Longing for Iraq

Governor Bill Richardson, a former Congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has the unusual distinction of having directly negotiated, in 1995, with Saddam Hussein for the release of two captured American oil workers.

Early in 2006, Mitt Romney, as Governor of Massachusetts, requested a trip to Baghdad with the Department of Defense, which sponsored tours for governors who wanted to meet with guard or reserve units. After visiting Iraq in May of last year he told the Boston Globe, “It would be a severe mistake for us to cut and run.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also made use of the Department of Defense program, and after visiting Iraq in January of last year said on his monthly radio program that, judging from what he had seen, the war wasn’t going as badly as the media made it seem.

“From my perspective, we are not getting the full story here,” Mr. Huckabee said at the time, adding, “What you’re not getting is the story of what’s going right.”

Former Wisconsin Governor and Republican candidate Tommy Thompson visited Iraq in February 2004 in his capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Still, even some members of Congress who are running for president have opted not to avail themselves of the government’s assistance. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a peripheral Republican candidate who opposes the war, thinks it’s a waste of money.

“He does not take taxpayer funded junkets,” said Jesse Benton, a spokesman for the Paul campaign. “Ron doesn’t necessarily think that outside groups paying for congressmen to travel is necessarily a bad thing, if it is done transparently.”

So far, nobody has offered to pay his way.

Despite serving as a representative from Ohio, antiwar candidate Dennis Kucinich says that he hasn’t had the chance to go.

“The opportunity hasn’t presented itself,” said spokesman Andy Juniewicz, who offered another war zone instead. “Last year he went to Lebanon with his wife and toured bombed-out areas of Beirut.”

Other long-shot candidates have tried to make the most of domestic destinations with Iraq connections.

“The next best thing is to go to Walter Reed,” said Alex Colvin, a spokesman for former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, referring to the military hospital in Washington, D.C. “We go to Walter Reed.”