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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stranger Q&A with Rep. Brian Baird

posted by on August 30 at 13:59 PM

US Rep. Brian Baird (D-3, Vancouver), the liberal congressman from the southwest corner of Washington State, was for years a leading opponent and critic of Bush’s “War on Terror”; he voted against invading Iraq, against reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act in 2005, didn’t support the surge, voted in July to pull troops, and voted against the recent surveillance extension bill. Last week, he broke ranks with the Democrats and shocked his constituents by saying it would be a mistake to withdraw from Iraq right now.

He believes the surge is showing signs of success, and he thinks it should get another six months.

He brought this unpopular message to a town hall meeting in Vancouver on Monday night, where he got trashed by the angry crowd, which included people such as Iraq War vet turned high-profile anti-war activist Jon Soltz). is now targeting Baird with a $20,000 TV ad buy.

I interviewed Rep. Baird about all of this yesterday. Baird was even-keeled during the interview— but man, he got notably irritated (pissed off, actually) when I asked him about Soltz.

The Stranger: What did you take away from that heated meeting at Fort Vancouver High School?

Baird: People are frustrated about the course of this war. They want the president gone. They want the war ended yesterday. The conduct of this president has angered people. And that's justified. People are angry at George Bush [because they were] lied to. There have been false threats and false hopes. People are angry about that, but at the same time the circumstances on the ground [in Iraq] have changed. It's a very difficult and big ask to get people to see and hear that. They've decided before the meeting, "Why listen?"

I did listen [to them] with open ears. It's difficult to hear the ad hominem attacks, and to see that people aren't listening. Although part of my job is to take criitism. I've done 280 town halls in my career. I take criticism.

People were not satisfied with me because they've made up their minds and [think] I should do what they want.

Stranger: Just so there's no moving the goal posts—what exactly do you need to see in Iraq six months from now to be okay with a withdrawal?

Baird: First of all, we have to begin a withdrawal in six months because we cannot maintain the troops at this level. But there have to be demonstrated successes [by Iraqi forces] against al Qaeda. Demonstrated strength. As there are more successes against al Qaeda and the militias the Iraqi military will get more trust from the Iraqi people.

Second, I want to see success in the benchmarks: a functioning infrastructure, the lights being on, clean water, in the oil industry. There needs to be substantial economic progress. One of the dumbest things we did is we shut down state-owned industries, part of our fear of communism I guess. That was a disaster.

Also, there's a lot of focus on the central government, but there needs to be success at the local government level. That's keeping the lights on.

Stranger: Politically, how do you feel about the fact that—as a longtime critic of the war—you can now be used as a poster child by Bush? It's sort of the opposite of what happened with Rep. Murtha.

Baird: I've been frustrated with the eagerness of both sides to politicize this war. If I remain silent when I disagree with my own party, that implies a tacit agreement. If I speak out, the other party picks it up. I don't support Democrats or Republicans [on this issue]. I've been to Iraq five times. I'm listening to what the soldiers told me. The question is: "What does Brian Baird think is right?" Both sides are going to have a reaction. But this isn't for political purposes. I do what I think is honest.

Stranger: Do you have anything to say to MoveOn?

Baird: I've been targeted by ads before. If [an elected official is] going to change their mind because of an ad, they shouldn't be in office. I'm going to listen to what Gen. David Patraeus, the best mind in counterinsurgency, and [U.S. Ambassador Ryan] Crocker have to say. I am going to listen to these people. And by the way, these are good people. These are not the same people who have been failing in Iraq all along. And just telling us what we want to hear. This is not [Paul] Bremer [former Director of Reconstruction in Iraq].

Stranger: Jon Soltz accused you of falling for a "dog and pony show."

Baird: I respect that Jon Soltz served in the military. But he doesn't have a clue about what I did over there. He never called to ask me who I met with. So many people have tried to say what I did over there. They don't have a clue. I set the agenda. Myself and [Republican Congressman from Connecticut] Chris Shays. We asked [for] who we met with. Was he [Soltz] in the room with me when I met the the staff of the King of Jordan? With the prime minister of the Palestinians? These people live in the region. They have contacts in Iraq. They have skin in the game. What we do matters to them. You think we can just walk away? The general sense I got from these people was that it would be a catastrophic mistake ...

Stranger: The Palestinian Authority told you America shouldn't withdraw?

Baird: I can't reveal what anyone specifically said about that. But here's a guy [Soltz] who didn't give me call. [Editor's Note: Soltz says he did.]. He says he knows who I met with. I think it's presumptuous. And profoundly disrespectful. I met with a colonel for U.S. special forces who buried his own men. Who looked me in the eye to say he lost 65 men. Buried 65 of his own men. But now he doesn't take incoming fire anymore. All they used to do, day after day, is take incoming fire. That's not happening anymore. The facts on the ground are changing. Unless Walt Disney was hired to set up an Iraqi Potemkin Village, I think it's disrespectful to say he knows what I saw. It's baloney.

