Better Angels

"...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ---Abraham Lincoln, First Innaugural Address

Thursday, October 07, 2004

President Pro Temporary Insanity

There was a little dust-up in the Senate yesterday, where the Dems have suddenly found their balls and the Repubs are on the defensive. Thomas doesn't have the transcript up yet, but NPR replayed bits yesterday and the transcript is up at LexisNexis.

What it came down to is that Sen. Durbin from Illonois was challenging the truth-telling capabilities of the administration, much to the chagrin of Senate President Pro Tempore, Jay Stevens of Alaska. (Stevens is the fill-in for Dick "Parliamentary Procedure" Cheney and 3rd in line for the Presidency.) Stevens objected to Durbin's assertions that there were no WMDs in Iraq, as borne out by the Duelfer report:

NPR's DAVID WELNA: Durbin had rebuffed Alaska's Ted Stevens, the Senate's most senior Republican and the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which Durbin sits on, too. Durbin eventually did yield to Stevens, who rose to cast doubts on the Duelfer report's conclusion that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

SEN. STEVENS: We had the same conclusion with regard to the air force. We were told that he had destroyed a series of airplanes. Later, we found them buried in the desert, a whole series of airplanes, the whole airplane buried, with capable of being dug up and brought up and used. Now we haven't found the weapons of mass destruction yet. This senator believes he had them.

I wondered about these airplanes, I really did. So I took a look. It's true. In the summer of 2003 US troops uncovered 30-40 planes buried at al-Taqqadum. They were cold-war era MiGs for the most part:

Since the year 2000, Iraqi MiG-25s were reported flying recce sorties over Jordan, and even penetrating the Saudi airspace: the Jordanian F-16As proved unable to intercept any, while in early 2003 even the USAF F-15s came too late to catch the Foxbat that flew 60km deep over Saudi Arabia. In December 2002, finally, an Iraqi MiG-25PD shot down a USAF RQ-1B Predator armed recce drone in a sharp engagement in which both sides opened fire. To a great surprise of all informed observers, however, the IrAF was not to participate in the III Persian Gulf War at all: instead, all of its aircraft were hidden, or - as the report above showed - even burried intact. Why had Saddam ordered this was done - especially in the given manner - remains unclear: certainly, the IrAF crews were training the disassembly of their aircraft into main sections already since the late 1990s. But, it remains unclear why would this be done in this case considering the fact that the aircraft were needed for the defence of Iraq. Equally, it remains unclear why was no order given the aircraft to be re-assembled, or why was the job of burrying them in sand done in such a poor way that the damage on most aircraft became irreparable.
(From the Air Combat Information Group's Journal)

Even Porter Goss, our new CIA chief, had to acknowledge that this cache was not the WMDs:

Although the remnants of Saddam's estimated 300-strong combat aircraft fleet are not weapons of mass destruction, Porter Goss, chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee, said that their concealment showed the lengths to which the Baathist regime had gone to hide its armaments."Our guys have found 30-something brand-new aircraft buried in the sand," he said. "These are craft we didn't know about. They are weapons (Iraq) tried to hide." (From the Times of London, 8/2/03)

"Brand new" 25 year old planes? Ok, Porter, you're the spook, not me. But even our friends at Fox reported that "Various officials differed in opinion as to whether the buried aircraft could ever fly again. Many of the planes were buried intact with minimal efforts to protect them from the sand." So Stevens' claim that these things just needed a little dust-off and they'd be ready to go is a little bit disingenuous.

The most damning fact that points to these planes being inconsequential is the general lack of media coverage or administration hype of them. Lexis lists 5 newspaper reports of the find, only 2 of which were in the U.S. FoxNews had one mention, on April 28, 2004, when Sean Hannity tried to use the planes as evidence of WMDs. (He was rebuffed by his guest, New York City Councilman Charles Barron) Nobody else seemed to pick up on this story and you know the administration and their flunkies in the media would be flogging this to death if they could use it to bolster their case.

So why does Stevens bring it up now? Is it a desperate attempt by the administration to hold out one last hope that the WMDs are out there? If so, it's a pretty shoddy one. Stevens finished up by saying "I'll be willing to debate anytime, anytime what happened in Iraq." Even if he has to pull half-truths out of his ass to do so.