O weapons, where art thou?

This is it – the last day before the election, and tomorrow America goes to the polls to decide who will be president. They do so with a cloud hanging over the Bush administration’s credibility on Iraq: the failure to secure nearly 400 tons of high-explosive material during the invasion in March of 2003.

The Bush campaign, not surprisingly, tried to defer responsibility for its actions. It claims that the weapons may have been moved before the invasion, and that Kerry is making unsubstantiated charges, saying anything to get elected (a running theme for the Republicans, it seems).

While Saddam may well have moved the weapons before the invasion, a common thread has emerged from reports of troop movements through the area at the time: there were no orders to search for high-explosive materials – only weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration’s chief justification for going to war.

Right-wing pundits have charged that the media is digging up old news for political gain, but as a Virginian-Pilot editorial reported on Thursday, the Iraqi interim government reported the loss of the materials in an Oct. 10 letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), making the issue more current.

According to a Washington Post article that same day, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol said the New York Times story that broke the news was “somewhat hyped” and that it “didn’t put it into context how important 380 tons are when there are tens of thousands of explosives in the country.”

But what makes the 380 tons so important is that only one pound is powerful enough to bring down an airliner – there are 2,000 pounds in every ton. And while it is true that other explosives have been used elsewhere throughout Iraq in insurgent attacks, these are no ordinary explosives.

The high-explosive material at the al-Qaqaa weapons depot south of Baghdad was called “high” for a reason. Of the three types of explosives that are missing, one -HMX – is called a “dual use” substance because it is both a conventional explosive and powerful enough to be used in the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

Vice-President Dick Cheney has argued that if Kerry were president, Saddam would still be in possession of these explosives. But because of the way the Bush administration went to war without the proper planning, we don’t even know where the weapons are anymore, which could be an even worse proposition.

According to a report last Wednesday by the Associated Press, the weapons depot where the explosives were held “was considered the pre-eminent site in Iraq for high-explosive materials,” where the IAEA deliberately concentrated Saddam’s declared weapons after the 1991 Gulf War for easier monitoring.

The IAEA warned the Bush administration about the site before the invasion, but there never was any special effort to secure the site, or any of Iraq’s other suspected weapons sites for that matter. While Bush had troops stationed at oil wells, looters ran rampant through the streets of Baghdad.

We needed better security, and we could have had it if the president had done a better job of bringing allies to our side. Winning the support of Turkey, for example, would have allowed more troops to enter the country, preventing the looting in the days after the war that made democracy in Iraq harder to achieve.

The Bush administration may well continue to insist that Saddam moved the weapons before the invasion. But even if this is true, the fact remains that we will never know because our president never fought the right war – he didn’t take the necessary steps to make sure a well-known weapons depot would be secure.

As Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” correspondent Stephen Colbert put it, “U.S. military intelligence was caught off guard – the idea that Saddam would store weapons in a weapons depot, it just seemed insufficiently diabolical.” Hopefully the candidate we next choose at the polls won’t be so tripped up by the obvious.

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