U.S. Rep. David Bonior, D-Mt. Clemens, is the Hanoi Jane of the new millennium. Bonior, a lame duck, and fellow Democratic representatives Jim McDermott of Washington and Mike Thompson of California recently spent five days in Iraq on a fact-finding mission.
Critics of their State Department-sanctioned tour are uniform in stressing that it was managed by Iraqi government officials. No shit, Sherlock. Did you expect the congressmen to sneak in like ninjas? The foreign media is severely restricted in its movements in Iraq, but it doesn’t stop some of them from trying to report on conditions there.
So the congressmen went and bore witness, visited hospitals and talked to doctors about the estimated 50,000 Iraqi children who die each year under post-Gulf War sanctions.
They also stressed to the Iraqis the surliness of the American administration and populace, asserting that without unfettered weapons inspections, Iraq likely faces annihilation.
Bonior and McDermott appeared on national TV news shows — including a satellite hookup from Baghdad — and questioned the president’s rush to make war.
Upon his return, Bonior said, “I am disheartened by the fact that people have not been addressing the question of what the implications for war will be in the broader context of American foreign policy and at what risk we will be placing our embassy personnel in other countries; at what risk we will be placing the world community on the issue of pre-emption.
“We strike first … what kind of signal does that send to the people of South Asia, to India, to Pakistan? I’m concerned about being able to fight on a variety of different fronts around the world. We don’t need another war in the Middle East. We have one going already. The world is a very fragile place today. And going to war unilaterally is a very dangerous mission at this particular point.”
To which I say, thanks, congressman.
You have more courage in your pinky than Dick Cheney, Trent Lott, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay and all the other draft-evading chicken hawks in Washington, D.C., combined.
Bonior, McDermott and Thompson, you see, are all Vietnam War-era military veterans. You’d think the chicken hawks would find it difficult to question the patriotism of those who donned the uniform.
Yet, predictably, the chicken hawks are squawking. In the wake of the tour, you couldn’t swing an M-16 on Capitol Hill — or among Beltway pundits — without striking an indignant warmonger.
How dare anyone so brazenly humanize “the enemy” by speaking with his people or looking them in the eye or visiting their children?
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, a reactionary bomb-thrower if there ever was one, nearly passed a stone in branding Bonior and McDermott the “Bozos of Baghdad.” Thomas’ apoplexy alone justified the trip.
The Weekly Standard, the official organ of ExxonMobil and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced Bonior and McDermott as “freaks.”
I’d consider this a term of endearment. I’ve always been fond of freaks — especially ones who question banal authority or flex their consciences over the prospect of sending American troops into a continental cauldron already roiling with antipathy for imperialist Yankees.
U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, says Bonior and McDermott were “pro-Iraq.”
I prefer to think they are “anti-death.” Or “pro-human.”
“You can’t go cavorting around with the enemy and be a great American,” Johnson groused.
This statement is instructive.
Johnson apparently doesn’t recognize that we are not at war with Iraq, though he obviously sees it as a foregone conclusion. He’s like legions of Americans who have fallen into lockstep, thanks to the arrhythmic yet demagogical drumbeat. It’s an ambient noise that breathlessly taps out its subliminal whisper:
“Weapons of mass destruction … Links to al Queda … Saddam bad … Terror … Mass destruction … Links to al Queda … National security … Saddam bad … Terror … Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain …”
I can’t keep track. Is the problem weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s tenuous links to al Queda? Didn’t Osama call Saddam an infidel?
Whatever the cause, the effect is that Americans, bent on revenge for Sept. 11, have come to accept Dubya’s mantra that Saddam is “the enemy” and an imminent threat to civilization.
I prefer to see Saddam as the bogeyman du jour — and a low-grade threat.
Who’d have imagined that Dubya, with his spectacular non sequiturs, would so cunningly incite national blood lust?
My incredulity soars. Given the weight of “evidence” proffered by the White House, we might as well gird for war with Norway. Who among us can deny that lutefisk is a weapon of mass destruction?
To further parse Johnson’s epithet — in my view, Bonior is indeed a “great American.”
Who else is standing up against the gale generated by the White House and a pathetically pliant Congress and press? Not Tom Daschle. Not Dick Gephardt. Not Hillary Clinton. Certainly not Joe Lieberman. Not even Christopher Hitchens.
Saddam Hussein is a lying, tyrannical psychopath. If I were in the same room with him, I’d do mankind a favor and snap his spine.
But let’s face facts — Iraq hasn’t changed all that much since Dubya took his oath. Saddam was an evil moron then, and he’s an evil moron now. There were no weapons inspections then, and there are none now. He was not much of a threat then, and he’s not that great a threat now.
Saddam is boxed in. He can’t hiccup without seeing the sky darken with cruise missiles.
What has changed since Dubya’s coronation is the political climate in this country. The terrorist attacks require that we do something, anything, especially if that something will distract the ADD-addled electorate from the fact that Dubya’s corporate cronies have systematically and criminally plundered hardworking Americans, playing havoc with the economy and our vaunted stock market.
We must do something, anything, especially if that something will give us greater sway over the richest oil fields on earth.
We must do something, anything, especially if that something makes the rabble forget that the primary threat to the nation — the vermin in al Queda — persists.
Even if that something, anything, is shortsighted, stupidly unilateral and guaranteed to spawn several generations of Mohammed Attas.
If you’re buying the administration’s line, I’d recommend you also consider investing in some Enron stock.
Is Saddam an enemy? Yes, he is.
So is Muammar Gadhafi, who during his 33 years in power in Libya has openly sponsored terrorism, destabilized on a colossal scale and made documented attempts to obtain nuclear arms.
So is North Korea’s Kim Jong II, undoubtedly the most unstable and unaccountable head of state on earth.
Regime changes, anyone? Will we pre-empt Gadhafi or Kim in conjunction with the next election? Nah. Neither of their kingdoms floats on oil.
After 26 distinguished years in Congress, Bonior, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, was gleefully gerrymandered out of a district by the Republicans in the state Legislature. He ran for governor but lost in the primary.
He could be coasting down the home stretch, lining up a high-paying gig. Instead, he went to Iraq — hardly a cushy junket. The “cavorting” ratio must have been low.
Now he’s squaring off against the Philistines.
Bonior will be joined Monday by the estimable Bishop Tom Gumbleton, who also went to Iraq recently, for a program titled, “Eyewitness to a Catastrophe: No War on Iraq.” The Michigan Coalition on Human Rights event is set for 7 p.m. at St. James Catholic Church, on Woodward in Ferndale.
Go and listen. And don’t suppress the urge to let Bonior know that Michigan is proud of him. He’s an island of reason and compassion in a sea of insanity.Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]