Ritter's Repudiation Ritual

By David Swanson

In March 2006, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter posted an article online proposing that the antiwar movement learn techniques from warriors. Ritter developed the article into the recently released book “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement.” At the same time, Ritter has just posted online a new provocative article urging the impeachment movement to advocate instead for “repudiation.” There is some reason to hope that this new article will not come back as a book in 2008.

Whatever Ritter writes about peace and impeachment, he has already done tremendous service through his truth telling about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction. Ritter spoke up prior to, as well as during, the occupation of Iraq. He and I have spoken on panels together, and I find him a much better speaker than writer. While the peace movement is very far from victory, it has made more progress than Ritter believes, and he himself has been a significant part of that.

His new book on “the art of war for the antiwar movement” will strike many peace advocates, just from the title and the vocabulary, as about as sensible as a book on “the art of peace for the Pentagon.” But it does not take much effort to ignore the warrior vocabulary and realize that all Ritter means by it is seriousness. He wants to see a serious, centralized, strategic organization work in a disciplined manner to end the occupation of Iraq. I do too, and I join Mike Ferner in applauding Ritter for such a proposal. But trying to find a guide to such work in Ritter’s book leads only to disappointment.

Peace activists should be familiar with Gene Sharp’s “Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential.” That’s a book that uses the same vocabulary of “waging” and “struggle,” but offers specific substantive guidance in how to do it. The reason that at least some peace activists are not attracted to Ritter’s advice is not that they oppose disciplined struggle, but rather that they read his writing and fail to find anything useful in it. Maybe they should heed Ritter’s call for serious strategy and go read Sharp.

Ritter’s book comes with this Table of Contents:

1.-On Losing
2.-Waging Peace
3.-The Art of War
4.-Decision Making
5.-Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
6.-Strategy, Operations, Tactics and the Art of Campaigning
7.-Organization and Incident Command

I think a more revealing rewrite of this would be:

1.-Ritter’s Misunderstanding of the American People
2.-The Constitution on a Bumper Sticker Can Save You
3.-Ritter’s Biography Fascinates its Author
4.-Let a Stupid Acronym Think for You
5.-Make That Two Stupid Acronyms
6.-More Reasons Why Scott Ritter Really Should Have Something to Say
7.-Conclusive Evidence That He Does Not

This is a book that opens with a lengthy throat clearing. We’re not winning, the occupation of Iraq is not ending, and I’m about to tell you why, really I am, as soon as I fully explain why I’m the one who knows all about it, I really am about to tell you, here it comes now… and so on until you reach full copies of the US Constitution and the UN Charter packed into the back of the book as filler.

Ritter focuses on public opinion as what needs to be won over, but on the failures of the US Congress as the unacceptable results. He thinks that the antiwar movement, as currently composed, lacks even “a chance of prevailing with the American people.” This ignores public opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans favor ending the occupation of Iraq. Ritter also does not address the fact that actions of Congress so often fail to follow majority opinion. He’s too focused on the shortcomings of peace activists.

“The mainstream media,” Ritter writes, “treats the antiwar movement as a joke because many times that is exactly what the antiwar movement, through its lack of preparation and grasp of the facts, allows itself to become.” Of course, peace activists could often be better prepared, but they are very seldom given access to corporate media, no matter how prepared they are. Ritter was well prepared to discuss the WMD claims even prior to the invasion, and how many times was he put on television to do so?

Of course we should have better researchers and messaging strategists, but we would be quite foolish to expect that to solve the problem of the media. We would also be foolish not to be wary of the forces of institutionalization. Did the antiwar movement have the money to develop such institutions, the pressure would be intense for them to, like MoveOn.org or the Center for American Progress or the Campaign for America’s Future, drift away from actually opposing the occupation. In fact, if the antiwar movement or any other justice movement or collection of justice movements had serious funding, I would advocate not for better lobbyists of GE, Viacom, Disney, and Fox, but for the creation of a television network that actually reports the news.

Sadly, for all Ritter’s talk about intelligence and education, he is silent on this point. Meanwhile, every election cycle, the progressive groups that Ritter so disdains self-destructively dump advertising dollars into networks that destroy those groups’ agendas every day of the year – enough dollars to have created a real news network. The antiwar movement, however, is running on bare bones funding. The largest expense I can recall any peace group shelling out for in the past few years has been, in fact, a speaking fee for Scott Ritter. I would feel better about seeing speakers for peace request and accept such enormous fees if the books those fees allowed them to write were worth reading.

