TCS Daily

Explosive Suggestions

By Melana Zyla Vickers - October 29, 2004 12:00 AM

No sooner had the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency rushed to bail out John Kerry with the allegation that President Bush had personally mislaid 38 truckloads of high explosives in Iraq, than Kerry ran with it, calling the claim "devastating evidence that (the Bush) administration's failure here has put our troops and our citizens in greater danger."

So much for verifying the quality of intelligence. It now seems the explosives are as likely, or more likely, to have been driven off by Saddam's regime and its helpers during the actual war than to have been lost afterwards. Here are a few supporting reasons:

  * a cache of 377 tons of high explosive isn't something a claque of terrorists could easily hide under their tunics. To move the stuff they'd require, for instance, at least 38 ten-ton trucks. Yet the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq have no record of being able to stage such large-scale heists, or even medium-scale heists.

  * A U.S. army major said Friday he and his troops removed 250 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa site after Saddam's fall on April 9, 2009. Separately, a Pentagon photo shows tractor-trailers at the site in March, before Saddam's fall, suggesting materiel may have been removed by Saddam and his cronies. Earlier, the Pentagon said that U.S. troops who were there in April 2003 said the gates to the site were open. All this information contributes to uncertainty about the explosives, and makes a videotape shown by ABC TV Thursday night, featuring barrels of explosives at the site with what appear to be IAEA site, equally inconclusive. The ABC video doesn't show what looks like 380 tons, as the IAEA says. Nor does it look like 130 tons -- the IAEA quantity minus what the U.S. troops removed before Saddam's fall.

  * Russian special forces moved large quantities of Saddam's weapons into Syria before March 2003, according to the Washington Times. It's plausible that Moscow has more to do with the missing explosives than Washington does.

On top of all this, the explosives at the site represent a minute quantity of the weaponry available in Iraq -- and less than 0.1% of what the Bush administration has ordered seized and destroyed. The IAEA's focus on this particular cache is therefore suspect. But none of these elaborations is being touched by the Kerry camp, which seems to prefer to stick with the IAEA's initial declaration and the IAEA's standard policy of blaming the U.S. for various, global proliferation-related woes. Evidently, the easiest way for Kerry to reach his objective of having the UN onside in his foreign-affairs decisions is to let the UN make them.

And certainly, no one in the Kerry camp is drawing any parallels to the real, verifiable case of a U.S. administration letting terrorists get away with a large and deadly prize: The Clinton administration's 1996 decision to reject Sudan's offer to turn over Osama bin Laden himself. Why the silence? Because Kerry's top national-security adviser Susan Rice helped make the decision, according to a variety of news reports. In 1996, she was a member of Anthony Lake's National Security Council staff.

The Kerry team is also silent on how deeply his beloved United Nations was corrupted and bribed by Saddam Hussein through the Oil For Food program. The Wall Street Journal this week alleges that an Oil For Food program director, a French cabinet minister involved in the program, as well as a variety of Russian, French and Chinese interests received billions of dollars in oil contracts from Iraq. The oil money was not necessarily illegal, but Saddam officials say they awarded it in the way that would best influence the pro-Saddam policies of its recipients. The allegations are drawn from a new report to Congress by U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer and a UN report by Paul Volcker.

Could similar bribery schemes find their way into UN arrangements that Kerry would favor in Iran or North Korea? Kerry is silent on all UN flaws. He appears as eager to deflect criticism from his UN backers as the backers themselves are.

In this latest firestorm, there does remain a serious stain on the Bush administration record in Iraq: If the Bush team knew about Russian involvement in protecting Saddam and his weaponry, it did nothing about it. What's more, the administration keeps pussyfooting with Moscow's truculent ex-Communists as they meddle more heavily in other countries, including in Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine, by the day.

Not surprisingly, ill-conceived friendliness with Moscow is not where John Kerry has been focusing his criticism. But if Americans are to trust Kerry with foreign policy decisions, they should expect him to vet those he trusts -- the UN, Susan Rice, Sandy Berger, Moscow, Paris -- much more closely than he does.


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