Last week Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA 3rd) made an about-face, announcing after a twelve-day trip to the Middle East that he no longer supports a binding timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.[2,3,4] -- UFPPC's Mark Jensen, once a colleague's of Baird's on the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University, comments on this change of position.
BRIAN BAIRD'S ABOUT-FACE ON IRAQ
By Mark Jensen
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
August 21, 2007
The Washington Post reported on its front page Tuesday that Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA 3rd) has changed his position on Iraq: "Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.) said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines."
Baird's switch is an important contribution to making the Iraq disaster an even more thoroughly bipartisan venture than it already is. Since there is disunity in the peace movement, and since constitutional means to oust the Bush administration from power appear to have little prospect of succeeding, the catastrophe in Iraq now seems set to continue for a long, long time.
Was Baird right to change his position? Let's examine his thinking.
News of Baird's shift was first reported by the Olympian (Olympia, WA) in an article published Aug. 17. In it, Baird said: "I know it's going to cost hundreds of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars." But the U.S. has, according to Baird, "a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work."
"People may be upset. I wish I didn't have to say this," he said, but "[o]ne, I think we're making real progress," and "[s]econdly, I think the consequences of pulling back precipitously would be potentially catastrophic for the Iraqi people themselves, to whom we have a tremendous responsibility . . . and in the long run chaotic for the region as a whole and for our own security."
We get more insight into Baird's thinking from his remarks to the Columbian (Vancouver, WA), also published on Aug. 17: "I have come to believe that calls for premature withdrawal may make it more difficult for Iraqis to solve their problems. If you have some guarantee of support, you have working space to reach out and involve the other side. If you think we are going to withdraw and chaos and civil war might ensue, then the decision is different. It's no longer 'Let's reach out,' but 'Let's prepare for the coming war.' That's a very different mind-set."
To the Columbian, Baird also said: "Because of the additional troops, our forces have been able to take it to the insurgents. They have been able to put units out into the field proactively. The more you bring someone in, the more you get contacts to bring the next person in. When you find the bomb factories, you save a lot of lives."
Baird justified his view by saying that he now believes there is "some chance of a reasonable outcome by staying a little longer," adding: "The party leadership may be in a different place than I am right now."
"Every major political leader [sic] in the region has said to me, 'You think you can walk away from all this, but your actions created the instability.' If we fail there, the consequences for our national security interests and for the Iraqi people will be grave."
Baird's remarks indicate that on his trip to the Middle East he fell victim to a number of fallacies: 1) that Iraq as an entity with an effectively functioning government still exists; 2) that there is a unified opposition that can be called "the other side"; 3) that civil war in Iraq is something that "might ensue" and that can be avoided; 4) that the U.S. staying in Iraq will work against "instability."
The first three claims are demonstrably false; the fourth, which has been continuously asserted for more than four years now, is and has long been implausible.
As for the claim that "we're making real progress," see Tom Engelhardt's recent examinations of the situation in Iraq. Or the recent Chatham House report by Gareth Stansfield. Or a recent survey of U.S. foreign policy experts, most of whom believe that Bush's present "surge" has "harmed U.S. national security."
Or take a look at this graphic, by Prof. Ed Stephan of Western Washington University.
Brian Baird, as a former professor of psychology, doubtless knows the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus's quip that "psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy." Today, U.S. Iraq policy has become that folly for which it regards itself as the solution.
These days, it looks as if it will take a financial collapse to bring America's leaders to their senses. Sadly, Baird and other Democrats are willing in the meantime to sacrifice thousands (not hundreds) more American lives -- speaking only of deaths; the number of lives twisted and blighted will be a hundred times greater -- and tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions more Iraqi lives -- these go unmentioned by Baird. And far from saving "our own security," Americans are tearing the very fabric of their constitutional democratic republic by pursuing the will-o'-the-wisp of what Baird calls, nonsensically, "a reasonable outcome" in Iraq.
I'm sure my former colleague would deny it, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that one of the reasons Democrats like himself who opposed the war are now willing to embrace staying in Iraq is that they intend to avoid the domestically poisonous charge of "losing Iraq."
Baird's change of position is thus politically significant. A web site devoted to "exposing and combating liberal media bias" trumpeted Baird's change of heart; in comments, dozens of readers on the right jubilated.
An astute commentator on a web site to the left said: "Actually Baird is saying out loud what the majority of the Democratic Party has been saying out loud. Redeployment of troops within Iraq has always been part of the mainstream Democratic proposals and now General Petraeus is signaling that that is his plan."
