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.