The Bush administration’s incompetence may have caused the deaths of American soldiers. This time, the media must draw attention to it.
Now we know, via the stunning front-page report in Monday’s New York Times, that the Bush administration’s incompetence and arrogance has in all likelihood killed American soldiers. The questions now are: Will the media in general push this shocking story in the campaign’s final week? Or will they cave yet again to administration pushback (which hasn’t begun as I write these words but will surely commence soon) designed to make the whole issue dissolve into a story that’s “too murky,” with “both sides at fault”? Will they change the story line and decide that, in the final week of the most important presidential election in modern American history, we should instead be focused on whether John Kerry was right to wear camouflage fatigues, or on the danger to the republic posed by Teresa Heinz Kerry’s off-the-cuff remarks?
If you don’t know the story, the Times reports that nearly 380 tons of high-powered explosives are missing from an Iraqi storehouse called al-Qaqaa. The explosives went missing because the United States didn’t secure the facility. This despite repeated and intense warnings from Mohamed ElBaradei and his colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency across many months before the start of the war that doing same was a major priority. The explosives are powerful: Less than 1 pound of one of the types of materials at al-Qaqaa, the Times notes, blew up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. And — here’s the kicker — in all likelihood, these explosives have been used in the many insurgent bombings in Iraq that have been killing Iraqi security forces, Iraqi civilians, and U.S. soldiers. All because of Bush administration incompetence.
And, for those who can still stomach a little irony, chew on this: The United Nations inspectors had indeed secured the al-Qaqaa facility and had safeguarded these explosives. The UN hauled some of the material away in 1996. Then, after they were kicked out in 1998, the inspectors discovered upon their 2002 return that the facility was missing about 35 tons of the explosives, called HMX, RDX, and PETN.
So, in other words: The war, which was supposed to correct the failings of the inspections process, turns out to have made matters far more dangerous than they were when the inspectors were in Iraq. The United Nations, that pusillanimous house of concession where detested France owns a veto over American designs, kept al-Qaqaa under comparatively well-monitored control. It took George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, the great hegemonic geniuses who are making the world “safer” every day through the brute exercise of unilateral power, for that dangerous spot to become a candy store for anti-American terrorist insurgents, a place beyond human control — “Mars on Earth,” in the unforgettable phrase of one military man quoted in the Times.
The administration has known about ElBaradei’s concerns for a month, and it hasn’t been too anxious to share this news with the American public for the obvious reason. There was a time in this country when a situation like that was exactly the point at which the media stepped in to ratchet up the pressure on government officials to explain themselves. God bless the Times for finally doing its part. (Despite its strongly anti-Bush editorial posture, the paper has not typically singed this administration with aggressive investigative reporting, which is more troublesome than editorials and takes more courage to produce.)
Now, in this campaign’s final week, watching where this story goes will be fascinating. The war’s architects in this administration have wriggled out of trouble time and again, and the media have let them do it, even though the list of crises that are the result of their incompetence and ideological arrogance is stunning. Just another small example we learned of over the weekend: The Associated Press moved a story on Sunday noting that, despite the breezy and expansive promises of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz about Iraqi oil revenues paying for the reconstruction, Iraq has generated just $17 billion in revenue, and a staggering 250 or so attacks on oil facilities and pipelines since the war’s start have squandered somewhere between $7 billion and $12 billion in potential export revenue (money that had to be spent on infrastructure repairs). Meanwhile, the war continues at a cost of $177 million a day, $7.4 million per hour.
Holding a government’s feet to the fire over such unforgivable errors is exactly what journalism was invented to do. But these days, journalistic demands for accountability are attacked as evidence of “bias.” But if there’s any bias in the Times story, it’s a bias in defense of our nation’s unnecessarily endangered fighting men and women, and a bias in favor of getting important information in front of voters before they make their decision. Those are biases journalism must defend, no matter how intense the pressure from an ideological cadre to do the opposite.