Hard News by Russell Brown

Nightmare scenario

The disappearance of 350 tonnes of specialist high explosive that at the time of last year's invasion of Iraq was under IAEA lockdown appears to be a case not only of grotesque incompetence by the occupying powers, but of a sustained cover-up.

The passing of the HMX and RDX explosive into who-knows-what hands was brought to the attention of the Internet Atomic Energy Authority two weeks ago with this memo from the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology. The material had been of concern to the IAEA because it can be used to trigger nuclear warheads, but the more realistic concern now is that somebody has a lifetime supply of explosives so powerful that their international distribution has long been tightly restricted.

The New York Times and the Nelson Report have the original stories, which are quite extensive. As Josh Marshall points out, US command has known the explosives were missing for more than a year, but the IAEA was not told until well after the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. Moreover, the stories on this debacle strongly indicate that US command put pressure on the Iraqis not to tell the IAEA.

It actually gets worse than this. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi has had a busy week. The Iraqi terrorist leader declared his allegiance to al Qaeda, and then oversaw the massacre of 50 Iraqi security force trainees in what appears to have been an inside job. And there is mounting evidence that in late 2002 the White House rejected a detailed Pentagon plan to take out Zarqawi's camp in northeastern Iraq (where the US could have acted with impunity) because it might have harmed the rationale for war in Iraq. And now the guy pretty much has the Iraqi national franchise for evil terrorist slaughter. I shudder to think what's coming out of the box next.

Meanwhile, yet another PIPA survey indicates that Bush supporters in the US seem to have as much of a problem with reality as the President himself does. Three quarters of them continue to believe, in the face of a mountain of evidence, that Iraq had WMDs, and that it was providing "substantial support" to al Qaeda. Bizarrely, a majority of them also believe that if Iraq did not have WMDs, the war would not have been justified. Confused? These people certainly are. As Kevin Drum points out, the PIPA poll shows that most Kerry supporters have a fair idea of their man's platform - while Bush supporters generally don't have a clue. On six key issues - from labour standards in trade agreements to participation in a nuclear test ban treaty - fewer than half of the Bush supporters polled actually correctly quoted his stance.

Curiously enough, some of those quoted by Reason magazine in its roundup of the voting intentions of libertarian-friendly notables don't seem to know a whole lot more. While many of them (including, unsurprisingly, Stephen Pinker and the editor of Scientific American) will vote Kerry or not-Bush, there are others who still see Bush as their man. But exactly what juice was Wired's founder, Louis Rosetto, on when he said this?

Bush may be wrong about everything else, but he is right about the issue that matters most for my children's future: stopping Islamic fascism. And Manchurian candidate Kerry and the Copperheads, er, Democrats, are just a joke, preferring to act as though this probably generation-spanning war is about politics, not the survival of the West.

Yeah, sure, Louis: we couldn't elect Kerry because then the terrorists would win. What an asshole. Dave Kopel has a similar blurt:

We're in a war in which the survival of civilization is at stake, and Bush is the only candidate who realizes the gravity of the danger we face and who is determined to win World War IV.

This sort of "don't you know there's a clash of civilisations on?" schtick is a kind of intellectual bolthole for some self-professed libs and rationalists (Denis Dutton has been fond of it on the local front); it's as if it puts them safely beyond the reach of reality; relieves them of the need to trifle with complexity or ambiguity or evidence. But the main reason I find it objectionable is that it's pretty much what the Islamo-fascists tell their people. And as the Pew surveys last year demonstrated, in the wake of the Iraq war, their people have been buying it:

In Morocco, 79 percent said they felt Islam was under serious threat today, and people in other countries largely agreed, in many cases far more strongly than last summer. In Pakistan, for example, 64 percent now say Islam is seriously threatened, up from 28 percent in summer 2002. The threat is perceived most sharply in Jordan, by 97 percent, up from 81 percent last summer.

Perhaps as a consequence, bin Laden was one of the three "leaders" most trusted by the nine Muslim populations surveyed, outranking even the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan. The Qaeda leader's confidence rating was matched only by Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Frankly, if you think George W. Bush is really keeping you safe from Islamo-fascism, you're suffering extreme cognitive dissonance.