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Triumph of Experience Over Partisanship

It’s amazing what happens when skeptics of the Iraq War go to Iraq to have a look for themselves. Reality is likely to intrude on ideology. For the latest example, see this report on Representative Brian Baird’s recent trip to Iraq. A liberal Democrat from Washington state who voted against the war, he told his hometown newspaper “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.”

Some sniff at such reports as being the result of “choreographed tours” designed by the military to deceive lawmakers about the true state of the war. See, for instance, this article by Washington Post reporter Jonathan Finer. Finer is right that there are limits on what senators and congressmen see in Iraq, where they typically spend only a day or two, and their time is generally limited to briefings on safe U.S. bases. But even those brief glimpses give lawmakers a better sense of what is going on than that possessed by many ideologues back home (both pro and antiwar) who have never visited the front lines at all. It’s especially helpful when, like Baird, lawmakers keep making trips so that they do get some sense of perspective over time to allow them to make better sense of what they’re seeing.

For instance, Baird has learned to be wary of one of the panaceas commonly proposed for solving Iraq’s woes—a division of the country: “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.” He has also come to see through the common trope of leftist activists, that setting a timetable for withdrawal will force Iraqis somehow to get their act together. It will likely have the opposite effect: “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.’”