Again, I respect that Soltz served. But I had a soldier, from my own district—not like Soltz, who flew in from New York— just 11 days back from his third stay in Iraq. He came to a town meeting the next night in Longview. The night after the one in Vancouver. He stood up and said, what you're saying is the truth. And a premature withdrawal now will undermine us. Mr. Soltz served. I respect that. But this soldier is from my district.

Stranger: Soltz also said that you're providing cover for the president's failed policy in Iraq.

Baird: This is one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the history of America. 3,700 U.S. lives. 20,000 injured. Trillions of dollars by the time it's over. It's a catastrophic mistake. I voted against it. Does that sound like I'm endorsing the president's policy? But set Bush aside. This isn't about Bush or our candidates or the polls. The facts on the ground are that things are improving. The other side will use what I say. But that's not my problem. My problem is to tell the truth. Even if my side gets angry at me.

RSS icon Comments


i respect and understand his position. i also think he's dead wrong.

Posted by bing | August 30, 2007 2:21 PM

“I'm going to listen to what Gen. David Patraeus, the best mind in counterinsurgency, and [U.S. Ambassador Ryan] Crocker have to say. I am going to listen to these people. And by the way, these are good people. These are not the same people who have been failing in Iraq all along. And just telling us what we want to hear.”

Cue the laugh track. Attention Congressman Baird, I just time-warped back from General Petraeus’ testimony and he said that “war is hard, but we’ve turned a corner and we’re not sure who but someone’s in their final throes and we just need six more months for the next 10 years, blah-blah blah-blah blah-blah.” Gee, that's a surprise.

Petraeus Ex Machina! Presto: Here’s $50 Billion more for the War and Occupation from the Congressional ATM!

Since Petraeus is the expert, why aren’t we following his counterinsurgency manual which calls for 500,000 troops? Have you heard of the Googles?

Why do we even bother with this pathetic charade?

What grotesque fools.

Posted by Original Andrew | August 30, 2007 2:21 PM

How do we get out of Iraq? Same way we got in: ships and planes.

Posted by KY. COL. of TRUTH | August 30, 2007 2:24 PM

Baird talked a lot about what everyone wants except for the Iraqi people, the majority of whom apparently want us to stop raping their country and leave.

Posted by Just Sayin' | August 30, 2007 2:26 PM

How am I supposed to respect the position of a man who uses "ask" as a noun?

Posted by Levislade | August 30, 2007 2:28 PM

baird can suck it.

you can't put lipstick on this pig. its over. when you lose a war, you retreat. the genocide & partition that will follow our retreat is unavoidable.

and the stranger deserves a kick in the ass for condescending to those with the balls to stand up & tell a congressman to eat shit, no matter how emotional they got.

bush must be humiliated before he leaves office.

Posted by maxsolomon | August 30, 2007 2:45 PM

maxsolomon @ 6,

In USA, Bush does the self-humiliation for you.

Posted by Original Andrew | August 30, 2007 2:49 PM

No doubt Rep. Tool will get his six months of more surge, and then we'll get to see whether there's a draw down or another extension of tours of duty. In the meantime, if you do a follow-up, Josh, could you ask him to give his indicators for how "things are improving" in Iraq? He's a little vague in his claims. See Kevin Drum for some empirical data (based on the Brookings Iraq Index) on how violence is up and infrastructure is down since the surge started. You might also ask him if he knows how one of his sources, the current prime minister of the Palestinians, got into power.

Posted by Randy | August 30, 2007 3:30 PM

Oh my dear god, he did not just tell you we're one Friedman Unit away from success in Iraq...

Posted by robotslave | August 30, 2007 3:39 PM

The Friedman Unit has its own Wikipedia article? God damn do I love the internets.

Posted by Oneiros Dreaming | August 30, 2007 4:23 PM

Levislade @5- I'm guessing that you aren't and have never been involved in politics or any kind of fundraising. Using "ask" as a noun is common and accepted in those worlds. As a politician Mr. Baird knows that nearly everyone who asks to meet with him has "an ask". When you're trying to raise money, your entire conversation is built around "the ask".

Don't hate because you aren't down with the lingo.

Posted by andy | August 30, 2007 6:10 PM

Hmmm...I wasn't aware that Mahmoud Abbas had "skin the game," but we didn't. I figured with trillions of dollars, thousands of dead, and tens of thousands injured, we kind of had some stake in this decision too.

