According to Congressional travel records, House and Senate members spent 6,910 days on "official travel" overseas in the first three-quarters of 2009, spending an estimated $9.4 million. They hit the obvious-Iraq and Afghanistan-but also those bastions of American security concern Scotland, Morocco, Denmark and Sweden.
But when Sen. Jim DeMint tried to visit Honduras, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry forbade an official trip, cutting off funds for the flight-an unprecedented step for a committee chairman. Sen. Kerry then tried to exchange permission for the trip for the release of DeMint's hold on two administration appointees - a bribe the DeMint declined to pay and he went without "authorization." No matter to Sen. Kerry. "We made our point,'" Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones told The Boston Globe. "The authorization was not going to come from Chairman Kerry."
Why is it so important for Sen. Kerry NOT to have on-the-ground information about Honduras?
You remember Honduras-in June the country's supreme court removed a president who tried to tamper with its constitution through an illegal referendum. The U.S. government called it a coup, cut off millions of dollars in aid, threatened more, stripped its diplomatic visas, stood with Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega in supporting Honduras's ouster from the Organization of American States and trashing in the UN Human Rights Committee, and met with its legally deposed president, Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya then slipped back into the country and has since been raving about being poisoned by Israelis.
Regardless of Sen. Kerry's opinion of events, he couldn't have forbidden the trip because of the nature of the interim Honduran government. Congressmen and Senators have graced the courts even of vile dictators. Seven Congressmen visited the Castro brothers in February; Nancy Pelosi stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Kuneitra with Bashar Assad; Kerry himself went to Gaza; Arlen Specter visited Saddam Hussein just before the first Gulf War. Myanmar-among the worst human rights violators-had a visit from Sen. Webb with the blessing of the Committee and the President. All in the interest of fact-finding on the ground.
But Honduras, and its interim president Roberto Micheletti, is a leper.
In the meantime, the interim Honduran government, with support from the its supreme court, parliament (minus only the three members of the Communist Party) and independent Election Commission, is continuing plans for the previously scheduled presidential election in November and the previously scheduled change in government in January 2010. Mr. Micheletti is not running.
You might think the U.S. State Department and Senate would have an interest in ensuring that those elections are free, fair and democratic-resolving the dilemma of how to undo the coup, if there was a coup. You might think the United States would send election observers so that we would have on-the-ground information. You might think the information Sen. DeMint brings back could be put to good use. But the State Department, with Sen. Kerry in harness, has a priori deemed the election unacceptable, election observers unnecessary and Sen. DeMint obstructionist. (They DO, on the other hand, accept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the "elected" leader of Iran.) It appears that only the restoration of Zelaya to the delight of his patrons in Venezuela and Nicaragua will assuage the wrath of the State Department and Sen. Kerry.
Facts on the ground and Sen. DeMint be damned.