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October 26, 2004

Bush Is Making Us Safer?


by Juan Cole

The complete lack of interest of the Bush administration in actually securing dangerous materials connected to the old, abandoned Iraqi nuclear program has long belied Bush's stated concern with Iraq's alleged weapons as a pretext for the war.

James Glanz, William J. Broad, and David E. Sanger with Khalid al-Ansary reveal in the New York Times today that the Bush administration allowed 380 tons of super-powerful explosives to disappear from al-Qaqaa, one of Iraq's sensitive military installations, after the war in the spring of 2003. These are not ordinary bombs. This explosive material, HMX and RDX, can be used to detonate atomic bombs, collapse buildings, and form warheads for missiles. A pound of it brought down a passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

A lot of the roadside bombs that have killed hundreds of U.S. troops and maimed thousands have been made of HMX and RDX, as suggested by how infrequently the guerrillas have blown themselves up in planting them. HMX and RDX are favored by terrorists because they are stable and will only explode via a blasting cap.

Incredibly, the International Atomic Energy Commission and European Union officials warned Bush before the war that these explosives needed to be safeguarded.

Josh Marshall is suspicious that this major screw-up has been known to the Bush administration for some time, and that it may have pressured the Iraqi government not to mention it.

If Bush cannot even protect our troops from explosives at a sensitive facility in a country he had conquered, how is he going to protect the American public from terrorists who have not even yet been identified?

The disappearance of these explosives is yet one more disaster caused by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's mania to send a small military force into Iraq. Rumsfeld overruled the officers in the Pentagon, who wanted hundreds of thousands of troops and knew that many would be needed to secure the country after the war. Why hasn't Rumsfeld been fired? He ran Iraq for most of the last 18 months, and it is beginning to be as cratered as the dark side of the moon.

Only two weeks ago, The International Atomic Energy Commission reported that not only had dual-use equipment been stripped from an old Iraq nuclear weapons facility, but even the buildings had been stripped and dismantled. Mohamed ElBaradei said that some of the nuclear material stolen from facilities in Iraq has already begun showing up in other countries. But the dual-use equipment, which has applications in nuclear weapons construction, has disappeared. (Hmm. I wonder which neighbor of Iraq might be desperately at work on a nuclear bomb and might be willing to pay top dollar for such equipment?) How bad a job Bush is doing is clear when we consider that we might well be relieved to know that this equipment went to Iran, since that means bin Laden doesn't have it.

So let me ask this again: Bush is making us safer? The American public trusts him to fight terror more effectively than Kerry? On what record? Bush appears to have all but just called up Osama and Khamenei and told them where Saddam's old stuff was in case they needed it for their programs. And he politely made sure that no pesky U.S. troops would be around to impede their access.

Bush administration spokesmen are being careful to say that the hundreds of tons of explosives stolen from al-Qaqaa are not themselves useful as fissile material, i.e., they are not enriched uranium or plutonium.

But the fact is that one of the first such "missing deadly weapons" scandals to break in Iraq had to do with the disappearance of radioactive materials from Tuwaitha. This theft was known already in the summer of 2003, and worries were expressed that that material could be used to make a dirty bomb.

So Bush not only failed to have al-Qaqaa guarded against theft of HMX and RDX, not only failed to guard against theft of dual-use equipment from a long-defunct nuclear program site, but also failed to do the elementary work of ensuring that the notorious al-Tuwaitha facility was secured against the theft of radioactive materials!

Since Tuwaitha was the great bugaboo impelling the Iraq war in the first place, you would imagine that Bush would have sent out a unit to secure and search it immediately. But no, he politely let the looters have a look around first, waiting in line.

I know someone is going to write me asking whether the existence of all this equipment and dangerous explosives doesn't prove that Saddam still had an active weapons program. The answer is a categorical "no." A lot of this stuff was left over from the 1980s when there had been such active programs, which were abandoned after the Gulf War. Ironically, the bits and pieces Saddam still had were useless to a major state. But they could be stolen and cobbled together by a small band of terrorists to deadly effect.

I just don't feel any safer with Bush in the White House. Maybe it is just me.

Reuters has the main stories of mayhem in Iraq on Sunday. The big one is of the cold-blooded murder of nearly 50 Iraqi army recruits in Diyala province. They were killed Mafia-style, a bullet in the back of the head. They were unarmed and being trucked back from their training. This was obviously an inside job, since the guerrillas knew where they were and that they were unarmed. Iraqi al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, which is plausible since Monotheism and Holy War does hate Shi'ites, and the troops were poor Shi'ites from the south.

I Googled Ed Seitz, the State Department security official killed by a mortar shell on Sunday. The story of his death at the hands of nativist Iraqi guerrillas is even more complicated and poignant if it is true that he was a crusader against the anti-globalization movement who tried to keep Canadian anarchists out of the U.S. and used to ask them where bin Laden is. The contrast of the demand for open borders for corporate purposes and for closed borders with regard to ideas is striking. In some ways, Iraq is proving highly resistant to the distinction, and is if anything turning it on its head. Companies are being chased out of Iraq, but all sorts of ideas are swirling in from Iraq's neighbors and from the United States and Europe.


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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.

     

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