August 24th, 2007

Brian Baird comes out for giving the surge a chance

Rep. Brian Baird, Democrat from Washington state, has written this extraordinary piece appearing in today’s Seattle Times.

Baird has been one of the more consistently anti-Iraq-War members of Congress. How do we know that? He voted against the invasion at the outset, and has been consistently and strongly critical of the decisions the Bush administration made in waging it.

That hasn’t changed, as you can tell by reading his column. No, Baird hasn’t become an apostate; he still thinks the war was a mistake.

Many of the antiwar Democrats have done some moderate backpedaling since it has become apparent that the surge might indeed be achieving some of its military goals. But Baird has gone further than most in actually pleading for the policy to be given more time; as he writes, “our troops have earned” it.

Why the change of mind? Here’s Baird:

It’s just not realistic to expect Iraq or any other nation to be able to rebuild its government, infrastructure, security forces and economy in just four years. Despite the enormous challenges, the fact is, the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving in multiple and important ways.

Regardless of one’s politics or position on the invasion, this must be recognized and welcomed as good news.

It’s a sign of how low politics has become (or maybe it always was?) that such an ability to rise above partisan concerns and personal defensiveness seems remarkable.

Baird came to his conclusions after a recent trip to Iraq during which he talked to people there, both Iraqis and Americans. He writes:

…to walk away now from the recent gains would be to lose all the progress that has been purchased at such a dear price in lives and dollars. As one soldier said to me, “We have lost so many good people and invested so much, It just doesn’t make sense to quit now when we’re finally making progress. I want to go home as much as anyone else, but I want this mission to succeed and I’m willing to do what it takes. I just want to know the people back home know we’re making progress and support us.”

Baird seems to have been hugely affected by these conversations, which must have been both convincing and intense. My guess is that part of the reason Baird was able to listen and to hear is that he is a clinical psychologist at the doctoral level, an unusual resume for a member of Congress. His work history prior to going to DC involved teaching, as well as direct service in “Veterans Administration hospitals, community medical health clinics, substance abuse treatment programs, institutions for juvenile offenders, head injury rehabilitation programs, and cancer treatment.”

So, Baird is trained to listen, really listen. Not that all therapists do that well, despite their training; but my guess is that Baird was a good therapist. He also has a background in listening to veterans through his VA hospital experience, and would be probably be especially predisposed to respect the members of the military he conversed with in Iraq.

That’s the language in which his column is couched: pay attention to the troops serving there, and give them a chance. They deserve it.

16 Responses to “Brian Baird comes out for giving the surge a chance”

  1. Xanthippas Says:

    As one soldier said to me, “We have lost so many good people and invested so much, It just doesn’t make sense to quit now when we’re finally making progress. I want to go home as much as anyone else, but I want this mission to succeed and I’m willing to do what it takes. I just want to know the people back home know we’re making progress and support us.

    I’ve said my peace on listening to the soldiers, both those for and against the war, but by “support us” this soldier means “support the mission” and I respectfully but vigorously disagree with the proposition that these two things are one and the same. They are not. I believe our soldiers in Iraq should be given every tool we possess to carry out their mission. I also believe that their mission-defined as peace and stability in Iraq-is a fruitless one. This soldier’s idea of “progress” is one of increased security, but the progress in even this field has been sporadic and limited geographically, at best. Progress in bringing long-term stability to the country via some political reconciliation among the warring parties? It’s not happening, and even venerable neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer agree with that.

    I respect the soldier for the job he’s doing, but quite frankly it’s not up to the soldiers to decide whether or not to continue fighting in Iraq. What devoted professional in any field will quit before forced to admit abject defeat? The determination of whether we are succeeding in Iraq is one for the American people to make, right or wrong. I happen to think that events in Iraq have demonstrated the correctness of opposition to the present mission, and for what it’s worth there are informed and intelligent soldiers who agree, as the recent op-ed in the NY Times illustrates.

  2. kingronjo Says:

    I will take your last sentence a little further. Not only do they deserve it, they have earned it, those still fighting and those who only live in their loved ones memories.

  3. michael schrage Says:

    i think both commenters have made remarks that are eminently fair and reasonable – not unlike rep baird…

    …but intellectual honesty requires pointing out that soldiers’ have a right to express their opinions on both sides of this issue and that rep baird doesn’t strike one as the sort of person who would have dismissed or minimized criticisms he heard from the soldiers in the field…please forgive me for being pleased that people entrusted with enormous responsibilities – soldiers and congresspeople – are behaving honorably and disagreeing with civility instead of vitriol

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    I respectfully but vigorously disagree with the proposition that these two things are one and the same. They are not.