Posted by Gitai | August 30, 2007 9:43 PM

I am from Rep. Baird's district and I, for one, have never been so proud of an elected official. We seriously fucked up Iraq and it's perfectly valid to think that we have a moral obligation to try and repair some of the damage done before we leave. He knows that this war is horrible and, hello, HE'S AGAINST IT. But if a complete abandonment would be worse than staying six more months, maybe it's worth a shot. Instead of cavalierly admitting, "Yeah, genocide's gonna happen anyway" maybe it'll help.

And even if he's wrong, and I personally think he might be wrong, I fully respect his ability to state what he honestly believes without simply abandoning his free will and parroting the party line.

In summation, Brian Baird is awesome and I am proud that he represents me.

Posted by Travis | August 30, 2007 11:37 PM

Travis, did Rep. Baird have his cock in your butt as you typed that ringing endorsment of the man?
FYI, we are not there to stabilise the county, we are there for the oil. Divide and counquor as we steal their resourses is as old as Rome.

Posted by GJ | August 31, 2007 1:23 AM


So, supposing six months go by, and the situation in Iraq after that is sort of "yeah, pretty much the same, maybe with a different armed faction grabbing more of the US headlines."

Or whatever.

Point being, can you get Baird on record saying "if things haven't improved in six months, I'll be advocating a different strategy?"

This, after all, is the fundamental nature of the Friedman Unit— for those who invoke it, the imaginable Better Situation is always in the future.

What length of time is Baird willing to GO ON RECORD as saying he'll wait for an improvement? Is he also willing to say he'll take a DIFFERENT position if things don't work out as well as he'd like?

There's a reason Friedman's opinions are completely bankrupt today, and that reason is entirely due to his shameful and continuing refusal to acknowledge the naivety of his (one Friedman unit prior) positions. Oh, and maybe due to his repeating the same delusional pattern over and over again, but I don't pretend to be a fucking shrink.

Posted by robotslave | August 31, 2007 2:26 AM

Gita @ 12 - Abbas is the president of the Palestinians, not the prime minister. The prime minister is Salam Fayyad, who was installed after Abbas dissolved the elected government of Ismail Haniyeh in June.

Posted by Randy | August 31, 2007 9:42 AM

Sounds just like Mitt Romney's dad, George: "I was brainwashed."

Posted by Algernon | August 31, 2007 10:20 AM

I am an active Democratic Party member in Skamania County - part of Brian's district. We will have a viable primary opponent for Baird, unless he recants (and apologizes to the Iraquis and to the U.S. servicepeople who will die, be wounded, develop PTSD, etc. due to) his unsupportable position to reenforce the Bush administration's occupation.

I do not join in the vitriolic attacks on Baird, but I fully understand your reaction. The debacle in Iraq is enough to cause apoplexy in any moral, rational person. Having said that, Brian is mostly on the side of veterans and working people politically, so that's the good news. However, I don't think that it will be difficult to find someone who supports similar positions but has his/her head screwed on right viz. Iraq.

I do have two observations from this latest interview input. First, I wonder about this soldier who showed up for the Longview meeting on Tuesday. Anybody know what unit, where stationed? Basically, I'm wondering if the Army sent a plant after the Monday meeting in Vancouver.

Secondly, I have heard Brian make this strange "argument" concerning input from Jordanian and Egyptian (and now Palestinian) officials before. It's always accompanied by his caveat that he can't discuss details of their discussions, but "they" want the U.S. to stay in Iraq, because otherwise the shit's going to hit the fan in their locales, too. And sometimes these "officials" have some kind of plan that they're working on to make things better. Sure would be nice to know what these plans might look like, but I guess that We, the People are just not as trustworthy as these "officials".

Posted by paul spencer | August 31, 2007 8:08 PM

Baird needs to be defeated.

If he truly believes in this war then he needs to commit to going back to Washington, DC and introducing legislation to increase taxes to pay for it. Let's see if he is courageous enough and believes enough in the war to increase taxes to pay for it.

As it stands now Baird and other members of Congress who vote to fund the war are being cowards. Funding for the war isn't being paid for today through taxes it's being paid for by deficit spending. So future generations of American taxpayers will have to pay for this war plus interest.

So Brian, if you truly believe we need to stay in Iraq show me the money and support a tax increase.

Posted by Anonymous | September 3, 2007 3:21 PM
People were not satisfied with me because they've made up their minds and [think] I should do what they want.

I thought representatives were supposed to represent their constituents.

No, he won't represent his constituents. He'll do what he wants.

Posted by InquisitiveRaven | September 8, 2007 5:31 PM

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