In May 2005, more than two years ago, we wrote: "[Prof. Juan Cole's] depressing conclusion: 'The United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years.' But why only 15 years? Why not 100 years? After all, freedom has a price! As Doug Giebal wrote in CounterPunch on Jan. 6, 2004: 'The currently-infamous U.S. installation at Guantanamo Bay dates back to 1901. A hundred-year stay in Iraq would not be anything new.' Besides, that's just about how long it'll take to pump out what Linda McQuaig, writing in the *Toronto Star*, called Iraq's 'giant pools of oil, right beneath the warm ground.'"
Brian Baird says that the U.S. has "a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work."
But there is no responsibility to do what rational analysis concludes to be impossible. However laudable an end may be, it is not only irresponsible, it is immoral to seek it when its pursuit costs lives, as mine workers in Utah acknowledged this month.
As for "making this work," such a goal might arguably be in the "strategic interest" of the U.S. national security state. But the impossibility of realizing that goal makes its pursuit unreasonable as well.
In Iraq, nothing the U.S. can do will succeed in "making this work."
--Mark Jensen is a member of United for Peace of Pierce County and of the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University.
SENATOR CALLS FOR MALIKI'S OUSTER
By Jonathan Weisman
** Levin Urges Iraqis To Replace Leaders **
August 21, 2007
[PHOTO CAPTION: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for a "less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government" in Iraq. The White House responded by reaffirming its confidence in Maliki.]
Declaring the government of Iraq "non-functional," the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq's parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days.
"I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan.
Levin's statement, the most forceful call for leadership change in Iraq from a U.S. elected official, comes as about two dozen lawmakers are traveling to Iraq during Congress's August break to glean firsthand assessments before receiving a progress report next month from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander there, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador.
Not every Democrat has come back from Iraq supporting a drawdown of U.S. forces in the coming months, as party leaders have advocated. Staking out positions that could complicate efforts to achieve party unity in September, a few Democratic lawmakers have returned expressing support for a continued troop presence. One of them, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines.
Levin's comments to reporters followed the release of a joint statement with the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), which was pessimistic about Iraq's political future. The statement referred to a round of recent meetings between Maliki, who is backed by President Bush, and Iraqi political leaders as "the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis."
Maliki, a Shiite, has been trying to hold a summit with rival Sunni political leaders and ethnic Kurdish officials to reach a compromise on several contentious issues, including a formula to distribute the country's oil revenue and a law aimed at allowing some former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs. The meeting, which was scheduled to start last week, has been repeatedly delayed.
Should those talks fail in the next few days, Warner and Levin said, "the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi people need to judge the Government of Iraq's record and determine what actions should be taken -- consistent with the Iraqi Constitution -- to form a true unity government to meet those responsibilities."
Warner, a war supporter who has grown skeptical of U.S. involvement, was traveling yesterday and unable to comment on the joint statement.
The two senators' assessment is only the most recent move in a series of efforts by both political parties to gain momentum before the next political showdown over the war.
Yesterday, Americans United for Change, an umbrella group with labor backing, unleashed new television advertisements against Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Reps. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), tying them to Bush's war policies as Democrats press for Republican fissures.
Republicans also are trying to use the congressional trips to their political advantage. The tours, carefully conducted by the Defense Department, generally include visits to the Green Zone for consultations with U.S. and Iraqi officials, trips to forward operating bases and joint security stations involved in Petraeus's new counterinsurgency program, and heavily guarded tours of open markets, often in Anbar province, where a U.S. alliance with Sunni sheiks has calmed the region.
Republican leaders have seized upon any positive statements from lawmakers returning from Iraq to portray Democratic leaders as wedded to failure there while the Democratic Party grows increasingly divided over the war's progress.
Last Friday, Baird told the Olympian, a newspaper in his district, that he now believes the United States should stay in the country as long as necessary to ensure stability.
That followed comments by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) suggesting that his trip to Iraq made him more flexible in his search for a bipartisan accord on the future U.S. role in the conflict. "If anything, I'm more willing to work to find a way forward," he told reporters late last month.
Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.), who was with McNerney, told his local paper that the troop increase "has really made a difference and really has gotten al-Qaeda on their heels."
At times, such statements have been clearly taken out of context. When Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) returned from Iraq and said, "We're making some measurable progress," the GOP declared that the Democratic leadership had splintered on the war. What Republicans left out was the rest of Durbin's remarks: "We cannot win this war militarily. We just can't send enough troops."
But some Democrats have shifted their views. Baird said yesterday that Congress's debate over the war has destabilized Iraq by sending wary Iraqi politicians back to their sectarian bases of support.
"We are making real and tangible progress on the ground, for one," Baird said, "and if we withdraw, it could have a potentially catastrophic effect on the region."
Levin was unambiguous. Like other Democrats, he hailed the work of U.S. forces and an increasingly capable Iraqi army. Ten of the Iraqi army's 12 divisions are now trained, Levin said, and by year's end, an 11th will be ready.
