'Nuke Syria' Republican now says he was joking
   by Jackson Thoreau

After substantial public outcry about twice saying he wants to "nuke"
Syria, U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson [R-Texas] is now back-pedaling and
contradicting what his chief of staff told Roll Call, the non-partisan
Capitol Hill publication that broke the story.

In a March 4 article in the Dallas Morning News, one of numerous
places I sent the Roll Call report, Johnson claimed he was "kind of
joking" about the matter. The paper quoted Johnson as saying: "I was
kind of joking. You know. We were talking between veterans. We were
swapping sea stories - things that we'd done in the military."
Then Johnson added, "Syria actively opposes our allies' efforts on
terrorism, and they finance and harbor terrorists in Palestine, Iraq
and Lebanon. We're sure of that. They even fought against us on the
border during the Iraq incursion. So I don't think they're a friend of
the United States at all."

Johnson has said at least  twice he wanted to kill everyone in Syria
in one nuclear swoop, just because he has some unproven notion that
weapons of mass destruction are being hidden there. He has said this
to a public gathering in a speech in a church, no less, on Feb. 19,
and privately to Bush himself at the White House.

I don't buy that Johnson was joking about wanting to nuke Syria. For
one, when Roll Call asked his chief of staff, Cody Lusk, about the
remarks, Lusk failed to say it was a joke. He simply reminded the Roll
Call reporter that Johnson had been a fighter pilot in Korea and
Vietnam. "He was just speaking to a crowd of veterans," Lusk said.
A week after the Roll Call report and a bunch of public outcry, Lusk
and Johnson suddenly decided that Johnson was "kind of joking" about
the nuke Syria remarks.

I don't think it was a joke, and even if it was "kind of a joke,"
murdering so many people in one act is not something a country's
leader should be joking about. And if it was supposedly a joke, why
did the tape played to Roll Call only depict people applauding after
he made the remarks, and not laughing? A lot of people in this country
agree with Johnson that Syria should be "nuked," that's why.

Of course, former President Reagan made such a "joke" about outlawing
the former Soviet Union and beginning bombing in "five minutes" during
the 1980s. Bush also mocked a Texas woman whose death sentence he
signed.

What does that say about these Republicans who love to joke about
killing people? On some level, they are sadistically serious about
these supposed "jokes."

Many people have emailed me to express their disgust about Johnson's
remarks after I wrote an Internet column that exposed what he said to
more people  [see http://www.counterpunch.org/thoreau03022005.html,
http://www.opednews.com/thoreau_030205_nuke_syria.htm or
http://ThomasMc.com/0302jt.htm].

One of them, Jim Abourezk, a former member of the U.S. House and U.S.
Senate from South Dakota, wrote Johnson a letter highly critical of
his comments. Abourezk wrote that he has relatives in Syria, and he
recalled "a lot of idiocy when I served, but nothing as idiotic as
these latest ravings from Mr. Johnson"..What I don't think he
understands is that when someone who is draped in a congressional flag
says something even as foolish as urging that nukes be dropped on
Syria, it gives it the imprimatur of authority. He's not much of a
role model, unless it would be for the arms industry."

Abourezk said he had never heard anyone threaten any country like
that, especially a "small harmless country like Syria." He took a
businessman friend of his from Sioux Falls on a trip to Syria last
summer, and his friend agreed the U.S. was picking on a harmless
country. "The Syrian government can barely threaten their own people
or the people of Lebanon, and certainly not any country of any size or
strength," Abourezk wrote.

Moawia Tayyarah, a congressional affairs officer with the Embassy of
the Syrian Arab Republic, also did not take Johnson's statements
lightly. She wrote a letter to Roll Call, pointing out how "this kind
of ignorance and warmongering can only worsen the terrible image of
the United States across the entire Middle East at a time when America
actually needs to re-establish itself as an even-handed and fair world
leader."

Johnson's remarks will only incite Arabs into "greater anger toward
the leadership of the United States," Tayyarah wrote. "The fact
remains that neither Johnson nor any American intelligence agency has
a shred of evidence that these phantom and fictional Iraqi weapons of
mass destruction are in Syria. The reasons for this are simple. First,
these weapons do not exist. Second, anyone who understands the Middle
East knows that the ex-Iraqi regime and the Syrian government never
got along, and these kinds of relations did not exist between the two
countries.

"Does anyone remember that Syria joined the United States against
Saddam Hussein in 1991? I guess Rep. Sam Johnson does not."
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also pressured Johnson
into back-pedaling on the issue. In a letter faxed to Johnson, former
U.S. Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, president of the committee, wrote, "While
we recognize the current differences between the Bush Administration
and the Syrian Government, these differences should be addressed in
negotiations at the conference table, in coordination with our
international partners, rather than confrontation in the battlefield
by using nuclear weapons. We are sure that you would not want to see
any harm to any civilians, let alone to the tomb of John the Baptist,
St. Paul's Church where he converted to Christianity, and the ancient
icons of St. Luke, all of which are historical treasures of
significance to all faiths located in Syria.

"Advocating for genocide is completely unacceptable and contrary to
our American values and traditions. Indeed, it is a sad day when an
elected member of the United States Congress openly advocates for
attacking another country, any country, with nuclear weapons. The
remarks attributed to you demonstrate that you are an advocate for
mass destruction and genocide. These remarks have no place in the
United States Congress."


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