“'I was kind of joking' about nuking Syria”: Johnson

“'I was kind of joking' about nuking Syria”: Johnson
Republican Congressman who twice called for nuking Syria now contradicts what his chief of staff told Roll Call, says he was 'kind of 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'sleader 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, or].

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."

Jackson Thoreau, a Washington, D.C.-area journalist, contributed to Big Bush Lies, published by RiverWood Books and available in bookstores across the country. Thoreau's latest electronic book, The Strange Death of the Woman Who Filed a Rape Lawsuit Against Bush & Other Things the Bush Administration Doesn't Want You to Know, can be read at He can be reached at or


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