On April 12, 1990, Frank Murkowski joined four other U.S. senators in Iraq for a meeting with Saddam Hussein. Their purpose was to help Saddam find ways of improving his image in America. This image was understandably poor. Two years earlier Saddam had launched a well publicized campaign of genocide against the Kurdish minority living in his country, resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 unarmed Kurdish men, women and children.
Quotes from the meeting, printed in the April 27, 1991, edition of the Congressional Quarterly, indicate that the visiting senators told Saddam that his problems lay not with his unconscionable behavior, but with the Western media which had honestly reported it.
Murkowski appears to have been unmoved by the slaughter. Upon his return he argued forcefully in favor of Saddam's regime on the floor of the Senate, successfully blocking sanctions against Iraq which other, more enlightened senators wished to impose. In so doing he argued against federal law which requires our government to take actions against, not for, nations engaging in the crime of genocide. Only after Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, when the Bush Administration and the oil industry turned against Saddam, did Murkowski suddenly change his mind about the Iraqi dictator.
Frank Murkowski was fully aware of Saddam's bloody history. Yet given the chance to stand up against genocide, he not only failed to do so, he personally aided the only head of state in history other than Adolf Hitler to have used poison gas in a sustained effort to exterminate an ethnic minority. Who he felt he was representing in doing this is unclear, but it was certainly not the people of Alaska.
Republicans are fond of invoking the character issue when running for office. But when Frank Murkowski came to Saddam's aid, he showed more about his character than all the sound-bites and warm and fuzzy TV ads combined could possibly prove. The question is not whether Murkowski should be Alaska's next governor. The question is why should he be allowed to hold any public office whatsoever.
David A. James