Washington Congressman Brian Baird is getting even more pressure for his position on the war in Iraq.
Last month, the Clark County Democrat faced an angry crowd in a town hall meeting after he saying he supports President Bush’s increase in troops in Iraq. As Colin Fogarty reports, the latest criticism of Baird comes from a retired general.
Lieutenant General Robert Gard spent 30 years in the U.S. Army. He served in Korea and Vietnam. He’s been president of the National Defense University and served on the Council of Foreign Relations.
At the height of the Vietnam War, he was an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, which colors his intense criticism of the war in Iraq. This week, Gard is in southwest Washington criticizing Congressman Brian Baird for supporting the so-called “surge” in Iraq.
Robert Gard: “There is no factual basis for his conclusion that 'facts on the grounds in Iraq have improved in multiple and important ways'. I admire his courage. But I just disagree fundamentally with the conclusion that he’s drawn and I’m afraid he’s drawn in with very, very limited evidence.”
Gard is traveling with former Maine Congressman Tom Andrews, who now leads a coalition of anti-war groups called “Win Without War”. It sponsored full page newspaper ads in the Olympian and the Columbian that’s an open letter to Congressman Baird. Andrews says he’s organizing a series of forums in districts across the country, in an attempt to pressure members of Congress like Brian Baird.
Tom Andrews: “Look I don’t believe for a minute that the Bush administration is going to change on its own. I think it’s totally committed to this. The only hope is a Congress to be challenging this administration, demanding straight answers, not taking at face value what they’ve been given, and really pursue a very vigorous debate.”
One of the groups in Andrews' coalition is MoveOn.org, which also went after Congressman Baird in this television ad.
MoveOn ad: “To keep American soliders in Iraq for an indefinate period of time, being attacked for an indefinate period of time, being attacked by an unidentifiable enemy is wrong, immoral, and irresponsible.”
Voice: “Support our troops. Bring them home.”
But Baird says the television and newspaper ads have not changed his mind. He voted against the invasion of Iraq and continues to call it “one of the worst foreign policy mistakes in the history of this country”.
But Baird says after trips to region, he’s come to believe that the U.S. has what he calls a “moral responsibility to the Iraqi people” and a “strategic interest in success.” And Baird believes that despite the vociferous attention he’s gotten from supporters and opponents of the war, his views reflect what he calls the “quiet middle.”
Brian Baird: “Those who would say with great confidence that they’re sure it’s going to work out, I think we should be skeptical about. Those who say with great confidence that we can withdraw and it will all work out, the fact is it's uncertain. There are grave risks and profound costs on either side. And I’m doing my best to make the best judgment I can, regardless of the political consequence.”
And there could be political consequences, as pressure mounts from anti-war protestors and fellow Democrats. Baird acknowledges the possibility of a Democratic opponent challenging him in next year's primary.
Brian Baird: “The left has rightly criticized President Bush for having sort of a group think mentality. And yet, I think to some extent, that’s what’s happening here. This notion that if you dare speak out and it’s off the received wisdom, we’re going to get you and make you pay. That’s not how I think we should make decisions of this importance.”
Baird has represented a swing district in southwest Washington that has gone back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. But as Baird has won re-election to five terms, his district has become more Democratic.
That’s according to Caroline Long, a political science professor at the Vancouver branch of Washington State University. She expects Baird’s position on the war to cost him support among Democrats, but not so much that he’ll be in danger of losing to an antiwar challenger.
Caroline Long: “He has a lot of support in the district. He’s been there for a long period of time. And they would be running pretty much on that issue to differentiate themselves from Baird. And of course, in the general election a Republican would have a difficult time prevailing in what is now pretty much a Democratic district.”
Regardless of Baird’s re-election chances, Long says the war in Iraq is a moving political target, the dynamic is difficult to predict.
Baird’s anti-war critics plan to air their views Thursday night at town hall meeting in Vancouver with Lieutenant General Gard.