Along the Tracks

Thursday, October 03, 2002

The Baghdad Three, shooting (at us) from the hip

My column in this week’s Leader notes my disgust for Congressmen Jim McDermott and David Bonior (and that other guy who was with them in Baghdad, whatever his Godforsaken name is) - but I’ve got even more to get off my chest on this subject of contemptible acts by elected officials, so here goes:

Let’s rewind the tape to late winter of 1999. The Senate impeachment trial has just ended, with Bill Clinton’s acquittal. Political nerves are raw; the disgust among many, particularly Republican House members who drew up the case and completed the impeachment indictment, is bitter and uncloaked.
Almost immediately after the vote in the Senate has been completed, the Clinton administration begins making its case for military action against Serbia to protect Kosovo civilians from oppression, displacement and, potentially, genocide - a very real potential, considering what Slobodan Milosevic had done to Bosnia. Several Republicans let their political dyspepsia seep into their judgment of Clinton’s intentions, indicating the president might be seeking to change the subject from his deep scandals. Those who made such “wag the dog” statements were roundly condemned.
But let’s go one step further. Let’s suppose that, say, Tom Delay and a pair of Republican colleagues showed up in Belgrade to “discuss” the situation with Slobo’s representatives. And then, the three appeared on a Sunday morning news show saying the United States should let the peacekeepers handle the situation, the Serbs were quite willing to obey any directives from the U.N., and we should “trust” the Butcher of Belgrade to keep his word. Besides, they tell Sam and Cokie, Bill Clinton has shown he will lie to the American people for political gain, even if it means going to war.
The reaction, of course, would have been something close to a political apocalypse. Delay’s resignation would have been demanded, resolutions of expulsion introduced and a full-scale assault on Republican “treason” would have been initiated in the media. And those reactions would have been fully justified and supported by a vast majority of Americans, including me.
Of course, that scenario never occurred, because, no matter how bitter, the Republicans placed the good of the nation before personal feelings or political maneuvering.
There are both important parallels and telling differences in the above situation and the Baghdad Three’s recent activities. The parallels: First, just as “wag the dog” accusations were in the mist prior to the Kosovo Air War, they are floating about now as we confront Iraq. Second, Republicans were divided among themselves about the best response to Kosovo’s problems and Clinton’s plans, resulting in sporadic outbursts that looked (indeed, probably were) politically motivated rather than thoughtfully developed in the interests of the nation - just as Democrats are split and speaking with many voices today. Finally, the “rush to war” over Kosovo caught many Republicans off guard and provided the easy out of “let’s wait and see” as an opposition position - the same position held by many Dems now.
However, the differences are even more telling, and damning: First, Slobo, though evil, was not a direct threat to the United States and her allies; Saddam most clearly is. Second, Serbia and the United States were not engaged in open hostilities; Iraq and the U.S. are - Iraqi gunners fired at American pilots while Bonior and Co. were cozying up to the anti-aircraft crew’s superiors. Third, this move toward confronting Iraq has been building for months - the Democrats simply avoided serious discussion until the issue was forced by President Bush’s address to the United Nations.
These truths combine to form a scathing indictment of the Baghdad Three. They never made an effort to build a loud anti-war coalition prior to their little excursion - clearly a political calculation to stay mum until they were “smoked out of their holes.” Even now they seem to stand for no principle other than complacency, arguing to allow the “situation (you know, the cat-and-mouse between Saddam and the U.N. while Iraq stockpiles weapons, shoots at our pilots, holds prisoners from the Gulf War and starves his people - that “situation”) to play itself out” and then decide what, if anything, needs to be done after the “situation” changes - perhaps a nuke in Manhattan would indicate the “situation” had “played itself out.” With full knowledge of the president’s ongoing diplomatic project to avoid the very same war they wish to stop, they hop a jet to Baghdad to proclaim Saddam’s innocence and good faith - something even self-interested U.N. Security Council members don’t buy, let alone profess. Then, in the ultimate insult, they condemn the president of their nation as a liar when speaking about the hostile country in which they stand, and propound the enemy’s lies that America is the evil entity in the equation, marching toward war with an innocent country which still suffers from the lingering effects of Gulf War I (the depleted-uranium leukemias hoax, uttered in condemning tones by Bonior).
I know, I know, free speech has its price. But can anyone say John “Taliban” Walker’s crimes gave more aid to al Qaeda than the succor Bonior, McDermott and - pbbblah! - Mike Thompson provided to Saddam Hussein? What do these three “free speakers” have to say to the thousands of military men and women, and their families, who are even more likely to face a war in the desert now that the president and U.N. have been undercut? What will they have to say to victims’ families when a terrorist uses one of Saddam’s weapons for mayhem inside our borders? Will they apologize to Israel when a suicide bomber happens to include a bag of anthrax in his backpack?
If there has been a lower act by someone elected to represent Americans - the free gift of internationally-invaluable propaganda to an engaged enemy of the United States, furthering the cause of our own destruction - it has been lost in hell with the perpetrator.

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