Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Would al Qaida want to get its hands on RDX and HMX? al Qaida expert Peter Bergen says 'yes'. In fact, Peter says that's what would-be LAX bomber Ahmed Ressam got caught trying to bring over the Canadian border.

A clip from an article just posted on the WaPo website that truly says it all ...

In a 45-minute speech in Greeley, Colo., today, Bush ignored the news about the missing explosives, Washington Post staff writer Mike Allen reported. Instead, Bush stuck to his stock assertion: "America and the world are safer with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell."

Doesn't that capture everything?

When your whole story is a crock spun together on the fly, I guess it's hard to keep your numbers straight. But this still seems a noteworthy contrast. Two quotes from McClellan's briefing this morning ...

"We've destroyed more than 243,000 munitions, we've secured another nearly 163,000 that will be destroyed."

Followed a few moments later by this ...

"And as I pointed out, that's why we've already destroyed more than 243,000 munitions and have another nearly 363,000 on line to be destroyed."

Special thanks to TPM reader DJ.

Definitely take a moment to skim over Scott McClellan's remarks today in the press gaggle about the al Qa Qaa debacle. It's a brazen effort.

McClellan's key point is that the US knew nothing about any of this until October 15th, ten days ago.

That contradicts what the Times says, which is that Iraqis claim they told Jerry Bremer about this last May. It contradicts what the Iraqis have told the IAEA, which is that the US pressured them not to report the disappearance to the IAEA.

It also stands in what I guess you'd have to call simple defiance of the fact that the US had formal charge of these facilities for more than a year ending in late June of this year.

To say that we knew nothing about the theft of these materials during that entire time is simply not credible. And if it's really true, it's considerably worse than if it's a lie.

Asked whether securing a facility like this wasn't a key priority of the occupation forces, McClellan responded: "At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom there were a number of priorities. It was a priority to make sure that the oil fields were secure, so that there wasn't massive destruction of the oil fields, which we thought would occur. It was a priority to get the reconstruction office up and running. It was a priority to secure the various ministries, so that we could get those ministries working on their priorities, whether it was ..."

And then one of the key questions from one of the reporters ...

Q: Scott, did we just have enough troops in Iraq to guard and protect these kind of caches?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, that's -- now you just hit on what I just said a second ago, that the sites now are really -- my understanding, they're the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. And I disagree with the way you stated your question, because one of the lessons we've learned of history is that it's important to listen to the commanders on the ground and our military leaders when it comes to troop levels. And that's what this President has always done. And they've said that we have the troop levels we need to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq.

Q But you're saying this is the responsibility of the Iraqi forces. But this was our responsibility until just recently, isn't that right? Weren't these -- there is some U.S. culpability, as far as --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying -- I think you're taking this out of context of what was going on. This was reported missing after -- when the interim government informed that these munitions went missing some time after April 9th of 2003, remember, that was when we were still involved in major military action at that point. And there were a number of important priorities at that point. There were munitions, munition caches spread throughout Iraq. There were -- there was a concern that there would be massive refugees fleeing the country. There is concern about the devastation that could occur to the oil fields. There was concern about starvation that could happen for the Iraqi people.

So -- and obviously there is an effort to go and secure these sites. The Department of Defense can talk to you about -- because they did go in and look at this site and look to see whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction there. So you need to talk to Department of Defense, because I think that would clarify that for you and set that record straight.

Did you understand his answer? Or the proper 'context' he was saying it needs to be seen in? As nearly as I can tell his explanation is that there was a lot of stuff going on during the early occupation and that this wasn't that high on the priority list.

And even this explanation, if accepted at face value, doesn't get at the real issue. Let's say things were just too crazy in the first month or more of the occupation to secure the al Qa Qaa facility. What about the period of relative calm between spring 2003 and the end of the year. Didn't anybody go out and see that the place had been swept clean?

Not only are McClellan's explanations not good ones, most of them don't even make any sense. And they all hang on the palpably false premise that the US knew nothing about this until little more than a week ago.

Could the al Qa Qaa debacle be a sinister and ingenious ploy on the part of the White House to give the public one more view of the goofball buck-passing that has been such an asset to the president's administration?

