Tucker: We begin with the troop surge in Iraq. Brian Baird is a five term Democratic Congressman from Washington state. He voted against the invasion of Iraq and has maintained his opposition to the war ever since. That's a stance popular in his district. And yet after his latest trip to the Middle East, one of five, his opinion appears to be changing. Congressman Baird joins us now to explain. Congressman Baird, thanks for coming on.
Rep. Baird: Great to be with you again.
Tucker: So how has your last trip to the region changed your view?
Rep. Baird: Well, you know, this is my second trip in four months, and while there I visited throughout the region to Israel, Jordan, Palestinian territories, Egypt, and I have to tell you, I think we're making progress. When I spoke with the Generals, and the troops on the ground, and Ambassador Crocker, there's still a lot of challenges, but noticeable and important progress, and I think we need to try to work together to try to make this thing a success.
Tucker: I just want our viewers to be clear on one thing. You are not a raging neocon, you have not supported this war, you were against it from the beginning and you were until recently for a withdrawal of American troops. Is that right?
Rep. Baird: Well not quite right. I believe frankly that the invasion of Iraq was one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the country and I still believe that. However, once we had made that commitment and were on the ground I've pretty steadfastly opposed a timeline for withdrawal. Recently our party put forward a resolution really aimed at making sure that the preparedness of our soldiers was not sacrificed for this war and I did support that. But I really believe what we need to do now is stop looking at backwards and look at where we are today. The fact is, this country is trying to rebuild from very difficult circumstances. Their police were disbanded, their military was disbanded, the civil government was taken apart, the infrastructure was destroyed, and the borders were left open. To expect any country to rebuild from that in three brief years is I think not realistic. We have a strategic interest in seeing that this mission succeeds, we have a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people and the region, and I think we are seeing signs of progress and it is worth letting Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have their time and breathing room to move their project forward.
Tucker: Well I agree with you completely, I think this was a tragic mistake from the beginning and the Bush administration's fault, but I don't want to see it get worse. I'm not a Democrat though, so i can say that without fear of getting howled off the stage, You by contrast are presumably beholden to Democratic voters and they disagree with you strongly.
Rep. Baird: Well I'm not sure all do and I think the thing I would say to them is look, what happens if we pull out. A couple of things happen. One, the Iranians expand their influence in the region. I don't think most Democrats like the notion of a fundamentalist theocracy running rampant in the region. The extremists on the ground in Iraq are the people who cut heads off of civilians and stone women to death for going to school. We don't want to leave that country to those people either. This is difficult, and one of the frustrations is that I don't think the administration has fully leveled with the American people. I know painfully well, that if we decide to keep troops on the ground for a longer period of time it will mean more American casualties and more lost US dollars, but I believe the outcome if we pull out precipitously would be far worse. And because of that I think the right course is to keep the presence on the ground probably through to next spring and then begin a gradual withdrawal. And I think it's also important to note that what we say and do here have real consequences on the ground in Iraq in terms of how we impact their efforts to resolve things politically and we need to be very careful with what we do.
Tucker: Of course, I think you're absolutely right in every particular. Why is it considered verbotem for Democrats to concede that the surge is going ok? You've seen some movement on that. Hillary Clinton conceded that yesterday, Carl Levin in the Senate said it I think last week, but by and large Democrats don't want to admit that by and large there has been some progress. Why?
Rep. Baird: Well I don't know. I think things have changed and I think if more people could go to the region as I have recently, a couple of times and meet with the soldiers on the ground. You know when you visit a unit that says, look Congressman, a few months back we were taking incoming every day and every time we went out on the perimeter we were hit and hit hard, that has stopped in recent months, and when they tell you that the sheiks and others who used to side with the insurgents are now siding with our side and you meet those sheiks in a public market where they embrace openly our military personnel, you've got real signs of progress on the ground. One of the other things that's very important is that people have felt, myself included, that we needed to at least talk about withdrawal to put pressure on the Iraqi government to solve their political problems. I have come to believe that after visiting with many people in the region that putting that pressure on the Iraqis is important but not in that manner. We need to help the Iraqis solve their problems but I believe talk about withdrawal actually makes it more difficult not easier and more urgent for them to do so.
Tucker: What do you make of Hillary Clinton's apparent position that yes the surge is working but we should bring the troops out anyway? Does that make sense to you?
Rep. Baird: Well I'll leave Ms. Clinton, Senator Clinton to describe her own position. My own belief is that we are making progress and that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus need time and breathing space to make this mission work. I think they're doing admirable work and some of it has to be quiet and behind the scenes. You can't do some of this political work in the glare of American Presidential politics. You have to do it quietly behind the scenes with delicate work with Iraqi leaders and politicians themselves, and I hope that we can all, on all sides, stop throwing political bombs at one another and try to say what's the right thing to do under the circumstance. I think that right thing for moral and strategic purposes is to stay, probably through next spring, then begin a gradual withdrawal while we train up the Iraqi forces and try to bring in other international players to help the mission.
Tucker: Alright Congressman as we speak you are being denounced in very personal terms on Moveon.org, so congratulations on that, so thanks for joining us.
Rep. Baird: laughs My pleasure, thank you very much.