Another Perspective

We Used to Call Him Baghdad Jim

Before he reached out to the IRS, Rep. Jim McDermott reached out to Saddam Hussein.

By 6.7.13

As a spokesman for defending the indefensible in the IRS scandal, it looks like liberals have trotted out Congressman Jim McDermott. When that happens, it’s a very bad sign for Democrats.

Earlier in the week, McDermott provided an outrageous performance from the stage of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Click here for Kaylin Bugos’ summary at the Spectator site.) It was such a spectacle that McDermott appeared on Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox News Channel for an encore the next day. Kelly questioned McDermott for seeming to shrug off the IRS investigation of a particular Tea Party group. McDermott was testy: “Ms. Kelly, they can still operate. They can still collect money. They can still put out advertisements. They can use their First Amendment right. Nobody in the IRS stopped them from doing that.”

This was hardly the point, and a gigantic stretch. When Kelly challenged McDermott, the congressman snapped back: “You are putting words in my mouth! Stop it!”

Well, if only we could stop Congressman McDermott. In fact, if only we could put words in his mouth. Unfortunately, we can’t. McDermott does that himself. And the results are frequently disastrous.

In anticipation of more to come from Obama’s congressional front-man on the IRS scandal, I herewith submit (as a public service) this McDermott flashback, a walk down memory lane, which I detailed a few years back in my book Dupes:

It was an escapade that began about 10 years ago. McDermott and two other anti-war liberal congressmen traveled to Iraq in September 2002 as the Bush administration tried to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Saddam Hussein. Joining McDermott were Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.).

Saddam seemed to be on a fishing expedition of sorts, looking for suckers from the U.S. Congress. He knew where to find dupes in, say, the media and Hollywood (remember Sean Penn), but he needed to hook a few from Congress. So, the troika of McDermott, Bonior, and Thompson got a special invite from the Butcher of Baghdad. He wasn’t disappointed.

Saddam’s aides couldn’t wait to get a microphone in front of McDermott. More than that, they had a studio ready. Here again, there was no need to put words in McDermott’s mouth. He complied willingly and creatively.

On September 29, 2002, the Iraqi government eagerly positioned McDermott and Bonior for an interview with ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Right on cue, McDermott mouthed the Iraqi Baathist Party line, declaring that President George W. Bush “will lie to the American people in order to get us into war.”

McDermott didn’t call Saddam Hussein a liar, bear in mind -- or anything bad at all. It was the evil Bush who was the liar.

When an incredulous Stephanopoulos pushed McDermott for clarification, asking if he stood by his claim that the president would intentionally lie to drag the nation into war, the congressman held firm: “I think the president would mislead the American people.” The Seattle congressman deduced that Bush and the administration would “give out misinformation … information that is not provable.” When Stephanopoulos asked for evidence of Bush’s lying, McDermott didn’t proffer any, simply reaffirming his conviction that the president was a deceiver.

Stephanopoulos seemed taken aback when McDermott suspended the same suspicion toward his endearing Iraqi hosts. Whereas Bush operated on duplicity, McDermott said of Saddam and his regime: “I think you have to take the Iraqis on their face value.”

Part of that “face value,” said McDermott, was for the Bush administration to understand that Saddam Hussein, after over a decade of obstructing and blocking UN weapons inspectors, was now suddenly supportive of “unfettered inspections.” The Iraqis, added McDermott, had given him and Bonior “assurances” of that.

And now Jim McDermott was giving the Iraqis exactly what they wanted.

Throughout Iraq, McDermott and friends were a big hit. Every stop on their goodwill tour of the Republic of Fear was circulated by Saddam’s Ministry of Information, which published their itinerary in the regime’s government-controlled newspapers, television, radio, and on the ministry’s website. To make it handy and accessible, the itinerary was published in both Arabic and English. Saddam’s managers didn’t want anyone to miss the McDermott show.

The Iraqi press was off and running with excellent copy from the congressman. Baghdad’s busy reporters headlined McDermott’s antics on front-pages and evening news broadcasts, right alongside other gems, including heartwarming stories of heroic Palestinian suicide bombers who gave their lives as “intrepid martyrs” and the obligatory piece on Jews’ responsibility for 9/11.

So, Jim McDermott was well received in Iraq. How about back home?

Interestingly, McDermott’s work was such a shock, such clear propaganda for the Iraqi cause, that even fellow liberals in the America media seemed embarrassed.

A CNN reporter asked McDermott flat-out if he and Bonior and Thompson minded being exploited by Saddam’s tyrannical regime. Not at all, yapped the congressman: “If being used means that we’re highlighting the suffering of Iraqi children, or any children, then, yes, we don’t mind being used.”

The congressman’s usage was far from finished. Once back home, he appeared on PBS’s NewsHour, where he said the paramount issue in Iraq was whether “the United States can decide to wipe out another country’s leader whenever we don’t like them.” The interviewer, Gwen Ifill, asked McDermott what he thought of the charge that he was “an apologist for Saddam Hussein.” McDermott said that the people making such accusations “are stupid.”

Of all this was bad enough. Conservatives remember much of it. The sordid display earned the congressman the nickname “Baghdad Jim.” But even the most cynical conservative couldn’t imagine just how bad Baghdad Jim and the boys had been suckered by Saddam.

The full lengths of the manipulation became public a few years later in a March 2008 AP story based on the verdict of federal prosecutors, and largely ignored by the rest of the media (including conservative outlets). Prosecutors had learned that Saddam’s chief intelligence agency had “secretly financed” (AP’s words) the trip to Iraq by McDermott and Bonior and Thompson. Prosecutors determined that the trip was arranged by a Middle Easterner in Detroit named Muthanna Al-Hanooti, who had set up the trip “at the behest of Saddam’s regime.” Iraqi intelligence officials, prosecutors learned, reportedly paid for the trip through an intermediary, and rewarded Al-Hanooti with two million barrels of Iraqi oil.

Prosecutors added that they had “no information whatsoever” that the three congressmen were aware that the trip was underwritten by Saddam’s henchmen. “Obviously, we didn’t know it at the time,” explained McDermott, pleading innocence. “The trip was to see the plight of the Iraqi children. That’s the only reason we went.”

Rep. McDermott’s staff agreed, pointing to other sources for the trip. His spokesman, Michael DeCesare, said the congressman had been invited to Iraq by a Seattle “church group,” and had been unaware of Iraqi funding for the trip. Congressman Thompson likewise said he had “no question at all regarding the sponsor of the trip or the funding.”

Make of that what you will. I tend to see McDermott not as a malicious evildoer but a classic leftist dupe easily manipulated by whoever wants to tugs his strings. Yesterday, it was Saddam and his goons. Today, it’s the IRS goons doing the handy work of advancing Barack Obama.

When the left needs someone outrageous to take an outrageous position, Baghdad Jim McDermott is there — forever safely ensconced in Congress by nutty Seattle voters. Expect plenty more outrages to come. This week’s fireworks are surely just the start.

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