October 28, 2004

HEY, A TIMES-TESTED, KERRY-APROVED A PRETEXT!:

Russia tied to Iraq's missing arms (Bill Gertz, 10/27/04, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, "almost certainly" removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad.

"The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units," Mr. Shaw said. "Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units."

Mr. Shaw, who was in charge of cataloging the tons of conventional arms provided to Iraq by foreign suppliers, said he recently obtained reliable information on the arms-dispersal program from two European intelligence services that have detailed knowledge of the Russian-Iraqi weapons collaboration.

Most of Saddam's most powerful arms were systematically separated from other arms like mortars, bombs and rockets, and sent to Syria and Lebanon, and possibly to Iran, he said.


Kind of nice to start the second term with a reason to regime-change Syria gift-wrapped by your foes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2004 12:04 AM
Comments

Extreme rope-a-dope. Been waiting for this many moons ... 19 to be exact. Hope it's a legit story.

Posted by: ghostcat at October 28, 2004 1:05 AM

Did Putin get a heads-up, I wonder? We'll know soon enough, cuz if Putin had a chance to prepare for this piece of news coming out, he'll have his internal rivals all lined up to take the fall. Swift & public.

Posted by: ras at October 28, 2004 4:10 AM

As regards the swing voter, this whole story of the missing explosives is, depending on how you look at it, anywhere between devastating and somewhat negative for Bush, and either neutral or slightly positive for Kerry.

Every media cycle dominated by some variation of this story and its confusing meanderings is a net negative for Bush, as it prevents him from shining as Commander in Chief.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 7:37 AM

Creeper:

To the contrary--it's excellent for Bush. All anyone takes away from the story is that contrary to what they've been hearing Saddam did have WMD.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 8:27 AM

ras;

What fall? Nothing will be done in Russia about this. This is the same Russia that is actively aiding Iran in acquiring nuclear weapons. Consider that and tell me that

  1. Putin will punish anyone for helping Iraq and Syria with their WMD
  2. Russia is a serious particpant in the "War on Terro"

Where was the punishment for Russia actively helping out the Ba'ath right up until the invasion? We've known about that for years, yet Russia suffered in no way for it. Why is this revelation going to be any different?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 28, 2004 9:09 AM

OJ,

"All anyone takes away from the story is that contrary to what they've been hearing Saddam did have WMD."

Since the 'WMD' in question was known to the international community and under the aegis of the UN/IAEA (and under lock and key up to the invasion), this hardly confirms Bush's stance that Saddam had WMD that he was hiding successfully from the international community.

On the contrary, if it shows anything, it shows that the UN inspectors were controlling this cache until the US took over. It speaks against Bush and for the UN. As such, the more the details of this are chewed over in one news cycle after another, the weaker Bush's positions look.

I still think that every media cycle dominated by the increasingly complex back and forth of this issue is a negative (at best neutral) for Bush, and a positive (at worst neutral) for Kerry. More so, it appears that the Bush campaign is on the back foot and is unable to control/steer the discussion at this point.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 9:38 AM

Saddam had WMD--if Kerry had been president he'd still have them. It undermines the entire case against the war.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 10:30 AM

Interestingly, Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita is not supporting the "Russians ate my homework" theory. Says DiRita: I am unaware of any particular information on that point.

Why is that, do you think?

Possibility 1: the Administration knows the Russians did not take the explosives.

Possibility 2: The Russians took the explosives, which the administration knows, but it would be embarrassing or impolitic to admit that.

Possibility 3: The administration does not know whether the Russians took the explosives.

Which of these reflects credit on the Administration's postwar planning?

Posted by: mumbles at October 28, 2004 10:48 AM

mumbles:

Time to MoveOn -- you're fretting about the past when we've been handed the next war on a platter.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 10:55 AM

"Saddam had WMD"

Do you mean at the time when Bush decided to go to war? I thought the consensus on that was that he didn't have WMD, but had "WMD-related program activities" and the intent to make WMD at some future date. Or did you mean something else?

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 10:58 AM

None of this plays well for Bush, and it actually undermines his primary case for war (that Saddam mustn't be allowed to hand off WMD to global terrorist organizations).

