A couple of Lexis/Nexis-fueled remarks on the Right's attempt to spin the Al-Qaqaa situation:
Obviously, there's some debate about when BushCo resolved to attack Iraq. I think the evidence that these plans were in the works for years is overwhelming. But I'll give BushCo the benefit of the doubt, and say - very generously - that the military plans to invade Iraq got underway in October of 2002, about five months before military action commenced.
In January of 2003, UN inspectors were in Al-Qaqaa, and were aware of the now-missing explosives. On March 7, Hans Blix told the UN Security Council this:
[A]t this juncture, we are able to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance. American U-2 and French Mirage surveillance aircraft already give us valuable imagery, supplementing satellite pictures, and we would expect soon to be able to add night-vision capability through an aircraft offered to us by the Russian Federation. We also expect to all low-level, close-area surveillance through drones provided by Germany. . . .
On April 11, the Telegraph reported that:
Spy satellites, photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles are scouring the area between Baghdad and Tikrit.
On June 24, the NYT devoted an entire article to trumpeting the wonders of the United States' aerial spying capabilities:
"Right now, we're just trying to keep tabs on what's going on there," said Zack Gardner, 24, an imagery analyst from the Arkansas Air National Guard, who examined a U-2 radar image of an ammunition dump west of Baghdad this morning.
Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon says it has vastly improved its ability to sort, assess and organize the information from spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and other sensors. It relays that data quickly to analysts and commanders around the globe.
During the war, intelligence teams here and at Beale supported six U-2 missions a day and three to four Predator flights at any given time. Analysts sent back more than 30,000 reports to commanders in the Persian Gulf region.
The Predator analysts, in particular, often found themselves watching live firefights or bomb strikes, with soldiers on both sides killed before their eyes. Chaplains and psychologists were brought in to counsel the young analysts, many of whom had not experienced or seen combat.
Plain enough, I'd say. If you want to argue that the explosives disappeared between the IAEA inspections and the invasion, you're stuck arguing that the United States government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, failed to monitor the most well-known and important weapons cache in Iraq before and during the invasion, despite having the technical ability and the moral obligation to do so.
And it's worse than that, really. If Saddam Hussein was truly a danger, because he might conceivably have given weapons to terrorists, then Al-Qaqaa needed to be under continual surveillance whether we invaded Iraq or not.
The "debunking" of the Al-Qaqaa story is absurd, of course. The job of the Right and its media handmaidens is to provide an escape route for Bush-fanciers, whenever simple facts might otherwise lead them to an Agonizing Reappraisal of his leadership, integrity, or common sense. There must always be an alternative narrative available to these people. If it's blown sky-high an hour after it's first disseminated, it doesn't matter; Bush supporters will cling to it gratefully, as though it were a life preserver. Thanks to the "evenhandedness" of the media in treating improvised and nonsensical accusation as legitimate discourse, these emotionally stunted children will always hear a comforting bedtime story.