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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beware the dog and pony show

To follow up about Brian Baird's statements concerning Iraq, via Think Progress comes a Washington Post column by Jonathan Finer, who covered Iraq for that newspaper for a little over a year in 2005 and 2006. From The Washington Post:
A dizzying number of dignitaries have passed through Baghdad for high-level briefings. The Hill newspaper reported this month that 76 U.S. senators have traveled to Iraq during the war, 38 in the past 12 months. Most never left the Green Zone or other well-protected enclaves. Few, if any, changed the views they held before arriving.
In fairness to Baird, he did leave the Green Zone and he has changed his public stance. I'm still not clear on exactly how "letting the surge work" might differ from "setting a date certain." It's possible they could wind up being about the same thing, at least in terms of the time frame. And we all know when the real change starts: Jan. of 2009.

That being said, a lot of progressives will likely wonder about "the dog and pony show" that members of Congress receive when in Iraq.

While Baird spent nine days in the Middle East, the trip to Iraq was comprised of two days and one night, according to this article in The Columbian. As Finer points out in his column, members who take the personal risk to travel there should be praised for the effort, but let's face it: two days is a pretty short amount of time, and presumably the U.S. military has a great deal to say about where members go.

Finer also has this in his column:
It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I've stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it's like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.
To be clear, nowhere does Finer mention Baird, and he takes heavy aim at right-wing idiots like Laura Ingraham. He also lets some Democrats have it for largely the same reason, namely that passing through Iraq doesn't really mean much.

But I think the caution for Baird is about the same, for whatever it's worth. I don't doubt his sincerity, and I don't doubt he gathered as much information as he could. But there's been too much manipulation and deception around this occupation to put much faith in what the administration says.

Another thing worth noting is that this administration was never going to take steps to end the occupation anyhow, and with a tiny margin for error in the Senate, it's going to be up to a future president and a future Congress to deal with this disaster. We can stamp our feet, hold our breathe and refuse to eat our peanut butter sandwich, but that's not going to help. What will help is making sure Democrats have bigger majorities with as many progressives in office as possible.

It's unfortunate that one blogger made some error-ridden comments about Baird yesterday. While I enjoy a good rant, the writer clearly knows nothing about SW Wahington, the Third District or even the fact that Baird is not a member of the Blue Dogs. (Baird is a member of the New Democrat Coalition.)

Yes, there will be continued disappointments along the way to ending this disaster. Not that I ever truly learned this lesson myself, but when you take your marbles and go home most people quickly forget you ever existed. So as we saw last year in the Cantwell race, going overboard doesn't really accomplish much, it just gives the political opposition things to point out in an effort to harm our movement.

It's horrible to consider the fate of our hard working military personnel in terms of the political game, but there is a game-type aspect to democracy, and it's the only game we have. The tough thing about what Baird said is that I don't think he's playing that game. The safest thing for him would have been to come home and made some pronouncements about getting out of Iraq sooner or later and leave it at that.

So even if I disagree with him on this score, because I think we are about three years past the possibility of a good outcome in Iraq, I have to respect his courage.

If the latest and greatest military strategy actually leads to meaningful reductions in violence in Iraq, rather than exaggerated and temporary declines, then we can all be thankful, although nobody will be as thankful as our troops and ordinary Iraqi citizens.

But I'm going to need a very large glass of milk in the meantime.

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