Even so, he said, those forces will not take control until U.S. troops stand down. Levin stood by his timeline for beginning troop withdrawals within four months, with most U.S. forces out by the middle of next year.
It was Levin's comments on Maliki that broke new ground. The Bush administration has continued to back Maliki for several reasons, including concern that the collapse of his Shiite-dominated government might lead to months of internal political conflict. (After the 2005 elections, the newly elected parliament took five months to form a government.) U.S. officials also believe that Maliki has fewer ties to Iran than do other major Shiite candidates.
Yesterday, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the administration continues to believe that "Prime Minister Maliki and the Presidency Council will be able to get this important work done."
Despite their deepening concerns about Maliki's leadership flaws, U.S. officials also believe that any new prime minister would confront the same obstacles in trying to broker political reconciliation.
Still, Democrats have quietly begun to voice a view that Maliki must go; Durbin said he told White House national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley that last week. But they acknowledge that they do not know what would happen next. If it appeared that Maliki had been ousted at Washington's behest, his replacement would be seen as a U.S. puppet -- a "kiss of death" in the region, Durbin said.
And Democratic leaders might feel compelled to ease their antiwar position to allow a new government to take root.
"Imagine if we have to step in with a brand-new leader and a new government," Durbin said. "How many more months would we have to wait?"
Staff writers Robin Wright and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.
BAIRD SEES NEED FOR LONGER U.S. ROLE IN IRAQ
By Brad Shannon
Olympian (Olympia, WA)
August 17, 2007
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird said Thursday that his recent trip to Iraq convinced him the military needs more time in the region, and that a hasty pullout would cause chaos that helps Iran and harms U.S. security.
"I believe that the decision to invade Iraq and the post-invasion management of that country were among the largest foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. I voted against them, and I still think they were the right votes," Baird said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
"But we're on the ground now. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work."
Baird, a five-term Democrat, voted against President Bush ordering the Iraq invasion -- at a time when he was in a minority in Congress and at risk of alienating voters. He returned late Tuesday from a trip that included stops in Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, where he met troops, U.S. advisers and Iraqis, whose stories have convinced him that U.S. troops must stay longer.
With Congress poised next month to look at U.S. progress in Iraq and a vote looming on U.S. funding for the war, Baird said he's inclined to seek a continued U.S. presence in Iraq beyond what many impatient Americans want. He also expects Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees U.S. troops in Iraq, to seek a redeployment of forces. "People may be upset. I wish I didn't have to say this," Baird said. He added that the United States needs to continue with its military troops surge "at least into early next year, then engage in a gradual redeployment. . . . I know it's going to cost hundreds of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars."
It was Baird's fifth trip to the Middle East, and he conceded that what he has learned has put him again in an unpopular position with some voters. He no longer thinks partitioning Iraq into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd sections is possible, for instance; no one he spoke to in Israel, Jordan, Palestinian cities, or Iraq liked the idea, he added.
Activists rallied Thursday at the state Capitol, saying they want Baird, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Olympia, to vote for withdrawing U.S. troops. But Baird said he believes that to the extent Iraqis think the United States would withdraw before bringing security to a functioning Iraqi government, "that might contribute to the infighting and instability of the government."
He also said the United States tore up Iraq with its invasion in 2003, dismantling civil government and industries and tossing a half-million people out of work, but that three years of U.S. help is not enough to let Iraq rebuild.
Baird said he would not say this if he didn't believe two things:
• "One, I think we're making real progress."
• "Secondly, I think the consequences of pulling back precipitously would be potentially catastrophic for the Iraqi people themselves, to whom we have a tremendous responsibility . . . and in the long run chaotic for the region as a whole and for our own security."
Cheryl Crist of Olympia, who lost the Democratic primary against Baird in 2004 running on an anti-war platform, said the military presence in Iraq is adding to the problem.
"We do owe them something -- reparations and help," Crist said of the U.S. obligation to Iraqis. "But we are not good at delivering that through the military."
BAIRD: EARLY DEPARTURE FROM WAR BAD FOR IRAQ
By Kathie Durbin
Columbian (Vancouver, WA)
August 17, 2007
Days after returning from his second trip to Iraq, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird is rethinking his position on the timing of U.S. troop withdrawals from the war-ravaged country.
Three times this year, the Vancouver Democrat has supported legislation calling for troop withdrawals to begin by a set date. In May, he supported beginning the pullout as early as Oct. 1.
