10/29/04 — The explosives: Another story on which red flags were ignored

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The explosives: Another story on which red flags were ignored

By now you have heard the story of the missing 377 tons of explosives in Iraq. Maybe you have even heard several versions of it. There are enough versions out there to provide a suitable one for anyone of any political persuasion.

Just a brief recap: The United Nations nuclear agency reported that the explosives were missing, and it sought to blame a lack of security by the occupying forces in Iraq. The New York Times broke the story, which seemed to call into question President Bush’s management of the war.

Later information indicated that the explosives probably were not lost by the coalition forces at all, but had been moved from the Al-Qaqaa munitions depot before the coalition forces got there.

That information, drastically changing the complexion of the story, was not exactly rushed into print by the New York Times. Neither was the Associated Press, which ran the story Monday, in a big hurry make an issue of the fact that it probably was untrue.

Neither were other media, and neither, of course, was the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry. Kerry called the loss of the explosives a horrible mistake by the Bush administration. Since the explosives may be used by insurgents, Kerry said, the Bush administration’s negligence was responsible for the killing or maiming of American soldiers. So far, no retraction, no apology from the Kerryites.

Like the Dan Rather story that was based on fake documents about President Bush’s National Guard service, this one was replete with red flags from the beginning.

The original source was Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian who directs the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. He and the Bush administration have been crosswise on the issues before. In fact, the administration and the U.N. as a whole have been at loggerheads. Wouldn’t you think that an accusation by an inimical U.N. official, dropped deliberately as the election was approaching, might call for a little verification?

Interestingly, what’s missing are HMX and RDX — conventional explosives but ones that are useful in the development of nuclear weapons. And, as has been pointed out since this controversy began, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used the Al-Qaqaa storage area as a key part of his effort to build a nuclear bomb.

That tells us that Saddam hoped to develop a nuclear weapon. Isn’t that important to the whole question of whether the United States was right in leading a coalition of nations against Saddam?

Here’s something else about the decision to invade Iraq:

It was based on intelligence reports that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. When none were found after the invasion, the decision was criticized in many countries and by Bush’s political enemies here at home.

This week, a deputy undersecretary of defense told the Washington Times that Russian soldiers “almost certainly” hauled the missing explosives to neighboring Mideast countries just before the coalition entered Iraq. That would mean that coalition forces were not responsible for their disappearance. More important, the specter of weapons being carted out in the weeks before the war raises the possibility that the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction might have been correct after all.

The story is credible because Russia had been a supplier of weapons to Saddam, and Russians had made money from the U.N.’s corrupt Oil for Food program.

Instead of being an indictment of the Bush administration, this story could end up validating it.

Published in Editorials on October 29, 2004 11:35 AM