    If you had a choice of true neutrality, such that you could simply stand aside and let things procede as they must, then what you say might be true. That is not how it is, however. Things are such that neither side will allow you neutrality, for your support or the support of people like you, are too important. Important for the Left in order to destabilize and create a “majority consensus”, by the sword and intimidation if nothing else. And it is important to those fighting against the Left, for the moral and individual support given to the Left must be countered and prevented from enriching their war chests or supply depots. Even if both sides consented to leave folks such as you unmanipulated, which they would not, the Islamic Jihad would force the issue one way or another because they certainly will use you however they can and in whatever ways they may manage. And no such transparent shield as “neutrality” could ever defend against the Islamic Jihad.

    History is complete with such examples. Or incomplete as the case may be.

    I also believe that their mission-defined as peace and stability in Iraq-is a fruitless one.

    That’s not their mission. That’s America’s mission. Because you don’t support this, it would be logical for you to believe that it is fruitless. That has little to do with their mission and much to do with the support of their mission. Things that fail because others refuse to make it succede, is the fault of whom? The fault of those who tried something that failed or the fault of those that ensured the failure?

    I respect the soldier for the job he’s doing, but quite frankly it’s not up to the soldiers to decide whether or not to continue fighting in Iraq.

    So do you believe that supporting a person means deciding for him or her what they are to do with their life?

    What devoted professional in any field will quit before forced to admit abject defeat?

    Journalists. Criminals. Enforcers. Japanese Empire. Settlers outgunned and outnumbered with women to protect. You know, either reasonable people, cowardly people, or just people without enough power.

    The determination of whether we are succeeding in Iraq is one for the American people to make, right or wrong.

    That’s a very interesting circular argument. To believe that the soldier is not able to create peace and security in Iraq because you believe the decision is America’s, and the American decision (or rather your decision) is that it can’t be done because it shouldn’t be done.

    Most aristocrats and kings believe that their command is reality. That whatever they command must be obeyed. And that is correct, to a certain extent. However, how you treat those under you will eventually decide your own fate.

    I happen to think that events in Iraq have demonstrated the correctness of opposition to the present mission

    A self-fullfilling prophecy is similar in some respects to a circular argument.

    intelligent soldiers who agree, as the recent op-ed in the NY Times illustrates.

    The only thing that matters is whether you achieve victory or defeat. How many did you think told themselves that others were correct to say that the Civil War was not worth it in the North and South? What did you think they said after the war was over? How many did you think said the same things that you have, during WWII? And what did you think they said afterwards? Victory silences all opponents, domestic or foreign. That is just the way humanity is. It doesn’t matter who was right or who was wrong, because victory makes you right. Do you think Nazism is faded out and discredited because people just suddenly got it in their heads that it wasn’t worth it? No, they were made to believe this was true on the battlefield. And the same is true for people’s opinions on Iraq.

  5. Greybeard Says:

    Xanthippas:

    “This soldier’s idea of “progress” is one of increased security, but the progress in even this field has been sporadic and limited geographically, at best.”

    Citation please! No cite? Then this is your opinion.
    Are you an expert? Tell us how and why.

    And please be aware, when I hear anyone use the term “neocon”, or in your case “neo-con”, I immediately move on to the next commenter. It’s a red flag, and the term destroys any credibility the user might have with me.

  6. Looking Glass Says:

    Anyone capable of actually listening could easily be won over by the soldiers

    Just being themselves as American soldiers that these young men were able to win over the admiration and affection of more than one journalist who had arrived in their midst harboring a less-than-positive opinion of the Iraq war.

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    I would recommend reading Doug L’s Star Wars article, Neo. They give you a good glimpse into the psychology of victory, defeat, and how it affected the Left during Vietnam. One of your specialties, I believe ; )

  8. The Den Mother Says:

    “What devoted professional in any field will quit before forced to admit abject defeat?”

    I think you’re asking the wrong question. Try this one: What devoted professional in any field would beg for more of a chance to spin his/her wheels, at considerable risk to both him/herself and others, with no possibility of success? The quote is not from someone who is saying he doesn’t want to quit. It’s from someone who sees that he isn’t just spinning his wheels, that there is a chance to succeed, and that the risk to himself and his colleagues is worth the continued effort.

  9. gcotharn Says:

    Xanthippas: you may feel deservedly honored to be taken seriously in this comments section, as opposed to being dismissed out of hand. However, the honor of being taken seriously means you will be seriously challenged.

    You wrote:
    This soldier’s idea of “progress” is one of increased security, but the progress in even this field has been sporadic and limited geographically, at best.

    First: it is nice of you to admit that “progress” is happening!

    Second: progress in war is almost always sporadic. “Sporadic” “progress” does not constitute a reason to surrender.

    Third: “limited geographically” is an invalid measure of progress in a desert nation with unevenly distributed population.

    Moving on…
    You wrote:
    Progress in bringing long-term stability to the country via some political reconciliation among the warring parties? It’s not happening, and even venerable neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer agree with that.