His secondary case (turning Iraq into a model democracy so that the Middle East will turn into free pro-Western democracies) has already been annihilated by his administration's abysmal post-war planning.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 11:03 AM

creeper:

Isn't the premise of the story that Saddam had WMD at al-qaqa and it's gone now?

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 11:31 AM

OJ,

hardly.

The premise of the story is that there were explosives under IAEA seal that had been there, secured and sealed, up to the invasion. And that then disappeared, either as a result of the invasion or the chaotic post-invasion security situation.

We did not invade Iraq so we could secure or destroy anything that was already confiscated or set to be destroyed by UNMOVIC or IAEA. We went in because we thought Saddam was hiding something. Clearly he wasn't hiding this batch, since it was known to us, and out of Saddam's hands.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 11:39 AM

"it actually undermines his primary case for war (that Saddam mustn't be allowed to hand off WMD to global terrorist organizations)."

"Isn't the premise of the story that Saddam had WMD at al-qaqa and it's gone now?"

What we wanted was for something that wasn't in our control (Saddam's hidden WMD) to come under our control (for us to find such caches and secure them and/or destroy them).

What happened was that we had something in our control (sealed and secured caches of explosives) and then lost control of them (through looting).

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 11:44 AM

So Saddam did have WMD as testified by the IAEA?

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 11:50 AM

Saddam had WMD, and was being enabled by the IAEA (to keep them).

Now there's a story for the front page of the NYT. Not!

Tons and tons of explosives for construction. Just like the helicopters after Desert Storm.

Damascus, here we come!

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 28, 2004 2:11 PM

OJ,

"So Saddam did have WMD as testified by the IAEA?"

I freely admit that I, like most people on these blogs, am just another armchair general. Though I don't know if the same applies to you, I will for the time being assume that you are that too that you are not somebody who was actually there and in on the decision making.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as they have been defined in the context of the Iraq debate were always taken to mean nukes and/or biological/chemical weapons. A layman could easily count a daisy-cutter, an H-bomb or a Kalashnikov as a weapon of mass destruction, but for the purpose of the Iraq discussion both in public discourse and in debate in the UN Security Council, the above definition is, as far as I'm aware, pretty much it.

Now, as far as I understand the significance of this missing cache of RDX and HMX, they are high-grade explosives, but do not fall into any of those three categories. The reason they caught the attention of the IAEA (and were secured and sealed by them) was that they can be used to build a nuclear bomb, ie. they are suited to create the inward blast/implosion that is needed to cause the chain reaction that makes a nuclear bomb work.

Looks like dual-use, and the IAEA was erring on the side of caution in securing them.

That's my understanding of the matter from what I've read so far. Anybody have any additional/contradictory information, I'd be very happy to hear it.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 2:45 PM

creeper;

Yes, but by acting so hysterical as regards a minor story you guys are making it seem like these are nuclear weapons. You're reinforcing the Administration's position, not your own.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 3:28 PM

Frankly, OJ, I hadn't seen anybody pushing that interpretation too hard - that this is just more proof that Saddam did have WMD or was pursuing them.

I have a hunch why that is: it's because what Bush as Commander in Chief (where does the buck stop again?) chose to do about that - about the possibility of anybody looting those WMD both in terms of planning and leadership while it was happening is just so incredibly irresponsible and inadequate.

On a sidenote: it really doesn't help that the first person to come out and explicitly blame the troops on the ground for this (even though they were following orders and did a fantastic job in invading Iraq) came from a Republican:

"No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?"

I'm sure that'll go over well with the troops.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 3:45 PM

creeper:

I'll bet you a soda pop the Kerry camp and the networks drop the story after another day of poll numbers come in--it's killing them. All people come away with is Saddam had WMD.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 3:52 PM

OJ,

I won't take that bet, since I think the story has simply run its course (barring another surprise revelation). If it will be dropped, it will not be dropped as a result of the Kerry campaign making that decision on account of (non-existent) worsening polls.

End result: Bush has lost some valuable media time, and this is the best possible time for Kerry to switch topics.

I do, however, completely disagree with your assessment that this puts the ideas in people's heads that it proves that Saddam has WMD. I have not seen anything to support this tenuous idea; on the contrary, the message that the Bush campaign is pushing is that (a) Kerry is denigrating the troops, and (b) Kerry has been inconsistent. No mention of "this is proof that Saddam had WMD after all".

