Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 25, 2004
POLITICS: Explosive Charge

The NY Times - with the assistance, predictably, of 60 Minutes - is pushing a story about explosive stockpiles in Iraq that have been unaccounted for since the invasion. Why now? I'll leave that to the reader. But the relevant questions about what's missing from this story are asked by Captain Ed, Geraghty, the Minute Man, Henke, and John Cole.

UPDATE: Andrew McCarthy at NRO argues that the existence of the explosives in question constitute yet another example of Saddam's violations of UN resolutions, one UN inspectors apparently decided to let slide because Saddam's regime told them that the explosives could conceivably have non-military applications. And remember, this particular cache was just a small proportion of Saddam's explosives stockpiles, in addition to all the other problems with his regime. Oh, but "the sanctions were working," right?

ONE MORE UPDATE: Geraghty, who's been on this story all day, quotes NBC News Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski saying that the NBC News crew embedded with the 101st Airborne during the war confirms that the missing explosives were already gone when the 101st Airborne arrived at the site on April 10, 2003, the day after the fall of Baghdad. More here from what appears to be a contemporaneous report of what some parts of the 101st (recall that a division is more than 10,000 troops) was tasked with that day:

U.S. Army soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division began an offensive to root out the Fedayeen paramilitary fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein from Hillah.

The troops encountered resistance almost immediately on entering the city. About 200 Fedayeen fighters on pick-up trucks counter-attacked with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Several Iraqi tanks also fired rounds at U.S. tanks.

U.S. forces responded with tank fire, artillery, and air strikes. Scores of Iraqi troops were killed during the four-hour battle. Three U.S. soldiers were wounded.

A lieutenant colonel with the 101st Airborne, Rick Carlson, says his soldiers, conducting a building-to-building search of the city, discovered what he called a "gigantic" warehouse full of weapons and ordnance.

Other weapons were found inside schools. He says the soldiers searched school buildings because that is where U.S. troops in neighboring cities of Najaf and Karbala have uncovered large weapons caches:

"Every school that we have encountered in those three regions has been used as a weapons depot. So, whenever we have gone into a (militarily) built-up area, we go straight to a school."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:50 PM | Politics 2004 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

OK, I don't know how important this stockpile actually was - although I think it's more than the ".02%" Captain Ed's trying to sell. The term "high explosive" is a little vague, but this certainly sounds like something you'd want to try and keep track of. And, yes, it may have been moved before the U.S. troops got there, but we don't know how far it was moved, or whether more effort could have found it. We knew that this stuff was there - really knew, it was in the inspection reports, and there doesn't seem to have been more than a cursory effort to find out what happened to it.

Granted, I don't know nearly enough about the details of this situation to make an informed judgement about whether someone in the military screwed up - but neither does any other blogger. I don't think it looks good, though.

What's really bad about this, as usual, though, is the coverup. This wasn't reported to the IAEA for well over a year, and the Administration tried to keep the Iraqis from informing them. (And this had a significant impact in the timing you're complaining about.) And the lame attempts to say that we didn't want to give information to the enemy don't hold water. Were we keeping quiet because we were still trying to track the stuff down? No one's made any serious claims about that. Naturally, the cover-up aspects of the story are being ignored by the Bush-supporting commentators.

I still think it's more important than Kerry's stories about the UN.

Posted by: Devin McCullen at October 25, 2004 2:55 PM

Hey, as Rummy says, stuff happens! I feel fully confident that this administration has learned from its myriad mistakes and will not only be 100% successful in securing the peace in Iraq, but will be just as successful in any further nation-building excercises it deems necessary. Kudos for a bang-up job and here's to the Brits who I'm sure are chomping at the bit to join us on our next excursion!

Posted by: C Giddy at October 25, 2004 4:06 PM

Amazing, Crank gets all cranked up about the timing of this report, but never questions the timing of the Washington Times report on Kerry's allegations about meeting with ALL of the security council members.

He's given us a huge discourse on why the allegations about Kerry are so important, and has even given kudos to the hard work of the bloggers.

I'm sure we can expect a huge discourse on why the 380 missing TONS (760,000 pounds) means little once the Crank gets home and gets all of his domestic responsibilities out of the way.

Posted by: C Giddy at October 25, 2004 4:28 PM

I don't doubt that the timing of the WaTimes article was intended to influence the election. Although frankly, it's a story that could and should have been unearthed last December when Kerry started making this claim (and might have been if Kerry hadn't been able to march under the radar while Howard Dean was wearing the bullseye).

I think the other guys have this story covered just fine - it is a big deal, but (1) it's very unclear whether this stuff really disappeared before or after the invasion, especially when you consider the story's sources and their incentives, (2) the dangers posed by this type of conventional explosive in the wrong hands further underline, for about the thousandth time, why it's silly to keep arguing that Saddam was not dangerous to anyone, (3) the vastly larger amount of explosives that have been interdicted give a sense of the difficulties of securing everything instantaneously upon the collapse of resistance in Baghdad.

More broadly, you have to get out of the defensive mindset. We can never completely control or interdict the flow of people, weapons, money, drugs, etc. This is why you have to target the sources, both directly and by in terrorem effects, and not rely on your ability to secure every square inch of the globe. That's as true for the war on drugs, or gun control, or efforts to stem illegal immigration as the war on terror, by the way; it's much more effective to work at eliminating supply and/or demand, and in the interim work at using incentives to raise transaction costs, rather than hoping on the ability to do 100% interdiction.

