Politically, the discovery of sarin, and, separately, of mustard gas, would seem to bolster the President, though our esteemed press corps has already begun its spinning.
An MSNBC report yesterday, noted by Glenn Reynolds, implied that the discovery does not vindicate the Bush administration because it doesn’t prove “that Saddam was secretly producing weapons of mass destruction after the Gulf War.” The Washington Post embeds the news of the sarin discovery in the subtitle of a front-page story today, headlined “Iraqi Council’s Leader Is Slain.” The New York Times also notes the sarin discovery within a report on this piece of bad news, and does the Post one better with the note that “Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted cautiously to the discovery, saying more extensive tests were necessary” and directions to find more details on page A11.
Politics aside, the discovery, and its announcement, raises disquieting questions about what happened to all the rest of Saddam’s unaccounted-for chemical weapons. The mustard gas shell, rendered ineffective by improper storage, is probably one of 550 projectiles. Together with 450 aerial bombs, that represents 80 tons of mustard gas. What happened to it? We don’t know. We can only hope those shells, too, were not stored properly.
Gazi George, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist, told Fox News he believes that many weapons stockpiles were either buried underground or shipped to Syria. And last week Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin — perhaps as part of his ongoing effort to repair the damage his predecessor, Jean Chretien, did to Canadian-American relations for no good reason — broke with the Franco-German line that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were entirely a figment of British and American intelligence-fudging, and suggested that Saddam had WMDs, that they may have fallen into terrorist hands, and that this represents a profound threat.
The sarin-filled roadside bomb is, obviously, consistent with Martin’s theory. That it isn’t clear whether the terrorists knew that the shell they used for their bomb was rigged with sarin, and did not rig it to spread effectively, might provide some comfort. And it isn’t clear that whether the shell came from a large hidden stockpile or was an overlooked stray. Former chief weapons inspector David Kay told the AP that he suspects the latter but can’t rule out either.
But now that the discovery has been announced publicly, will terrorists become better at using any chemical weapons that they might have access to? Some top officials at the Pentagon were apparently caught off guard when Brig. Gen. Kimmitt made his announcement regarding the sarin-filled bomb; they’d thought the information was classified. Perhaps it should have been.
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