Bush Dog Democrats Brian Baird Supports Surge

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Aug 22, 2007 at 10:51

Here's Washington state's Brian Baird talking about how great the surge is, how he'll no longer vote for timelines, and bashing Democrats, after spending a grand total of two days in Iraq.  This is part of a campaign to split Democrats. As part of the right-wing PR campaign, here's Jerry McNerney bashing Democrats on Iraq to the Washington Post.

But in an interview yesterday, McNerney made clear his views have shifted since returning from Iraq. He said Democrats should be willing to negotiate with the generals in Iraq over just how much more time they might need. And, he said, Democrats should move beyond their confrontational approach, away from tough-minded, partisan withdrawal resolutions, to be more conciliatory with Republicans who might also be looking for a way out of the war.

"We should sit down with Republicans, see what would be acceptable to them to end the war and present it to the president, start negotiating from the beginning," he said, adding, "I don't know what the [Democratic] leadership is thinking. Sometimes they've done things that are beyond me."

This is after a 'clarification' on his blog pandering to activists.

We have a lot of work to do on this Bush Dog campaign.  Sign up to profile one of them.  And meanwhile, we'll need criteria for figuring out how to add new ones.  Baird voted correctly on the FISA bill, but I think it's hard to say that he doesn't deserve criticism.  Bush won his district in 2004 by a margin of 50-49.

I transcribed Baird's full interview with Tucker in the extended entry.

Matt Stoller :: Bush Dog Democrats Brian Baird Supports Surge
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.

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"This is part of a campaign to split Democrats." (4.00 / 1)
Disagreement about the war in Iraq and what to do about it are splitting the Democratic Party and the nation. These differences are not the result of some kind of "campaign", they are drawn from real distinctions and differences of opinion among the citizens and party members.

Better to confront such a stance with hard questions, rather than some kind of "counter campaign".  For instance - what is the nature of the "progress" cited?  How is it measured? How can the "surge" ensure that this "progress" is not temporary?
How does this "progress" translate to a safer America? What is the basis for claiming that a US pull-out will cause more chaos, death and destruction? If the problem is Iranian influence, how can this be countered by the "surge", won't it simply stimulate the Iranians to "surge" their alleged efforts, as well? 

His position is so weak, why not debunk it?

No fear in admitting that something that can be defined as "progress" has happened in Iraq  - but, so what?

1 step forward, after thousands of steps backward, is not really all that much "progress" is it?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

sort of (0.00 / 0)
There's disagreement among the elites, but there's wide consensus within the public.

[ Parent ]
wide consensus? (0.00 / 0)
Perhaps if the question is "Should the US get out of Iraq?"

But I don't think that when the details of how and when the withdrawl will be initiated, or how many (if any) US troops should be "left behind", the consensus among the general US population, or the members of any MSP, are any wider than the disagreements among the "elites".

Unpopular wars that go very badly erode the middle ground and consensus relies on finding middle ground.

But my main point was that the particular set of arguments used by those who support the "surge" is rather weak and easily refuted.  I think, ultimately, it may be a better strategy to counter that set of arguments (rationales, really)  if one wants to stop, or reverse, the "surge" and the occupation, than to pick out specific individuals to attack, because the former approach will weaken ALL surge supporters - regardless of what category you might sort them into.

As an example, take the "progress" in Al-Anbar province. How are the short-term "gains" realized by allying the US with sectarian war-lords compatible with the expressed long-term goal of a secular democracy?  These are in direct contradiction.  On the same issue - precisely, which US policy change promoted this "progress" in Al Anbar?  Clearly NOT THE "SURGE", as this "progress" was cited as a reason to initiate the "surge".  The real change came when the US military decided that enlisting the aid of warlords was OK.

So, the "new" policy that is producing the short-term "progress" is making deals with folks that are a lot like the guy we went to Iraq to topple - is that REALLY progress??

I'm sure that you can tear apart the rest of these claims just as easily.

Don't get me wrong - voters have the right to know where their representatives stand on the issues, so calling them out has its value, but there's a forest among the trees.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Stay only until next spring (0.00 / 0)
While I am also baffled as to how Rep Baird could go from being so right on this issue to being quite wrong, please read over his last comment again:
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.

If we are to take him at his word, his ideal scenario would have us beginning to draw down troops next spring.  That's not entirely different from what a lot of Democrats are saying, and it's no different from the reality that will actually happen once we get a new President (in fact, it's earlier than that since our new President would not start to remove troops until Jan 2009 at the earliest).

I don't really see what it is that Rep Baird believes is going to happen in terms of progress between now and the spring, but if you are going to criticize him, you should be fair and point out that he does believe we should start pulling troops out soon.

John McCain <3 lobbyists

from Baird's district (4.00 / 2)
I'm in his district, active in my local Democratic Party chapter, and familiar with Mr. Baird's policies. 

By and large he is progressive on trade and issues that affect working people.  Some environmentalists may have an issue with him, because he supports some level of logging on federal lands, but I agree with him and feel that he is recommending "sustainable" policy.

Yes, he voted against the initial authorization bill; and, yes, he criticized the conduct of the war.  However, for the last three years he has supported our military presence in Iraq.  I was surprised last Spring, when it appeared that he had finally had enough of the debacle and joined the effort to set withdrawal timetables.  I was not surprised, but very disappointed, in this latest BS.

Also, frankly, he is too "bipartisan".  We had a good candidate running against Doc Hastings in the next district to the east, and about two weeks before the election there is a newspaper picture of Brian with his arm around Hastings announcing some "bipartisan" action.  Now there is the interview with the bowtied one.  To lend any credibility to either of those buttheads is almost unforgiveable on its own demerit.

The Iraq occupation, though, is too important - I can't let him skate for the sake of his pleasant personality and better domestic policies.  We will get a progressive primary opponent for him.  You can count on it.

By the way - did I mention that I'm running for president?

Baird (0.00 / 0)
is having townhall meetings on Monday the 27th and the 28th. Hope to see you at one of them. Did someone get to him? What better targets for illegal wiretapping than our congressmembers?

[ Parent ]
Woah, there! (0.00 / 0)
Baird - as you acknowledge - isn't a Bush Dog - not on the definition that you said you were using (ie, voting yea on both RCs 425 and 836). Baird voted yea on 425 but nay on 836.

Has the definition changed? Is voting for 425 alone now enough to qualify? Because that nets in some pretty big fish (like Hoyer, Clyburn and Emanuel, to name but three).


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