Local media featured this past week the story of how Rep. Jim McDermott's 2002 pre-Iraq War journey to Baghdad took place and was financed
. The account does not smell right.
The Wall Street Journal
editorial page, unnoticed apparently by local media, broke the trip story not long after it took place. The Journal
's editorial revealed that an Arab-run front organization, based in Michigan, had paid for the expenses not only of McDermott but of California Rep. Mike Thompson and former Michigan Rep. David Bonior. My surmise at the time, as those of most congressional watchers in the capital, was that Bonior had been contact point for the three, since he knew the leaders of the Michigan Arab group firsthand.
At the time of the trip, it still was thought by the Bush administration and also by an overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats that Saddam had ongoing weapons of mass destruction programs. He'd had them prior to expelling United Nations weapons inspectors. The previous Clinton administration and most foreign intelligence agencies presumed they still were operative.
Saddam in 2002 apparently did not believe an actual military intervention in Iraq would take place. He mainly at that time was trying to make the propaganda point that ongoing United Nations Oil for Food sanctions were starving helpless children in Iraq. Thus "useful idots," in the Marxist phrase, in the United States and elsewhere, were being invited to Iraq to serve as props for photo opportunities facilitating his campaign to end the sanctions. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
sent its own correspondent to Iraq, and he was therefore able to interview McDermott on the propaganda trip. Fact was, of course, that the U.N. sanctions were not starving Iraqi children; the whole country was being starved because Saddam and his henchmen were stealing oil revenues for themselves.
President Bush went to war without knowing definitively that WMD still existed in Iraq. If no such weapons were present (as, it turned out, they were not) steps short of war could have been taken to squeeze Saddam and eventually force him from power. The war, based on mistaken intelligence, was a strategic mistake.
At the time of McDermott's Baghdad journey, however, things had not moved that far along. Our congressman simply was a junketeer, among other international junketeers, serving Saddam's propaganda purposes. He surely was not in Baghdad as a courageous and lonely voice trying to forestall war, as his local apologists would have us believe. Nor is it credible that he took the trip in the first place, as his staff spokesman asserts, at the invitation of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
Update: McDermott explained a bit more about the episode in an interview with David Postman. The Seattle Congressman says there's a lot he does not remember, but that he recalls wanting to go to Iraq as part of heading off the invasion, and that he thought his trip was being paid for by the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He also said that he invited Bonior to come along.
It was only a short while ago that McDermott was hitting up local Democratic campaign contributors to pay his legal expenses in a suit against him by Republican Rep. John Boehner, a member of the Republican House leadership, because McDermott passed to media illegally obtained recordings of Boehner telephone conversations. McDermott finally settled the suit recently. Had roles been reversed, and had Boehner handed to media illegally obtained McDermott conversations, you can be sure that McDermott would have spotlighted Boehner's action as an outrageous offense against all Americans' civil liberties. And rightly so.
McDermott is a notorious international junketeer in a Congress of junketeers. He does little constituent service. He gets elected and reelected in a one-party district because his consituents feel he is in tune with their political outlooks and because no other Democrat chooses to challenge him in a primary. That is the way the democratic process works, and there is no reason for complaint about it. But that does not mean McDermott should get a free pass when he blows it big-time — as he did with both his Baghdad junket and his disseminiation of illegally obtained communications.