Iraq buildup succeeds, Brian Baird still an outcast
Brian Baird was lonely enough back when all his Democratic friends thought he was wrong. But now that it appears he was right — that...
Seattle Times staff columnist
DENVER — Brian Baird was lonely enough back when all his Democratic friends thought he was wrong.
But now that it appears he was right — that the Iraq war was going better, as he claimed, and President Bush's troop surge was working — the Southwest Washington congressman is even more of an outcast.
Now nobody much wants to talk to him about Iraq at all.
"After all that extraordinary outrage directed at me, not one person has called me up and said 'Hey, Brian, it looks like you might have had a point after all,' " said Baird, in Denver for his party's national convention this week.
"We say Bush is so blinded by ideology that he ignores the facts in the real world, and that's true," Baird said. "Aren't we doing the same thing? We're being just like Bush."
Baird touched off a furor last August when he effectively switched from the anti-war side by coming out in support of the troop buildup, which Democrats almost universally were trying to block.
I went down to Vancouver last summer to see Baird explain himself to his angry constituents. It was, I wrote, "one of the most severe tongue-lashings I've ever seen administered to a public official, at least face to face."
Six hundred people — from veterans to teachers, from a Columbia River boat captain to a lady who plays bagpipes at soldier funerals — spent nearly four hours calling Baird a sellout, Bush's lap dog, a neocon pet. Some told him to resign.
Based on multiple visits to Iraq as well as neighboring countries, Baird insisted then that the violent arc of the war was changing. Though he had voted against the war from the start and called the launching of it an epic foreign-policy mistake, he genuinely believed, from conversations with soldiers, military commanders and Iraqis, that there was now a real chance to bring some stability to the country.
So he took the plunge, voting to prolong a war his party was trying to end. He knew he would be hammered hard politically. Some fellow congressmen publicly suggested Baird had been brainwashed by the military.
This year, he has been challenged by anti-war candidates on both the left and the right. A "Bairdwatch" Web site was started to mock him. Personally, he says he's lost some longtime friends due to his stand.
As for how, in retrospect, he was more or less correct? Nothing. Crickets chirping.
The silence doesn't just apply to Baird. At the convention here there is very little discussion of the war, other than perfunctory calls to end it. I haven't heard much about how the security picture in Iraq has brightened so dramatically, nor any mention of the role of the controversial troop increase.
Baird says it's a dicey issue for Democrats. Including, to a degree, Barack Obama, who spoke out strongly against the surge. Only recently have national Democrats begun acknowledging the progress. But many still seem allergic to giving any credit to the troop buildup.
The surge isn't mentioned in the party platform adopted this week. The document does call for a Middle East "diplomatic surge."
Baird says there are many reasons why Iraq has calmed down, from key Sunnis deciding to stop attacking the U.S. to changes in military tactics on the ground. About the troop surge, though, he is blunt.
"We ought to just say that it worked. People were understandably skeptical of the administration at the time. But we have to acknowledge reality. Do you stay with a political position because it's popular even if it doesn't square with the facts?"
Baird's view is that if "the people in our party advocating for an immediate withdrawal of troops last year had gotten their way, it would have been disastrous for the U.S."
I asked Democratic congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, about all this. He said he had no second thoughts about opposing the surge.
"We buried quite a lot of people during the surge," he said. "It was such a titanic misjudgement to start the war in the first place that my belief is the only way to undo that, ultimately, is to leave. Completely."
Perhaps so. But doesn't it matter what we leave behind? We broke it, right?
I'm with Baird. I was hostile to the idea of a troop surge at the time. It seemed a lost cause. It wasn't. How is that anything but good news now?
Democrats ought to meet this issue head on. Because refusing to own up to reality — that's the mentality that got us into this mess in the first place.
Danny Westneat will be reporting from both parties' conventions: email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2086
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.