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Brian Baird, Vindicated

Remember Brian Baird? He’s the liberal five-term Democratic congressman from southwest Washington state who voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2003, traveled to Iraq last summer, witnessed the successes of the surge, and declared his support for a continued U.S. presence. In that column announcing his disillusionment with Democratic plans for immediate troop withdrawal, Baird dispensed early with the familiar platitude that “the invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation,” but he went onto state that “I believe Iraq could have a positive future. Our diplomatic and military leaders in Iraq, their current strategy, and most importantly, our troops and the Iraqi people themselves, deserve our continued support and more time to succeed.”

The story then writes itself. Baird was ritually denounced as a traitor by the credulosphere, with MoveOn.org taking the lead by airing television ads calling his position on Iraq “immoral.” Here’s how the Seattle Times‘ Danny Westneat described the response of those in Baird’s district at the time:

I went down to Vancouver last summer to see Baird explain himself to his angry constituents. It was, I wrote, “one of the most severe tongue-lashings I’ve ever seen administered to a public official, at least face to face.”

Six hundred people — from veterans to teachers, from a Columbia River boat captain to a lady who plays bagpipes at soldier funerals — spent nearly four hours calling Baird a sellout, Bush’s lap dog, a neocon pet. Some told him to resign.

Baird, while popular in his district, took a major risk by supporting the administration’s war policy, earning himself anti-war congressional opponents in both the Democratic primary and the general election. But he makes no apologies today. And none of his antagonists from last year have bothered to confess they were wrong. “After all that extraordinary outrage directed at me, not one person has called me up and said ‘Hey, Brian, it looks like you might have had a point after all,’ ” Baird told Westneat from the Democratic convention in Denver last week.

The plight of Brian Baird speaks to the fortunes of the Democratic Party. Success in Iraq presents Democrats with a major problem: it destroys their narrative of defeat and lessens the importance of Iraq as a campaign mantra. That’s why you barely heard about Iraq at the Democratic Convention this year, as compared to it being front and center in 2004. Imagine if Barack Obama, rather than stubbornly follow the Democratic leadership, emulated the course charted by Brian Baird:

“We ought to just say that it worked. People were understandably skeptical of the administration at the time. But we have to acknowledge reality. Do you stay with a political position because it’s popular even if it doesn’t square with the facts?”

Rather than appease his party’s anti-Bush base, Obama could have, just like Baird, maintained his initial opposition to the war but still come out in support of the surge — even after it had been implemented. At the very least, he could today admit that the surge worked and that the United States is better off now than it was two years ago. Sure, Republicans would have probably taunted Obama for being a flip-flopper. But that’s better than being manifestly wrong, as he is today.



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