There are junkets, and there are junkets

Al Kamen
Columnist April 14, 2011

Congress is scrambling to get out of town this week for a two-week home “work period,” especially welcome after the bruising budget battles here in River City.

But some members, mindful of the looming deadline for booking military jets for spring trips, are urging colleagues to think about travel options.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

One jaunt to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, being planned by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, includes a stop at little-visited Camp Ashraf in Iraq, home to about 3,000 people from an Iranian dissident group called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK.

The State Department has long listed the MEK as a terrorist organization, but the MEK fiercely opposes the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crowd in Tehran. So the camp, about 75 miles from the Iran-Iraq border and 37 miles from Baghdad, reportedly had been protected by U.S. troops until last week. The MEK, which had been armed and funded by Saddam Hussein, also enjoys substantial support from U.S. officials.

Forces of Nouri al-Maliki’s government, apparently spurred on by the Iranians, moved into the camp last week, sparking a clash with rock-wielding residents that left 34 dead and hundreds wounded, according to the United Nations.

The State Department and the United Nations strongly criticized the incident, but an Iraqi official insisted that the MEK members need to leave by the end of the year and “we have to find a nation where they can go.”

Rohrabacher’s June codel — congressional delegation — is scheduled to stop at the camp so “members will be able to . . . judge for themselves the development of Iraq’s democracy.” Got a feeling the members will judge it not very well developed.

The lawmakers will stop first in Manila to check out “the ongoing aggression” of the Chinese in international waters and “visit U.S. special forces that are assisting local forces in defeating the Islamic insurgency in the south.”

From there the group heads to Burma to try to see Aung San Suu Kyi, recently released from house arrest by the murderous thugs running the country they call Myanmar. Then it’s on to Kuwait City for “an audience with the royal family.” That sounds a bit more pleasant.

Then, finally, a chance to do some decent sightseeing and shopping in spectacular Istanbul, right? Maybe a side trip to the wonderful Greco-Roman ruins in Ephesus? Maybe not.

The codel will meet with various government officials, our invite says, “to examine the ruling ‘moderate’ Islamic party’s increasingly worrisome shift towards Islamism.”

You must “commit firmly” to the delegation by May 1, Rohrabacher advises, “because of the need for advance planning and the lead time to secure a military aircraft.”

This is not — repeat, not — a Loop-recommended trip.

That’s more like it

But wait! We’ve got another codel invite here somewhere. Ah, yes. Rep. Dan Burton,
(R-Ind.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, is planning to lead a delegation to Dublin, Vienna and Prague from May 14 to May 21.

They also will be flying by military jet, which is the only way to travel. (Just leave your passports and luggage at the Rayburn House Office Building and you’ll never have to fuss with them again.)

We’re looking at a couple of nights in Dublin, a couple more in Vienna and three more in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. This looks like a winner, a trip to let you leave those worries about budget cuts behind. Irish whiskey in Dublin, Heuriger wine (perfect time for young wine) in Vienna, Pilsener beer in Prague.

Keep in mind: “The purpose of this trip is to engage European partners with a focus on security, economic partnership and strengthening U.S. relations with the European community,” the invite says. Can you think of better places to take on those tasks? The members will also discuss “cooperation in Afghanistan and unrest in the Middle East” as well as Libya and the financial crisis “facing many European nations.”

Excellent. Sounds spectacular. Sign up immediately. This trip could draw a crowd.

If you have other congressional spring trips to recommend, pass them on to kamena@washpost.com.

Inhofe’s close call

Speaking of flying, Loop Fans may recall a story we broke in October about Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) landing on a closed runway — marked with huge X’s — at the Cameron County Airport in Texas while construction workers were repairing that runway.

Seems there was a substantial amount of activity on the runway that day and Inhofe, 76, who has a pilot’s license, may have come a lot closer to the workers than we had thought.

Construction supervisor Sidney Boyd, who called the Federal Aviation Administration after Inhofe landed, said there had been half a dozen trucks and workers on the runway at the time, according to audiotapes of several conversations obtained by the Smoking Gun Web site. Boyd said the plane narrowly missed a red truck coming up the runway and “scared the hell out of us.”

An air traffic controller told the FAA the Cessna 340 “landed right in the middle” of the workers.

The FAA, as we later reported, required Inhofe to do some remedial training in lieu of legal enforcement action.

Never mind

Correction of the Week — with strong odds for Correction of the Year:

NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press mistakenly published a story Wednesday about General Electric Co. that was based on a fake press release.

The fake release said that General Electric, responding to criticism over the amount of taxes it pays, would repay a $3.2 billion tax refund for 2010 to the Treasury Department.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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