the military leadership, the White House, and particularly in relationship to what to do with what Israel wants or doesn’t want?

RITTER: Look, there’s no doubt now in this post-Iraq phase of the global war on terror that there is some consternation in the military about being overstretched. I oftentimes bring up the reality that, you know, the Marine Corps prided itself on being the finest practitioner of combined-arms warfare, but today the Marine Corps can’t do its job because the Marine Corps has been solely focused on training and equipping its troops to fight this low-intensity conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s grave concern in the military that we are overstretched, we can’t do the job of defending the United States of America, and that an attack on Iran might even break the military completely, especially in light of the fact that, as the CIA points out in its estimate, Iran poses no threat whatsoever to the national security of the United States. And so we do have a case here, I believe, where the Pentagon’s advice is being heard and acted on by certain members of the United States Senate. In this case you pointed out Joe Biden and Jim Webb. But, again, they’re acting on it. I will never question Jim Webb. I have the highest respect for this former Marine. Joe Biden, however, political animal that he is, I have to wonder what the depth of his conviction truly is. Is he doing this because he believes we shouldn’t act on Iran? Or is he doing it because this is purely a partisan political ploy to position the Democratic Party in opposition to the Republicans on the issue of Iran? Only Joe Biden can answer that question. But the bottom line is I think it’s clear there are many members of the United States military today in senior levels who are hesitant about, you know, aggressively confronting Iran militarily on the issue of its nuclear program.

JAY: Well, thank you both very much for joining us. I hope we get a chance to do this again over the next few days, individually, perhaps, before the end of the RNC [Republican National Convention]. And thank everyone at home for joining us.

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