Media conservatives have echoed the Bush administration's misleading argument that the reported 380 tons of explosives that went missing from the Al Qaqaa facility in Iraq pales in comparison to the reported 405,944 tons of munitions that have been captured in Iraq so far. In fact, explosives -- many of which were reportedly in the form of white powder -- weigh far less than some other types of "munitions," which include explosives, but also "rockets, guided and ballistic missiles, bombs ... grenades, mines, torpedoes ... and devices and components thereof," according to the Pentagon.
Moreover, one pound of C-4 plastic explosive -- of which HMX and RDX, the missing explosives, are key ingredients -- was enough to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, as an October 25 Associated Press story noted.
Nonetheless, Vice President Dick Cheney has advanced this misleading comparison, and media conservatives have dutifully repeated it. On October 26, Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Senator John Kerry, saying Kerry "doesn't mention ... the 400,000 tons of weapons and explosives that our troops have captured and are destroying." The next day, the Pentagon released two pages of talking points in which it asserted "that the missing explosives are 'less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 400,000 tons of total munitions coalition forces have destroyed or lined up to destroy,'" according to an October 28 Washington Times article. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice underscored this point in an October 28 radio interview: "370 tons is a lot, but 400,000 tons is really a lot."
But the administration is not just making a misleading comparison between tons of powder and hundreds of thousands of tons of artillery shells, bombs, and other ammunition. It is also neglecting a far more apt comparison -- between the ammunition captured and the hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition that are thought to exist but have not been captured. As the Associated Press pointed out: "At least another 250,000 tons from Saddam's regime remain unaccounted for, and some has undoubtedly fallen into the hands of insurgents."
Yet media conservatives have continued to repeat the flawed talking point:
• The Wall Street Journal: Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign continues to hammer President Bush over the missing explosives, as if this is anything more than a minor mystery in the broader debate over who can best secure victory in Iraq. To put the missing 377 tons in further context: The recent Duelfer report says that the U.S. has found 405,944 tons of munitions in Iraq, of which 243,045 tons have already been destroyed. [Editorial, "The U.N.'s Revenge," 10/29/04]
• Laura Ingraham (radio host): And when you fail to acknowledge that the great successes of our military are undeniable, including, by the way, the fact that our soldiers have already secured and are destroying 400,000 tons of weaponry in Iraq, well, you demean the troops. [MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 10/28/04]
• Robert D. Novak (CNN co-host): This is just -- this [the missing explosives] is less than 400 tons. And there's hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives. ... What is the answer to what Dick Cheney said about the fact that if you hadn't gone in there that Saddam Hussein would be sitting on 400,000 tons of explosives? [CNN, Crossfire, 10/27/04]
• Sean Hannity (FOX News Channel host): Our troops have destroyed in Iraq now over 400,000 tons of weapons. Not only would the weapons that John Kerry is so concerned about, 380 be included, but those 400,000 that would still exist. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/27/04]
• Brit Hume (FOX News Channel host): The statistics are that we have already destroyed -- now, this isn't all explosives -- but 245,000 tons of weapons, including presumably explosives have been destroyed, and another 167,000 or something like that await or are under guard, and await destruction. That takes us over 400,000 tons. So I suppose you could presume that, what, some percentage of that is explosives, right?
Morton M. Kondracke (Roll Call executive editor): Right.
Hume: Three hundred and eighty is not a lot. [FOX News Channel, Special Report with Brit Hume, 10/25/04]