Members of Congress have fled Washington in the past week, not heading home for the holidays, but instead heading off to faraway places, such as Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Cuba.

The nature of these trips is unsettling in many instances, but the planned visits to Cuba and Syria are especially troubling.

Among the occasional tourists making these treks are John Kerry and Chris Dodd, contenders for the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2008. In their case, the trips will be used to bolster their credentials for foreign affairs expertise, but even there questions arise.

Going to Iraq has become a rite of passage for anyone in Congress who wants to be up on the status of the war, and give credible information to their constituents, the media, and other members of Congress. Visiting Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia helps them make contacts with our allies in the region and get a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.

But Syria? Visiting Syria, one of the two main backers of the terrorists creating so much havoc in Iraq, is analogous to Jane Fonda visiting North Vietnam and providing aid and comfort to the enemy while we were still fighting them in South Vietnam.

Please, don't give me that sectarian violence crap. The biggest offender in Iraq, right behind Al Qaeda, in terms of murders, bombings, kidnappings and fomenting unrest, is Muqtada Al Sadr, who is getting his money, his weapons, many of his fighters, his expertise and his support from Iran and Syria. Take those two players out of the equation and Al Sadr is just another wannabe dictator running a Mom and Pop insurgency using two-bit hoods posing as freedom fighters.

Going to visit Syria is not a matter of one-upmanship over George Bush. Talking to our enemy while that enemy is locked in battle with us gives the enemy an exalted status amongst his fighters and an unwarranted morale boost, gives the enemy the false impression that American will is cracking, and gives the enemy reason to continue the struggle against us even if it means overwhelming losses to him on the battlefield.

Just look at the North Vietnamese. They lost 1.4 million troops fighting the US and South Vietnamese and were on the verge of surrender at least twice, but were convinced to hang on by the actions of American politicians and Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War, many of whom weren't Vietnam veterans but were in favor of communism. In the 1973, with help from the pro-Communist media led by Walter Cronkite, and the duplicitous or incompetent negotiating skills of Henry Kissinger, the US pulled out of Vietnam just when the communists were beaten and seeking to surrender for the second time. Over the next two years members of Congress, including Jack Murtha and Ted Kennedy, halted all military and economic aid to the south, setting the stage for the ultimate defeat of South Vietnam by the communists.

Going to Syria is a bad move. Since Kerry was illegally involved in private discussions with the communists in Paris while he was still a reserve US Navy officer I am not surprised to see him consorting with the enemy again. But Dodd, on the other hand, may be making the biggest mistake of his political career.

Dodd has been plagued in his quest for the presidential nomination by the name recognition issue, but if his advisers are telling him this is one way to get a higher profile, they are wrong. Does anyone see Hillary Clinton heading off to Damascus?

Dodd's advisers seem to be overlooking a key factor in American politics. Despite what the polls may say, even the most popular American politicians rarely have the support of much more than 25 percent of registered voters. I say this because it is rare that the turnout in any election gets much above 50 percent.

So if 50 percent of the voters don't come out to vote for you, then they aren't supporting you. If, out of the other 50 percent, you get 51 percent of the vote, that means you actually have the support of only 25.5 percent of registered voters.

Candidates who get a real surge of support from across the political spectrum are pretty rare. Only John McCain has done it lately, but he was sidelined when he got into an argument with the religious right.

One reason the majority of non-voting registered voters don't come out year after year is because they don't see any difference between the candidates from one party to the other, one year to the other. Following the crowd to Syria, especially when the crowd is led by the likes of John Kerry is not a smart political move, and could well open unaware candidates up to claims of treason when the Syrians live up to their basic nature and sabotage us on the fighting front.

In the meantime, a total of 10 American Congressmen went to Cuba this week, to pay homage the Raul Castro, the shadowlike brother of near-dead communist dictator Fidel Castro. News reports this week said Fidel is near death, although the definitions of 'near' varied from days to weeks to months.

They also said Raul, who was rarely heard of outside communist circles, has been acting dictator in his brother's time of need. Raul doesn't have as much support as Fidel, reports claimed, because he lacks the 'charisma' shown by the leader of the revolution that toppled the Batista dictatorship in 1957 and replaced it with the Castro dictatorship.

Fidel may have had charisma among his followers in the 1950s, but after he shot all the Batista regime members who weren't able to get off the island before he took over, Fidel, like virtually every other communist dictator before and after him, went on a rampage of murder, torture and imprisonment. The only 'charisma' he had after that came out of the barrel of a gun.

It is easy to be seen as popular when the penalty for not making it to the 'spontaneous' support demonstration is death.

The leaders of the Congressional delegation, which included Democrats and Republicans, said they were laying the groundwork for future economic relations with Cuba when Fidel dies. They specifically want to end the decades old embargo on trade with Cuba.

My question is "Why?"

The best thing that could ever happen to that island nation after Fidel dies is for his communist government to die with him. That would open the way for thousands of Cuban expatriates to return to their native home, create untold opportunities to increase the standard of living in that impoverished nation, and give Cuba an opportunity for real freedom.

Why would you want anything less? Why especially would any member of Congress want to help continue a brutal communist dictatorship?

One last note. Massachusetts senior Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy said on Fox News Sunday today that victory is not possible in Iraq, and that the war there has been going on longer than the war in Vietnam. Really?

It has been five years since the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01. We were in Vietnam for 15 years. Math must not have been the senator's strong point. Does anyone know if he actually has a strong point?

Victory not possible? The only people I hear make claims like that are people who spend the entire lives as losers. You can draw your own conclusions about that.