Maybe you would really like for that to be the message that is filtering out there, but (a) Bush ain't pushing that, and (b) the facts speak against it. Ergo, I'm going to take a wild guess that the message will not be getting across to the public.

(On the other hand, in lieu of not going for your bet, I will gladly buy you a soda pop at the earliest possible convenience. I do not mean to cheat you out of that.)

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 4:59 PM

We'll have exit polls in a week--they'll tell us.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 5:06 PM

With a bit of luck, we'll even know who won the election in a week.

But it won't tell us if this news story told people that "this is proof that Saddam had WMD after all".

Be that as it may, you've brought nothing to the table to support that statement, but I don't mind agreeing to disagree with you on this one.

Now how can I get you that soda pop?

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 5:30 PM

Hit the "Click to Pay" button at the upper left of the main page.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 28, 2004 5:34 PM

Annoying Old Guy: thanks for the pointer.

Orrin, I'm a man of my word: five bucks worth of soda pop is now yours to enjoy at your leisure. Spend it all in one place or even, if you feel like it, spend it on something other than soda pop

This is to make good on our non-bet, and also as a token of appreciation for your blogging (more so for previous posts... you've been more thoughtful in the past no problem, I think the upcoming elections are fraying on everyone's nerves).

Best regards,

Creeper

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 6:27 PM

creeper:

The stories are necessarily all anecdotal for the moment, but, for instance, Bill Richardson, appearing on behalf of Kerry on Imus this morning, completely dismissed the story. Similarly, the Kery camp is keeping surrogates off FOX today. As soon as a story goes up I'll post it, but the most reliable indicator is usually the behavior of the actors and the Kerry folks seem to have been burned.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 6:34 PM

1. Richardson dismissed which story? Did he say there were no explosives missing, they weren't missing before the invasion, it wasn't the Russians that took 'em? And was Richardson explicitly appearing on behalf of Kerry? While he is a Democrat, he also has his own agenda.

2. The Kerry camp keeping surrogates off FOX doesn't strike me as particularly indicative of anything, since they're not all that great at getting surrogates out there in the first place, least of all on FOX. And even so, that would just fit in with my earlier notion that they've decided this issue has been sucked dry and it's best to let Bush sputter out another deflection or two while they're already onto the next thing.

That is, after all, how one controls the discourse - by moving ahead while the other side is still reacting.

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 6:58 PM

creeper:

No one moves on from a winning issue. But Dick Morris (see recent post) says that Kerry has an ad in the can addressing this specific issue. If he runs it all weekend I'll concede the point. I expect he'll pull it instead, especially because tracking polls are going against him so badly the past few days.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 7:15 PM

"No one moves on from a winning issue."

I see where you're coming from with that, and in a way I agree with that. At least with the principle.

On the other hand, there is the matter of audience attention span. Unless there is another leg to the story (and there are some candidates for that 'leg' - Russia, for example), beyond a certain point a story just fades. And the way to maintain initiative is to anticipate that and step in right before that happens.

BTW, some video coverage just came out that suggests these explosives did indeed disappear while under US occupation... so maybe this story will be with us for another few days.

Which is not good for Bush, IMO. For one thing, it renders most of the right-wing excuses of the last few days moot.

(Tracking polls appear to be going just fine for Kerry in the battleground states.)

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 8:46 PM

... and as of this point it looks like we'll be talking about the AQ video on ABC from here until the election...

Posted by: creeper at October 28, 2004 9:09 PM

creeper,

And which candidate may I ask is AQ supporting?

Posted by: djs at October 28, 2004 9:17 PM

creeper:

Every day that Americans think the world is a scary place is good for Mr. Bush.

Posted by: oj at October 28, 2004 9:46 PM

OJ,

Agreed.

Posted by: creeper at October 29, 2004 3:45 AM

djs,

Bush, of course.

Now they're even handing him a grade-A campaign commercial.

Though I suppose the Kerry campaign has a chance to spin this against Bush, in that his WoT campaign has not made us safer at all.

Posted by: creeper at October 29, 2004 3:47 AM
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