Another Congressional Democrat has shifted his views on Iraq to support from opposition -- and this change has significance. Rep. Brian Baird, one of the Democrats who voted against the authorization to use military force in 2002, has now returned from Iraq convinced that we need to give General David Petraeus more time:
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird said Thursday 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.
"I believe that the decision to invade Iraq and the post-invasion management of that country were among the largest foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. I voted against them, and I still think they were the right votes," Baird said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
"But we're on the ground now. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work."
Baird, a five-term Democrat, voted against President Bush ordering the Iraq invasion — at a time when he was in a minority in Congress and at risk of alienating voters. He returned late Tuesday from a trip that included stops in Israel, Jordan and Iraq, where he met troops, U.S. advisers and Iraqis, whose stories have convinced him that U.S. troops must stay longer.
Baird made it plain that his change of heart is based on two very clear criteria. One, a pullback would devastate Iraq and be catastrophic to the region and our national interests. Primarily, though, Baird believes that Petraeus has made real progress. He does not want to pull out while success can still be achieved.
To say that Baird will get pressure for his new position is an understatement. Already, anti-war activists have demonstrated in Olympia, demanding that he vote for withdrawal. He can look forward to more such protests, but Baird says he will not change his position after having seen the progress for himself -- and seeing what would be lost in an American retreat.
That puts the debate in September in a new light for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. They had hoped to undermine the administration's support on Capitol Hill when Petraeus returned for his report. Now they not only have to worry about corralling their Blue Dogs, but even an original war opponent has come out in support for extending the mission at least into next year before gradually drawing down forces. It portends a devastating defeat on war funding -- so much so that Pelosi and Harry Reid may choose to push funding quickly through Congress and avoid losing a long, protracted battle with the White House and the Republicans.
Jim Geraghty gives credit where credit's due with Baird, and asks another interesting question. With Baird moving to support the war, what does this do to the Democratic presidential candidates? If Congress winds up quietly funding another six months of the current deployment, how badly does that damage the more hysterical opponents of the war, such as Bill Richardson?