Look at the latest from Scott McClellan on Air Force One. This from CNN ...

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush wants to determine what went wrong.

McClellan, on Air Force One, stressed that the missing explosives were not nuclear materials, and said the storage site was the responsibility of the interim Iraqi government, not the United States, as of June 28, when the United States turned over the nation's administration to the Iraqis.

The president wants to determine what went <$Ad$>wrong.

This reminds me of when I wanted to know why my Palm Pilot stopped working after I dropped it in the bath tub.

Doesn't this capture Bush's entire presidency?

The thing happened more than a year ago, his administration has taken active steps to cover it up and now that the truth finally comes out, he 'wants to determine what went wrong.'

The idea of accepting responsibility for anything is simply alien to the man. He doesn't even have the good grace to scam us by finding a scapegoat to pin the blame on.

And what about Scott McClellan trying to pin it on the Iraqis?

Does he not read the newspapers or does he think everyone else to too stupid to remember what they just read in them this morning. The stuff was taken more than a year before the Iraqis took over the US occupation authority. And even the highly-cautious Times piece makes clear that Jerry Bremer was told about it no later than May of this year.

Nolo contendere?

As one would expect, the Kerry campaign has seized on today's revelation of the Bush administration's latest lethal blunder in Iraq and pressed the point on the campaign trail.

And the Bush administration's response?

Kerry's lying?

It's not true?

There's an explanation?

Apparently, on the merits, there's no response at all.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt issued the campaign's response: "John Kerry has no vision for fighting and winning the War on Terror, so he is basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day."

Agreed, it's extremely important to find out what happened to those few hundred tons of high-explosives and how much of the stuff has already been used in terrorist operations against American troops and Iraqi civilians inside Iraq.

But missing explosives isn't the only thing we've got to be concerned about. What about the missing Administrator of Occupied Iraq?

Where's Jerry Bremer?

As we noted last night, he seems to have stiffed the Times. And as nearly as I can tell he still hasn't made any comment about any of this even though he is at the very center of what happened.

An honorary TPM ambassadorship to the first reporter who gets Bremer on the record!

(No, I don't have any idea what that means either.)

On Good Morning America, President Bush pushes the idea of a pre-election or an election day terrorist attack: "I am worried about it and we should be worried about it. On the other hand, I don't want people to say, that he knows something I don't know and therefore, something is imminent."

The White House seemed to be caught flatfooted at first in their response to the al Qa Qaa debacle. But now the spin is emerging.

One 'senior administration official' tells CNN that "the discovery was not made public sooner because standard intelligence practice is not to let the enemy know such information."

The folks I'm talking to don't think that much of that excuse. But isn't the point that 'the enemy' probably already knows because the enemy took the stuff? And since the stuff's been gone for something like a year and a half, when were people in the US going to be informed?

And is that why no one told the IAEA? Were we afraid they'd tell the enemy?

Then there's this quickly emerging excuse, I guess we might call it the FUBAR rationale.

The same official took this one out for a spin with CNN too ...

The senior administration official downplayed the importance of the missing explosives, describing them as dangerous material but "stuff you can buy anywhere." The official added that the administration did not see this necessarily as a "proliferation risk."

"In the grand scheme -- and on a grand scale -- there are hundreds of tons of weapons, munitions, artillery, explosives that are unaccounted for in Iraq," the official said. "And like the Pentagon has said, there is really no way the U.S. military could safeguard all of these weapons depots or find all of these missing materials."

So, given what a powder keg Iraq is, what's another few hundred tons of plastic explosives. It's not even "necessarily" a proliferation risk.

I'm feeling better already.

What have the al Qa Qaa RDX and HMX been used for so far?

The BBC notes that "HMX and RDX [are] key components in plastic explosives, which have been widely used in car bombings in Iraq."

Then there was this terrorist arms cache discovered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after the housing complex bombing in Riyadh. It contained "38.4 tons of 'RDX explosive materials'".

No word yet on the explosives used in the car bombing today near the Australian Embassy in central Baghdad.