Now he believes that setting a date to withdraw at this moment could drive Iraq into the arms of Iran and cut short real progress by Iraqis who are at last taking on al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
"I have come to believe that calls for premature withdrawal may make it more difficult for Iraqis to solve their problems," Baird said in an interview. "If you have some guarantee of support, you have working space to reach out and involve the other side. If you think we are going to withdraw and chaos and civil war might ensue, then the decision is different.
"It's no longer 'Let's reach out,' but 'Let's prepare for the coming war.' That's a very different mind-set."
Baird also has changed his view that partition of Iraq into three portions might be an acceptable outcome of the U.S.-led invasion and its aftermath. "I used to think it made some sense," Baird said. "But every single leader I spoke to (in Iraq) was absolutely against partition."
Baird led a trip to Iraq and the Middle East from Aug. 5 to 14. Accompanying him were Republican Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Ralph Hall of Texas.
They visited Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. They spent two days and one night in Iraq, where they met with military and diplomatic officials and talked to American soldiers.
Baird visited Baghdad, the large U.S. military-controlled military base at Taji 20 miles to the north, and Yusufiyah in the notorious Triangle of Death southwest of the capital, where he walked through a public market. He said he could feel a change since his May visit.
"In areas where previously patrols were going out every night and being hit with IEDs (improvised explosive devices), all of those measures are better," Baird said. "Local Iraqis are standing up against the extremists on all sides. They are turning in the insurgents. They are fed up with al-Qaida."
In Al Anbar province, Baird said, sheiks are turning against al-Qaida militants who have been decapitating members of their tribes and leaving their bodies in the desert. Iraq's tribal leaders are respected and still wield some power, especially in Sunni-controlled areas.
Baird said his discussions with military leaders and troops persuaded him that the deployment of U.S. troops in Baghdad neighborhoods as part of the Bush administration's troop surge has begun to produce results.
"Because of the additional troops, our forces have been able to take it to the insurgents," he said. "They have been able to put units out into the field proactively. The more you bring someone in, the more you get contacts to bring the next person in. When you find the bomb factories, you save a lot of lives."
The Iraqi army is becoming more effective too, Baird said. "That's the view of our own forces."
A POLITICAL PRICE?
Baird voted against giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq in 2002. He said he knows his change of heart about what needs to happen next might cost him political support.
"If I didn't think there was some chance of a reasonable outcome by staying a little longer, I would be calling for immediate withdrawal," he said. "The party leadership may be in a different place than I am right now."
He's also aware of the anger many Democrats feel over their party's inability to end the war. That anger was on display Tuesday at a town hall meeting held by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden in Portland.
People have a right to be angry, Baird said. At the same time, he said, "We also have the responsibility to tell the story as honestly and directly as we can to the people back home."
Presidential candidates in both parties have failed to give an honest assessment of the challenges facing the nation in Iraq, he believes. "Among the Democratic candidates there has been too much competition to see who can suggest they can get us out of the war first. On the GOP side, there is too much fatuous flag-waving."
It's time for Americans to set aside partisanship and address the challenges we face in Iraq, he said -- if only because our government created the mess.
"When people say they want Iraqis to take over responsibility themselves, that's a reasonable expectation, but they neglect the context," he said. "We dismantled their government, their police force, their military, their border protection, their physical infrastructure, and we shut down countless businesses and left millions of people" unemployed.
"All of that happened just three years ago. We haven't been able to build Louisiana, and we aren't taking on sectarian fire."
The alternative, he said, is to abandon the effort and allow Iran to extend its influence inside Iraq.
"Every major political leader in the region has said to me, 'You think you can walk away from all this, but your actions created the instability.' If we fail there, the consequences for our national security interests and for the Iraqi people will be grave."
REP. BRIAN BAIRD'S VOTING RECORD ON THE IRAQ WAR
-- Oct. 11: Voted with 155 other members of Congress against giving President Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq.
-- March 23: Voted for a bill appropriating an additional $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while requiring the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to begin by March 2008.
-- May 2: Voted to override President Bush's veto of a bill requiring the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq beginning Oct. 1. The override measure failed to win a two-thirds majority.
-- May 24: Voted in favor of an Iraq War funding bill, breaking ranks with most Northwest Democrats. The vote occurred shortly after Baird returned from a two-day trip to Iraq.
-- June 21: Voted in favor of reviving the Iraq Study Group to conduct a follow-up assessment of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
-- July 12: Voted in favor of requiring the administration to begin reducing U.S. troop levels within 120 days and completing the redeployment of all but a residual force by April 2008.
-- July 25: Voted in favor of forbidding the United States to establish permanent military bases in Iraq or exert economic control of the Iraq oil industry. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support.
-- Aug 2: Voted against setting minimum periods between tours of duty in Iraq. Bill would have given active-duty combatants leave at least equal to the length of their service in the war zone and required triple time off for National Guard and Reserve combatants.