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Analysis: Group of Congressman Who Have Returned From Iraq Warn Against What They Call A Rush To War

All Things Considered: October 2, 2002

Visit to Iraq



ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The congressional resolutions are being considered just as three members of Congress return from a journey to Iraq. Those Democrats are now back in Washington, where they're among the few voices warning against what they call `a rush to war.' NPR's Steve Inskeep reports from the Capitol.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

The congressmen traveled to Baghdad and Basrah. The say the Iraqi government let them talk to anybody through Iraqi interpreters. They say they came away convinced that war would harm US interests and inspire terrorists, and they say Iraqis may not give up easily. Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state predicted warfare in crowded cities.

Representative JIM McDERMOTT (Democrat, Washington): A woman said to me if Basrah, `If you had gone after Saddam Hussein in 1991, perhaps we would have been glad to have it. But now after suffering 10 years of sanctions, we will support Saddam Hussein.'

INSKEEP: Along with Democrats David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California, McDermott says he met with Iraqi government leaders. They say they warned Iraqi officials that they must accept United Nations weapons inspectors in order to avoid war. Today, Congressmen McDermott and Bonior sat together on a couch on Capitol Hill. They're warning their colleagues that Congress might wreck the last hope of diplomacy if it votes to authorize war now. McDermott also suggested that the Bush administration's talk of war only distracts the country from other issues, like the economy.

Rep. McDERMOTT: It's in the old county fair trick of the three walnut shells and the pea. If you keep people's attention off what's going on by moving things around, they don't listen.

INSKEEP: Some Democrats have questioned the president's decision to demand a war resolution during an election season. At the same time, some Democrats have been seen as eager to approve the war resolution quickly. They'd like to get it out of the way, and shift public debate back to other issues before the November election. But Democrat David Bonior told reporters today that'll never happen.

Representative DAVID BONIOR (Democrat, Michigan): Politically to think that somehow having a vote will move this off of your front pages, I think, is--it's not facing reality.

INSKEEP: The Bush administration has not publicly criticized the lawmakers' trip, but some of the president's supporters have. Today, Texas Republican Sam Johnson questioned the lawmakers' patriotism. A Vietnam veteran held up a Washington Post photograph that showed Congressman McDermott in Baghdad. On a wall behind McDermott, as on almost every wall in Iraq, hung a portrait of Iraq's dictator.

Representative SAM JOHNSON (Republican, Texas): Can you believe what our troops overseas would think seeing a picture of a United States congressman standing next to Saddam Hussein, who is one of our avowed enemies? You can't cavort around with the enemy and be a great American.

INSKEEP: Congressman Jim McDermott brushed aside that criticism. He says he served in the military himself, and that he wants to protect American soldiers from a hazardous fight.

Rep. McDERMOTT: And although some may think it's not the right thing to say or whatever--thank you very much--that's part of being a democracy. And I think there is more than one view here, and we're ready to have that debate. Let's have the debate!

INSKEEP: Congressman McDermott will get his wish for congressional debate over the next few days, though it's considered much less likely that he will get his wish to slow down Congress from authorizing war. Steve Inskeep, NPR News, the Capitol.

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