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Check this out. A Democratic representative (Brian Baird, Washington) went to Iraq and came back and said we can't withdraw immediately or it will be chaos. The Bush administration jumped on this as a chance to say there was bipartisan support for 'staying the course'. At Baird's town hall meeting he was basically mobbed by his constituents, who are a frustrated as hell over the lack of Democratic action on the war.

No sale. Phil shot back that Baird had become the "poster boy" for the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, and " don't like that at all."

"I don't like it, either," Baird said. (Both his talk and Q & A were peppered with zingers at the administration.)

Phil's arm shot out, his finger pointing angrily at Baird: "My friend, you have screwed up, and you have to change course." At that, the crowd erupted, cheering Phil . . .

And this was a crowd, to a big extent, of Baird's best in-district political friends. Or, those who used to be his friends. A few speakers before Phil, a woman who was a long-time supporter dressed him down by reminding him, "We are the ones who hit the ground to get you elected. . . . We were so so proud of you and the work you did." Now, she said: "I cannot believe your arrogance, Mr. Baird."

The audience atmosphere was a little Pentacostal: Cries of "impeach Bush" or "end the war" and similar calls punctuated questions, answers and everything else. In the two hours we were there, not one questioner - out of perhaps 20 - expressed anything other than disgust and outrage at Baird's new take on Iraq. To judge from audience reaction, a portion of the crowd of perhaps 400 to 500 (those that were inside - the room was filled solid and others couldn't get in) supported him, but that portion was surely less than 10%.

Shouted one person, midway through: "You think you're going to be re-elected?"

Baird: "It doesn't matter to me." Maybe, in the face of all that, it didn't.

Part of the problem here is a problem typical for Democrats. They (to their credit from a pure policy perspective) tend to have more complicated positions than Republicans seem to. But that may be a matter of strategy. In today's soundbite-driven political environment, the Republican's black & white positioning makes for much better messaging than the Democrat's nuanced statements. Baird is actually against the war.

Somewhat obscured is that none of that has changed; he continues to describe the invasion as a terrible mistake, and his words about the Bush Administration are no kinder. His new contention is that some of the pieces that could lead to stability in Iraq may be falling into place, and that maintaining American troops in place could allow that stability to take hold; withdrawing troops now, he said, would certainly lead to chaos and regional instability. "If we withdraw it will be catastrophic," he said.

His view doesn't mesh fully with the Bush Administration's. Baird's take is that what's needed may be a matter of some months, until next April or so - he gave no indication he'd be willing to stretch this out for very long. ("This is not forever," he said.) Apart from that, Baird said that his take on the Iraq could easily change with conditions as the months go on.

You can make the case that there's nothing very dramatic about this as a matter of practical policy. There's little question that an American withdrawal, even if ordered right away, would take months to execute, since so many people and supplies are located there. (However, while Baird was flatly convinced that American troop withdrawal would lead to disaster, there are lines of thought that the troops' presence there now is encouraging more insurgency.) As Baird (and many others) points out, American troop levels will be drawn down next spring by 50,000 or so regardless what the policy is: This country simply won't have the troops available to maintain current troop levels. So an American troop scaledown likely will occur then anyway, and likely not be before then anyway, regardless what Congress does. (And many of us suspect that any congressional action on Iraq contrary to the administration's policy would be simply ignored by the president regardless.)

The problem with a position like this is that with the amount of time it will take Congress to debate the issue and draft and pass the bill, and then for the the military to start to implement the withdrawal, it would probably be April by then anyway. So Baird is effectively for 'immediate' withdrawal in any case, but his attempt at delivering a complex analysis backfired on him. He should have come back from Iraq and said "We need to withdraw but we need to do it carefully."

Anyway, i'm excited by this townhall meeting and i hope we see more like it around the country. Unfortunately I don't think my representative has townhall meetings. At least, he's never invited me.

By fnord12 | August 30, 2007, 11:56 AM | Liberal Outrage


actually, he invites us all the time. we just never go. mostly cause it's always on a saturday afternoon and we're not free. also we like him so we don't need to go yell at him yet.

My congressman is a rocket scientist.

We should try to go to the next one.