Posted by: The Crank at October 25, 2004 4:42 PM

I can't really argue too strongly with anything the Crank says in his response; I'll just reiterate my point that it's not the crime, it's the coverup. And Scott McClellan's attempts to dump the blame off on the Iraqis don't pass the smell test.

Posted by: Devin McCullen at October 25, 2004 5:37 PM

Munitions vs. HMX and RDX.

Not just HMX and RDX but 760,000 pounds of the stuff.

Less than one pound of RDX or HMX was enough to bring down a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland.

I don't know, but if munitions being secured are artillery shells and RPGs, and the stuff not being secured is this HMX and RDX stuff, it hardly seems comparable.

And yes, it certainly prooves that Saddam was a danger because he could've given this away at anytime.

The staggaring irony is that the bad guys got the stuff anyways! Yes, we took the fight to them, and they're now using the explosives there as opposed to here....what's the message, Thank god their using it on our soldiers and not on our civilians?

Don't forget, you're arguing with a number of guys out there who supported the war, just not its plan or execution. With each passing day it appears we most definitely rushed to war. This is not an isolated example of poor planning, it just happens to be the latest, and perhaps the most egregious.

Also, Josh Marshall over at has been doing a pretty good job of showing how much the government is spinning the issue and trying to take people's eyes off of the coverup.

But Dammit, that John Kerry still makes me so angry for claiming to have spoken to the entire Security Council when he actually missed more than a few of them!

Posted by: C Giddy at October 25, 2004 6:08 PM

Spin? From a White House press secretary a week before an election? The horror!

Posted by: The Crank at October 25, 2004 6:24 PM

I'd be very interested to read exactly what Marshall has wrong on this story.

As he's reporting it, it's not merely embarassing for the President--it's a tragedy for the troops and for our country's security.

I write this as someone who understood and supported a U.S. role in pressuring Irag militarily, and even supported unilateral U.S. action IF inspection goals would not have been met.

Posted by: hometeamloses at October 25, 2004 8:39 PM

Well, I'm not here to plow through all the spin Josh Marshall dishes out in a day. Let's just say I don't have much faith in his judgment or track record.

Posted by: The Crank at October 25, 2004 9:00 PM

That last insinuation that Marshall is somehow deficient could distract from the story at hand --it's only a couple of days old.

Marshall's professionalism and reliability could be taken up after the election. He is highly respected and less shrill than the wignuts on either side.

Let's address the facts without the wolves or eagles.

By the way, notice how the insinuation in the wolves ad was that Kerry cut funding after 9/11. Misleading, and indicative that Rove et al are grasping for straws in attacking Kerry's record.

That said, I wouldn't bet against them. Rove, especially, has a hell of a track record.

For a viewpoint on the electionthat those on the right might othwerwise miss, I hope this is informative (and, no it is not Josh Marshall --quite the opposite)

Posted by: hometeamloses at October 25, 2004 9:15 PM

You won't plow through Marshall's trail administration statements that answer many of the questions of timeliness that you have.

But you will plow through every right wing blog looking for support and every major US Newspaper looking for another example of bias?

Posted by: C Giddy at October 25, 2004 9:34 PM

Just looked at Marshall, he's got nothing much that's on point - he's mostly wrapped up in who looked where and when months after April 2003. To rebut the contention that the key stuff was gone by April 2003, all he's got is one named source saying it may have been gone, and one anonymous source saying it wasn't.

Look, I and other right-leaning bloggers have chased too damn many stories down the Josh Marshall rabbit hole over the past two years to believe even a quarter of what I see on his site, let alone drop everything we're doing every time Marshall decides that the sky is falling, which is damn near every day.

Posted by: The Crank at October 25, 2004 9:51 PM

A couple of thoughts here...

A lot of the war analysis is being done with non-normalized data. Yes they lost such and such explosives, but that needs to be put in context. If they captured 99% of all munitions, then they are doing a good job, if that represented 50% then they are probably not doing a good job. This is not specific to this issue, another example would be casualty reporting. Its like a baseball analyst talking about runs and rbi. At its best its intellectually lazy at its worst its fraudulent in an attempt to swing an election.

Second of all cries of a cover up are rediculous. First of all no politician is going to talk about a mistake that sounds this bad on the eve of an election. Second of all its a freaking war people, all information is considered vital, you reveal nothing. The criticism of cover-up leads me to believe you would have criticized the British for not openly talking about breaking Enigma to the press during WWII. All information is important. If you have information about the enemy's capabilities, you conceal and lie' about what you know. In fact you SHOULD use the press to your advantage since it goes without saying that the enemy is following our press.

The reason there are house and senate intelligence commitees is to provide checks and balances on these sorts of information. [RANT]Of course as Kerry supporters I understand why you'd have little faith in those committees, since your guy never even bothers to go.[/RANT]

Posted by: bwright at October 26, 2004 9:34 AM

Yeah, I expect McClellan to spin. But he's saying that taking care of this was the Iraqis' responsibility, which is kind of strange given that (according to the other argument) it disappeared before the invasion took place. This is exactly the sort of thing that used to get you guys so mad at Clinton. If we checked and knew the stuff was missing, it should have been reported to the IAEA, unless we were doing something about finding it, which there is ZERO evidence for so far. Losing track of this may well have been an understandable misfortune, but the way it was handled just illustrates the Administration's complete unwillingness to accept responsibility for any mistake.

Posted by: Devin McCullen at October 26, 2004 12:09 PM
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