Deadly Dual Use Explosives Missing

Deadly Dual Use Explosives Missing: Part Deux

The politicization of news in the United States has reached such an embarrassing point that what Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney thinks about what was going on in Iraq in April of 2003 is being reported by the press in an article on the weapons’ disappearance, even though he was not there and knows nothing about it and speaks in the subjunctive. The proper journalistic judgment on such a statement? Treat it on the op-ed page but keep it away from news sections unless the story is on Cheney’s claims in his speeches.

Despite the new attempt to defend Bush from charges of incompetence over the disappearance of 380 tons of dual-use explosives (which can be used to detonate nuclear bombs) from the al-Qaqaa facility in Iraq, there is really no excuse. The Pentagon’s attempt to maintain that the facility was inspected in early April by US troops has fallen apart. It has 1000 buildings, and the troops had no orders to search them exhaustively. Thus, the statement that they did not see the stickers of the International Atomic Energy Commission does not in fact suggest that the explosives were already gone. It indicates that they didn’t have time to see much of the facility.

The gravity of the disappearance of these explosives cannot be underscored enough. Not only can they help in the detonation of a nuclear bomb, they are deadly in their own right. A pound can bring down a jetliner. There are 2000 pounds in a ton. Bush let enough high-power explosives disappear to bring down (God forbid) 760,000 airliners! What if this stuff leaks from Iraq to al-Qaeda?

Initial Bush administration responses to the scandal depended on NBC news reporting which, however, did not say what the administration said it said. The embedded NBC reporter has now clarified that the 101st Infantry did reach al-Qaqaa a week after the 3rd ID, but did not inspect the site. Its commander told CBS he would have needed 4 times as many troops as he had to do that job on top of everything else. Probably the entire US military needed 4 times as many troops as they had in Iraq.

The Bush administration’s attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public fails on several grounds. First, there is every indication that al-Qaqaa was not secured and could not have been secured. That is because Bush did not send enough troops to Iraq to do the job that needed to be done. It was Bush’s decision, not Rumsfeld. At this late date surely Bush’s tendency to farm out blame to his cabinet for his own decisions, and then to decline to hold his cabinet members responsible for mistakes, must be completely rejected. The buck stops with the president. Bush decided to send such a small army to Iraq that the place immediately fell apart in an orgy of uncontrollable looting. This development is not the fault of the Iraqis. The sudden removal of the structures of government regularly produces this result in history. There was looting when the electricity went out in New York in 1977. It is Bush’s fault.

Second, although the disappearance of the RDX and HMX is frightening, it is only one of many such scandals. Dual-use equipment and even nuclear material was also looted (most of the nuclear material has thankfully been recovered, no thanks to Bush).

Third, this charade of looking around for lowly GIs to get the blame off Bush about al-Qaqaa is just public relations. The fact is that there are people in the Pentagon and the CIA who know exactly what happened there. This is because al-Qaqaa was certainly under US satellite surveillance in spring of 2003. The United States had extensive satellite surveillance of Iraqi weapons sites, some of the techniques of which Colin Powell revealed at the United Nations Security Council. Although the interpretation of the photos turns out to be more difficult than proponents of the technology admitted, some basic things can be seen. For instance, trucks moving 380 tons of explosives from a sensitive facility could certainly be spotted. An automobile typically weighs two tons, so this is like moving 190 automobiles. It is a big operation and would show up clearly in the aerial photographs. That information like this is still probably classified, even though the Saddam government is long gone and there is no compelling national security need to keep it secret, underlines how easy it is for governments with billions of dollars in high tech surveillance equipment to manipulate a democratic public. It is a shell game, with information being shifted around and then hidden.

And if all else fails, you just muddy the waters with some cock and bull story that you know the party faithful will swallow and which will create doubt in the minds of the independents.

We have seen the debasement of discourse reach the point where George W. Bush can actually deny that he let Bin Laden escape at Tora Bora, and then can use John Kerry’s simple statement of that fact as a means of indicting John Kerry. Bush portrayed Kerry in one speech as cocky and too sure of himself for making the charge. Numerous eyewitnesses from among captured Taliban and al-Qaeda confirm Kerry’s allegation. The way Bush gets away with this is that the journalists are not calling him on it.

The Bush administration is now using the same rhetorical strategy with regard to al-Qaqaa. You label a true charge false or hasty. And then you use your own lie to impugn the character of your opponent, who is now accused of being hasty in his judgment or of being dishonest or guilty of poor fact checking.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even tried to dismiss the missing explosives story by comparing to the story of the looting of the Baghdad Museum. He seems to want to say that the museum was not in fact looted. But of course it was. Indeed, as a historian of Iraq I weep every day that apparently the archives of the entire period of the constitutional monarchy (1922-1958) were burned or disappeared. That would be as though the US National Archives records for everything from the Roaring Twenties through the Depression, WW II, and the Eisenhower Administration had completely disappeared off the face of the earth. The rightwing revisionist story that the looting never happened is itself a myth. So Rumsfeld disproves a true charge by comparing it to another true charge that he has incorrectly labeled a myth, thereby discrediting both.

The presidential election of 2004 is a test of Lincoln’s assertion that you can’t fool all the people all the time. At the very least, if Bush is put back in it will demonstrate that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.