The closest Ritter comes to offering guidance in his book is his predictable insistence that we need a simple dumbed-down message the size of a bumper sticker. He claims the religious right has succeeded by virtue of the slogan “Guns, God, Gays.” But the religious right reaches people through lengthy sermons on Sundays. It changes their world-view. A bumper sticker can only latch onto someone’s existing world-view. And “Guns, God, Gays,” is not a slogan in support of those three things, or for the first two and against the third. Rather, it’s a criticism of the religious right by its critics. And when Ritter claims that the religious right has won over public opinion on these issues, in contrast to progressives or peace advocates on their issues, he again cites no polls to back this up. (A quick look at polls suggests that, for example, the right to an assault weapon is not more popular than the right to health care.) Nor does Ritter even appear aware that the three positions of the religious right he discusses (the right to own a gun, theism, condemnation of homosexuality) have been with us for centuries and are now threatened. The same goes for war. The progressive positions that Ritter lists on pages 18-19 are almost all promoting a change from the tradition of centuries past.

So, based on the “Guns, God, Gays” example that is flawed in so many ways, what slogan does Ritter suggest for the peace movement? The United States Constitution. I kid you not. We should put the whole Constitution on a bumper sticker. Ritter says not one word about current slogans (like “Bring Them Home,” or “End the Occupation”) or what’s wrong with those. Instead he drifts off into advocating that people read the Constitution, in the same breath in which he’s told us that people only have the capacity for 3-word messages. Oh – and we should take as our models… (wait for it)… firemen. My son likes that advice, but he one year old. Personally, I wonder whether the firemen’s’ union’s early endorsement of John Kerry was such a wise move, and whether it brought the antiwar movement a clear and concise message.

The other place we’re supposed to look for model behavior is, of course, the life of Scott Ritter. Ritter criticizes Cindy Sheehan for praising immigrants rights advocates’ success in mobilizing large marches, because Congress has not heeded their demands. But Ritter describes his leadership of UN inspections as model behavior and success, although Congress paid no more attention to him than it has to immigrants’ rights groups.

Perhaps, though, I am wrong in understanding Ritter to really care what Congress does. When, in his recent article, he opposes impeachment in favor of something called “repudiation” his goal appears to be a shift in public opinion for its own sake. But with Bush and Cheney already scraping bottom in opinion polls, it’s hard to know what MORE repudiation Ritter would like to see. At least 109 towns and cities have passed resolutions demanding impeachment. At least 11 state legislatures have taken up similar resolutions. We could pass such measures in thousands of towns and all 50 states. We could march around the White House chanting “We Repudiate Thee,” but what would it accomplish unless it helped move Congress toward impeachment? If we’d “repudiated” Nixon and kept impeachment off the table, Ritter might have appreciated the unbroken Republican rule that would have followed Nixon’s completion of his term, but would Ritter have appreciated being sent to the ongoing occupation of Vietnam? The impeachment movement, in the analysis of Daniel Ellsberg, was critical to ending that war.

Ritter proposes tossing a copy of the Constitution at a religious righter and asking them to find God in it. I propose handing one to Ritter and asking him to find repudiation in it. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see a crowd jump around “repudiating” the White House, and I’m all for levitating the Pentagon too. But there is only one way to remove Bush and Cheney from office, and that must be done if we are going to end the occupation of Iraq. Ritter is well aware that the candidates for emperor in 2009 from both major parties cannot be trusted to fully end the occupation or to not start a new one in another nation. Ritter recognizes that if there is no accountability for what Bush and Cheney have done, future administrations are more likely to do the same. And yet, Ritter appears not to have read the document he so wants us to read that he printed it in his book.

Reclaiming the Constitution means reading it carefully. In six places it mentions impeachment. In not one does it mention slogans or bumper stickers or acronyms or the arts of war. It does not mention election procedures or political parties or corporations. The authors of the Constitution thought we could figure out how to put people in power and how to sell stuff to each other. But they put great care and a central focus on how to remove elected despots between elections. They had just used the arts of war to overthrow the rule of a king. They were thinking exactly as Ritter would have had them think. And they thought of impeachment. They expected the practice of impeaching presidents to be common and frequent, and they viewed it as critical to maintaining public control, through the House of Representatives, over the executive and judicial branches.

Ritter thinks that if we impeach and remove Bush and Cheney we will simply replace them with new tyrants. The authors of our Constitution considered that entirely possible. Their advice would have been to impeach the new tyrants as well. But here’s what we know for certain. If we do not impeach Bush and Cheney and remove them from office, we will not end the occupation of Iraq any time soon, and we will elect nothing but tyrants to follow the current ones, tyrants with a precedent licensing their tyranny.

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