“Oh, that’s old news,” said a person near and dear today when I mentioned the 380 tons of high-tech explosives that used to be in Iraq but have now gone missing and may be parceled out in fragments in dumpsters in back alleys in Newark, Indianapolis, and Baton Rouge, not to mention Falluja and Tehran.
We practice, making movies here in Hollywood, the age-old storyteller’s modus operandi: tell em what you’re gonna tell em; tell em; tell em what you told em. We do this, as Homer, Mark Twain, all politicians, and any life insurance salesman worth his salt will attest, because it works.
People are busy. Their lives are complex. They don’t have time to do the work. They might not even care. Not everybody can keep his finger in the wind, his nose to the grindstone, his powder dry till the battle’s nigh.
It’s been nine months since I first awoke uneasy, with much bad juju in my head, and spent a solid day in Starbucks composing Hearts and Minds for you. It was, in the main, a cautionary tale of American military and political malfeasance redux. Though I looked at it as a history lesson, something we don’t want to forget lest we repeat it, the messages I received from noders here were at once heartening and terrifying. I was excited by the users who were energized, who became curious, who grew proactive. And I was appalled by the user who msgd “I hope you remember what you’ve written here when a suitcase nuke goes off in downtown L.A.”
Talk about the pen being mightier than the sword….
Two or three months later, A Sniper in Every Minaret burst from my PowerBook fully-formed, like some mythical Greek monster. It was a somewhat frantic little trot through the work-a-day stables behind the Oval Office. It’s formative metaphor was the odor of shit in that singular manifestation—the George W. Bush Administration.
And now, as if crying out like the unfinished third verse of some sort of mystical Cassandra tripartite howl, here sits the story of al-Qaqaa, the looted Iraqi ammo dump, six days before the most important American election since Abraham Lincoln.
If it ain’t fate, I don’t know what to call it. And this time I really don’t have any ax to grind. I’ve done my work. Registered hundreds of voters, rung a thousand doorbells, used up the minutes on my cell phone month after month after month talking to people I’ve never met and never plan to meet. I have, as they say, submitted it to the universe. If John Kerry doesn’t win the 2004 presidential election, then God truly is not on our (my) side.
But, really, I leave it to the politicians to talk about God, since they seem to be closer to Her. I’m here to talk about atomic bombs and their kin—those slightly more ordinary little conventional explosions that nonetheless can really ruin your day.
This is the stuff of what we have come to call terrorism, though to be honest, long before Dubyah-style terrorism we had something called American Foreign Policy. We can trace the lineage of Shock and Awe, Big Noise/Big Death, all the way back to loopy Edward Teller, Hiroshima, and that quaint little Bikini atoll in the Central Pacific, sea-site of our nuclear testing program after the war.
But again, this is not about finger-pointing. We had to destroy the village to save it; it was us or them; God was on our side; it shortened the war, saved American lives. And so forth and so on.
Before the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” the tragically ill-conceived invasion of Iraq, was launched, the president was warned by the International Atomic Energy Agency that a huge, incredible, unbelievably dangerous, ponderous, unnervingly ENORMOUS bunch of explosive shit was lying in the desert 30 miles south of Baghdad. “The greatest explosives bonanza in history” they called it.
The ordnance was last seen in January 2003, when IAEA took an inventory and sealed the complex of buildings and bunkers that comprised a very impressive and "sensitive" military installation. In March of that year, the inspectors once again visited the site but did not view the explosives because the seals were not broken. The United States military invaded Iraq on March 20th and, on their Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to the capital, searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility. Obviously they found no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Whether the metric fuck-ton of conventional materials such as HMX and RDX was there or not we may never know. But the Atomic Energy Agency got into it because HMX is a “dual use” substance. Wrapped around the fissile material in an atomic bomb, its explosion will set off a nuclear chain reaction. To this day the facility remains unguarded.
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman writes:
Informed sources quoted by the influential Nelson Report say explosives from Al Qaqaa are the "primary source" of the roadside and car bombs that have killed and wounded so many U.S. soldiers. And thanks to the huge amount looted - "in a highly organized operation using heavy equipment" - the insurgents and whoever else have access to the Qaqaa material have enough explosives for tens of thousands of future bombs.
So the questions today are: Why did General Tommy Franks
, commander of the whole American shootin’ match ignore the Agency’s warnings? Did he even know about the presence of the materials? Or is it more likely that—based on Donald Rumsfeld's insistence that Iraq be taken by a miniature army led by Vin Diesel
—Franks' troops were just spread too thin?
One thing we do know is that George Bush was clueless, as usual, because White House spokesman Scott McClellan tells us that our so-called president was only “informed of the disappearance within the last ten days.”
“There were a number of priorities at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” states Mr. McClellan, somewhat disingenuously.
“If the administration had had its way," writes Mr. Krugman, “the public would never have heard anything about this. Administration officials have known about the looting of Al Qaqaa for at least six months, and probably much longer. But they didn't let the I.A.E.A. inspect the site after the war, and pressured the Iraqis not to inform the agency about the loss. They now say that they didn't want our enemies - that is, the people who stole the stuff - to know it was missing. The real reason, obviously, was that they wanted the news kept under wraps until after November 2.”
Let’s review: RDX and HMX are key components in plastic explosives like C-4 and Semtex, deemed the weapon of choice by discerning suicide bombers. A single pound of Semtex blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 170 people. We’re talking about 760 THOUSAND Pan Am Flight 103’s, and the president only found out about it a week and a half ago?
If John Kerry loses this election, the Democrats might think about running Pinocchio next time. At least we’d get a shot at the truth through the process of elimination.
For his part, Senator Kerry discussed what should be obvious to anybody who pays attention right about now: George Bush’s stultifying incompetence.
"Now we know that our country and our troops are less safe because this president failed to do the basics," said Mr. Kerry. "This is one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the great blunders of this administration. The incredible incompetence of this president and his administration has put our troops at risk and put our country at greater risk than we ought to be."
On our way out, let’s consider:
- Who’s got a nuclear bomb he needs “dual use” equipment for?
- What disaffected fundamentalist Muslim country, say, would pay a lotta money for a liddle bitta boom?
- How many suicide bombers can you arm with, unh, half a pound of Semtex each?
Hell, the stuff's so light and portable, you could have child suicide bombers if you really wanted to. Tiny. Little. Explosions.
Growing up all around us.
The New York Times, October 25, 2004
U.N. Fears Iraq Rebels Have Missing Explosives, William J. Kole, The Associated Press, Tuesday 26 October 2004
A Culture of Cover-Ups, Paul Krugman, The New York Times, October 26, 2004