The Magazine

The Baghdad Democrats

From the October 14, 2002 issue: David Bonior and Jim McDermott have created a headache for their party.

Oct 14, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 05 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Instead there was much talk of "gaining insight into the humanitarian challenges another war on Iraq would have on innocent Iraqis and the dangerous implications of a unilateral, preemptive strike on U.S. national security."

It's reassuring to know that these congressmen were concerned about our national security, even if the source of their concern was our president rather than the brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction the United States is trying to stop. What apparently didn't concern the congressmen was the damage their trip might do abroad to any U.S.-led effort to deal with Saddam. Or any difficulties they may have created for U.S. efforts to fashion a friendly post-Saddam Iraq.

EVEN BEFORE the Baghdad boys left Iraq, media outlets throughout the Middle East gleefully highlighted divisions in the U.S. government and the travels by the "antiwar" congressmen. The Iraq Daily, for example, published by Saddam's Ministry of Information, printed daily updates of the trip and posted them in English on their website.

For example, a September 30 report says, "the members of the U.S. Congress delegation has underlined that this visit aims to get acquainted with the truth of Iraq's people sufferings due to ongoing embargo which caused shortage in food and medicine for all Iraqi people." (That article appeared next to a report on Saddam's continuing financial support for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers or, to use the paper's formulation, "intrepid Palestinian uprising martyrs." Also in that issue is an article by American white supremacist Matthew Hale, "Truth About 9-11: How Jewish Manipulation Killed Thousands.")

Two days earlier, on September 28, the Iraq Daily carried this report: The "U.S. Congress delegation saw a woman supplicating to Almighty God to revenge from criminal Bush and U.S. administration for the criminal crimes he and his administration perpetrated against Iraqi children through preventing them from the simplest life necessities due to the continuation of the unjust sanctions on Iraq."

On September 27, viewers of Iraqi Satellite Channel Television learned the following (this translation comes from U.S. government sources):

"Three U.S. Congressmen arrived in Baghdad this morning on a visit lasting several days. The delegation will hold several meetings with Iraqi officials and members of the Foreign Relations Committee at the National Assembly. They will also visit hospitals to see the suffering caused by the unjust embargo and the shortage of medicines and medical supplies. Congressman Jim McDermott told reporters upon arrival at Saddam International Airport that the delegation members reject the policy of aggression dominating the U.S. administration."

The video then showed McDermott talking, with a voiceover translation in Arabic. Here is what Arabic-speaking audiences heard from McDermott:

"We are three veterans of the Vietnam War who came over here because we don't want war. We assert from here that we do not want the United States to wage war on any peace-loving countries. As members of Congress, we would like diplomatic efforts to continue so as not to launch any aggression. We will visit children's hospitals to see the negative impact of the sanctions imposed on Iraq. We hope that peace will prevail throughout the world."

So how does it feel to be used as a propaganda tool against your own country? McDermott, who was asked that question by CNN's Jane Arraf when he was still in Baghdad, said it feels fine. "If being used means that we're highlighting the suffering of Iraqi children, or any children, then, yes, we don't mind being used."

And while some Democrats may not be so happy about McDermott and Bonior being used, few are willing to say so. Senator John Breaux lamented McDermott's "overstatement" on the question of the president's veracity. House minority leader Dick Gephardt, who helped the Bush administration craft a White House- friendly congressional resolution, was equivocal about the Bonior-McDermott affair: "I don't agree with his views on some of the facts, and obviously we may not be in agreement on his conclusion about what to do about those facts. But every member, as I've said over and over again, has to reach their own conclusion."

A reporter followed up. "Mr. McDermott implied that the president could not be trusted and Mr. Saddam Hussein could be trusted. That's gotta evoke some sort of feeling within you as to the properness of that comment."

"I don't have all that was said and I'm not here to parse over every word," said Gephardt. "I don't, I don't, I do not agree with his views of the facts, some of the facts, and obviously probably don't agree with his conclusion about what to do with the facts. But that would be the case with a lot of the members of this caucus. And of the other caucus. And that's why we're here."