    I’m guessing you are referencing today’s Krauthammer column, which I found at NRO. While Krauthammer says national political reconciliation is not happening at this exact moment, he also asserts that it could happen in the future – if the Maliki government is replaced. Maybe you had read a Dowdified quote on another blogsite, and had not read Krauthammer’s entire context. Krauthammer:

    Serious people like Levin argue that with a nonfunctional and sectarian Baghdad government, we can never achieve national reconciliation. Thus the current military successes will prove ephemeral.

    The problem with this argument is that it confuses long term and short term. In the longer run, there must be a national unity government. But in the shorter term, our assumption that a national unity government is required to pacify the Sunni insurgency turned out to be false. The Sunnis have turned against al Qaeda and are gradually switching sides in the absence of any oil, federalism, or de-Baathification deal coming out of Baghdad.
    [...]
    We should have given up on Maliki long ago and begun to work with other parties in the Iraqi Parliament to bring down the government, yielding either a new coalition of less sectarian parties or, as Pollack has suggested, new elections.

    The choice is difficult because replacing the Maliki government will take time and because there is no guarantee of ultimate political success. Nonetheless, continuing the surge while finally trying to change the central government is the most rational choice because the only available alternative is defeat — a defeat that is not at all inevitable and would be both catastrophic and self-inflicted.

  10. AMac Says:

    You might be interested to read a brief account of Rep. Baird’s meeting with Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker in Baghdad last week. Wes Morgan has embedded with the U.S. military under the auspices of Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail, about the best journalism/blogging site for learning about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Morgan’s account:

    My final event of the day before leaving the embassy was unexpected – Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were briefing a delegation of three Congressmen, and they permitted me… to sit in. [One of them,] Washington Democrat Brian Bird (sic), stunned me with his knowledge of the situation in Iraq, reasonable perspective on the surge and Iraqi political process, and above all his suggestions for Petraeus’ September visit to DC and how he could make sure that the American people understand the message of his report.

  11. Donald Douglas Says:

    Great article…I wish more Democrats could think so clearly!

    Here’s my post on Markos Moulitas’ Trojan Horse pragmatism:

    http://burkeanreflections.blogspot.com/2007/08/trojan-horse-pragmatism-markos.html

    Have a great weekend!

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    I think Krauthammer might be underestimating the finicky political situation in Iraq, one where alliances and coalitions form the power base. I don’t think it is going to matter what leader is there, if that leader lacks a power base. And you get power bases by doing what Massoud and Karzai did, which is to lead revolutionary or guerrila wars and win them.

    I don’t want to hear talk about bringing down the government, because the last time that happened was with Diem. I am not confident the US has the intel, the intelligence, or the wisdom to know what is safe or unsafe.

  13. gcotharn Says:

    I’m kinda with ya. But, if they bring down the government, they will do it according to provisions in the Iraq Constitution. It will be legal and constitionally provided for action. So that makes me feel a little bit better.

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    There’s a thin line between what a Constitution might say and what the realities of the ground are. As we can see with Chavez’s reign of terror. The Constitution makes it harder for people to go apeshit, yes, but it won’t automatically turn a situation that has been engineered to be favorable to our enemies, into a situation favorable to us.

    Our enemies have had a long experience with subverting and distorting the words of good men and women into the tools of tyranny and slavery, more experience than we have with beating back such darkness.

    The International Red Cross was founded by a man that saw the carnage of the American Civil War first hand and the conditions on many other battlefields. Yet, look at the IRC now. An organization designed to standardize care and ensure that doctors would not be targeted, because it was already hard trying to save the lives of soldiers in tents full with the buzzing of flies and the crawling of maggots.

    In fact, evil can do greater harm by hiding their motivations behind the mask of Goodness. Nobody is going to support Nazism, because it has been shown for what it is. Yet people will follow other organizations with the same intentions, such as the ACLU or CAIR, because they believe them to be good. Using a Constitution as justification for subversive actions can make such actions even more harmful, GC.

    The forces of evil are very tricky, deceptive, and cautious. In some ways, we must think in the same ways if we are to face them and their allies.

    This goes against the core of good men and women, who believe that honesty and transparency is the way to go. Yet there is no justification for refusing to use tools that might benefit others simply because those tools are distasteful. If necessary, I would even support the use of the Left, regardless of the amount of blood such tools acquired in Vietnam.

  15. Chapomatic Says:

    [...] interesting discussion on Rep. Baird, who surprised some folks this week with an op-ed with conclusions that I generally [...]

  16. Jay Says:

    The bottom line is that Brian Baird got to see and talk to only the people that the Pentagon let him see and talk to.
    He did not hire his own independent interpreters and go out and wander around somewhere on his own in Iraq, I can guarantee that.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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