WASHINGTON–Insisting that their recent visit to Baghdad came about because they care about what happens to this country and its soldiers, two Democratic members of Congress–both of whom are Vietnam War veterans–defended their trip in the face of charges that they are “unpatriotic” and that they were “cavorting with the enemy.”

Their mission succeeded, Reps. David Bonior (D-Mich.) and James McDermott (D-Wash.) told reporters Oct. 2., because they made it clear to the Iraqi government officials with whom they met that military action led by the U.S. was likely if they did not agree to unfettered inspections of weapons stockpiles.

They also repeated their assertion that the drums of war are beating too loudly in Washington, and that the Bush administration should avoid a rush to war by giving weapons inspections and international diplomacy more time.


“We went to Iraq because we care what happens to Americans,” Rep. McDermott said. “What happens to American soldiers, what happens to American people. We want this country to be safe,” he continued recounting his own experience as a physician treating combat soldiers–especially those exposed to Agent Orange defoliant–returning from the Vietnam conflict. “There is no reason to rush to war.”

 “We have no delusions about the truthfulness of Mr. Hussein. Saddam Hussein is not a good person, he is not a good person, but in resolving this issue with him, it should be done internationally with the world at our side, through the United Nations,” Mr. McDermott said.

“I have a very strong feeling that I don’t want to send anybody into war unnecessarily and without all the American people understanding what the purpose is. (This) debate has been extemely confusing to me. There are two issues. Do you want disarmament, or do you want regime change? David and I are very much for disarmament. That can be done without war.”

Disarmament and avoiding war will make the American people safer, he insisted.

“We also had discussions about the effects of a war on our troops and the Iraqi people,” Rep. Bonior said, “on our personnel that are stationed around the world, and other embassies. Going to war is a very, very, very serious business, and the implications here are broad, they are staggering, and they need to be looked at soberly, deliberately, and they need to be looked at in a way which reflects the seriousness of war itself.”

If the inspections process is allowed to run its course, it will prove that the U.S. is being fair in its condemnation of the Iraqi arms program, in a way similar to the irrefutable evidence offered by Pres. John F. Kennedy when he ordered the Cuban missile blockade in 1962.

The two lawmakers, and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), returned from Baghdad and other cities Oct. 1, to a storm of criticism from their fellow lawmakers. “To go over there and make the remarks they made, it is simply unconscionable, unpatriotic, and as far as I’m concerned, un-American,” Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) complained to reporters, according to published reports. “You can’t cavort around with the enemy and be a great American,” he said.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), said Mr. McDermott was “totally out of touch with the most fundamental tenet of Congressional responsibilities,” and that he and other liberals had “just basically regressed to their childhood days of Vietnam War protests.”

“We both served our country,” Mr. McDermott said in response to a question from FCN Online. “A lot of the people who are criticizing us, never were there when their country needed them. When you have an interview with them, ask them first what they did during the Vietnam era, and see where they were.”

“We paid, we did our part,” Mr. Bonior added. “Nobody’s going to accuse us of being traitors to our country. A democracy is based on dissent.”

Mr. Bonior also reported that their delegation visited several Iraqi cities where they investigated the effects of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens. At least 50,000 children die prematurely each year, he said. The rate of leukemia has exponentially shot up” he said. “Before the Gulf War, a mother would, after giving birth, ask immediately, ‘is it a male or a female? Today they ask, is it normal or abnormal?’”

The two lawmakers said they want Pres. Bush to follow Pres. Kennedy’s example of a broad discussion with people of various opinions before the Cuban missile blockade, as compared to Mr. Kennedy’s narrow advice only from those who wanted to attack Cuba before he approved the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Photo: Reps. David Bonior (D-Mich.) and James McDermott (D-Wash.)