October 28, 2004 | National Review Online

When American Power Meets the “International Community,” Guess Who Wins?

The “global test,” Senator John Kerry explained at the first debate on October 8, is the standard for judging presidential action in defense of American national security. It is the barometer by which the U.S. must “prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.” In the final and most valuable week of the campaign, we learned that one group will never satisfy this “global test”: the United States military.

The Kerry campaign has specialized in airy metaphors like “passing the global test” and “bringing our allies back to the table.” These euphemisms mask unpleasant realities Senator Kerry and his allies, particularly in the mainstream media, prefer to leave unsaid. But say them we must. Much of the globe abhors American power. The alleged “allies” who have walked away from our table — France, Germany and Russia — especially resent American power.

If this is the world to which we must submit for a legitimacy check, it is difficult to imagine instances in which American power would pass Kerry's global test. And as the U.S. military is the principal symbol of American power, this week was the endless campaign's most significant because our troops confronted the global test head-on. The Democratic nominee went with the globe.

This was the week of the October surprise: a trumped up story about 380 tons of high explosives missing from Iraq's al Qaqaa defense installation. Patently timed to swing the election against President Bush, the tale allowed for only two possibilities. The globe's version of events, supplied by the International Atomic Energy Agency, held that IAEA had carefully inspected the facility and accounted for 380 tons of powerful RDX and HMX explosives in March 2003, the explosives were now missing, and this cache could only be missing due to gross negligence by the U.S. military in failing to safeguard it from post-invasion looting. The American military's version was that there was no clear evidence that such a high explosives cache was actually there when troops arrived in early April, Saddam had had plenty of time to move explosives prior to the invasion, and it was implausible that 760,000 pounds of explosives could have been “looted.”

Kerry jumped on the globe's side with both feet. Oh, he struggled not to invoke the troops and to make the president the impresario of what was purported to be a colossal, disqualifying screw-up. But Kerry — as we have heard once or twice over the last 18 months — was in Vietnam for four months, participating in combat operations to advance on and secure strategic areas. He knows he didn't take his directions from President Johnson. Those decisions on the ground are made by the military chain of command. If looting had been permitted at al Qaqaa, the senator well knew it hadn't been because George W. Bush left the place unattended.

It is difficult to quantify how much one had to suspend disbelief to have credited — as Kerry enthusiastically, instantly, and instinctively credited — the globe's version. Even before the thorough debunking of IAEA's original story (which is now being repaired and revised minute-by-minute), the objective chance of its accuracy was astronomically small.

The American soldier has performed at a level of unprecedented historical efficiency in modern times, reflecting extraordinary training and acuity. At a time when it had been advancing on Baghdad and protecting its supply lines, it had engaged the enemy at al Qaqaa, and taken the time to look through the facility twice, on April 3 and 10, 2003. One would have to believe that it not only missed 760,000 pounds of high explosives, but that it further missed scores of “looters” and the 40 tractor-trailers that would have been needed to get into the facility, expend the time required to load these hazardous mounds, and spirit them off to a secret location undetected by any of 150,000 Coalition troops.

Even that does not do justice to the long odds, for it excludes consideration of the suspect sources of the story: IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei, a committed opponent of the Bush administration and the decision to depose Saddam Hussein, whose agency has an extremely spotty record of accounting for weaponry, and who raised this issue on the eve of the American election; CBS News, which has already been caught once trying to sway the election with a trumped up story bolstered by phony documents; and the New York Times, which long ago gave up all but the thinnest pretense of objectivity in its news coverage. Given the stellar character of the U.S. military and the improbability of the story, these sources should have been blinding red lights of caution. Still Kerry not only leapt with both feet, his campaign was somehow so well prepared that it had an ad ready to run almost as soon as the story broke.

It should come as no surprise that the globe's story, which shouldn't have passed the straight-face test, has melted after only three days' scrutiny. It emerges that by early March 2003, when IAEA conducted a last inspection, weeks before the American invasion, there was nothing near the high-explosive tonnage IAEA originally claimed, and there may have been as few as three tons. Indeed, IAEA's own records indicate that almost all of the RDX tonnage was already gone as of an IAEA inspection over two months earlier.

It remains possible that 194 tons of HMX were still there in March, but it's unlikely we'll ever know for certain. Contenting itself with the fact that seals had not been broken, the IAEA failed to inspect the inside of containers, which were of such porous quality that HMX could have been removed without the seals being broken. And even if a cache of undetermined size was actually there when the IAEA left in March, it is now known that Saddam Hussein made frantic efforts, probably with Russian assistance, to reposition high explosives. Satellite photos have established that trailers, no doubt Saddam's, were at the al Qaqaa facility after the IAEA's March visit; and it has long been known that Iraqi convoys were dispatched to Syria and Lebanon in advance of the U.S. invasion.

Finally, video being touted as of late Thursday night is equivocal at best. Although it is said to depict al Qaqaa under U.S. control, it is not clear that any of the materials shown is actually HMX. Further, even if some of it is HMX, the tape does not come close to establishing hundreds of thousands of pounds of the stuff — let alone that such a massive quantity could realistically have been carted away by looters under wartime conditions.

On this sketchy information, Senator Kerry — the candidate who has accused the president of making reckless decisions based on suspect intelligence — had the clearest of choices: the IAEA or the American soldier; the global test or American power. He went with the IAEA, leveling breathtaking charges of “incredible incompetence.” Worse, even with the IAEA's fable now blatantly exposed, the Kerry campaign is still doing it. As late as Thursday, his running mate, Senator John Edwards continued railing about “380 tons of missing explosives,” asserting: “They did nothing, nothing to secure them and now they're gone. And we don't know who has them. It's possible terrorists have them.”

The problem, of course, is that the terrorist, Saddam Hussein, had them in the first place. We had to send our troops because the international community and the IAEA failed to disarm him, blithely permitting him to keep tons and tons of high explosives — components of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons that were supposed to be denied Iraq under the resolutions that ended the 1991 Gulf War — on the ruse that they would be used for innocent civilian purposes. In this, the IAEA was simply following the lead of the “allies” Kerry is so anxious to bring back to the table, Saddam's co-conspirators in the Oil-for-Food scandal that may be the single most lucrative fraud in history.

It was our troops or these characters. On shockingly flimsy evidence, Senator Kerry sided with the enemies of American power. What would a President Kerry do with, say, the International Criminal Court treaty? Joining it would win him great plaudits in the international community and the mainstream media; it would also subject our troops to potential prosecution for war crimes at the whim of countries that equate American military force with aggression and terrorism.

In a Kerry administration, when American power and the international community inevitably collide, how well are our troops likely to fare under the global test?

— Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.