Barid: Fails to Convince Oly to Stay the Course

 
It was standing room only at Olympia High School as Baird met with over 300 Olympians last night, which ironically was International Peace Day. The evening began with some chants to bring the troops home, which captured the mood of this crowd. Baird deserves some credit for holding a town hall meeting in Olympia but he failed to convince his audience that staying the course was an acceptable policy position.

Baird, casting himself as courageous in taking an action that he knew was politically risky, shared his on-the-ground experiences that convinced him that staying the course was necessary to give the troops its “last chance” at success. He disputed the idea that he was duped by a dog and pony show—or by high class food--arguing that he met with real people outside the green zone and that he had a high degree of control over the places and people he met during his visit. He said that he met with a Sheik that told him that the American troops needed to stay to prevent Al Quada from cutting off the heads of children. He met with a Jordanian woman who feared a fundamentalist Iraq. He spoke with 20 Iraqi leaders who said it would not be good for the US to leave now. He met with Vancouver troops who also convinced him that leaving would not be good.

Baird argued that his position was a moral one rather than a political one. He believes that we are all morally culpable for the disaster in Iraq and that we have a moral obligation to try to fix it. He criticized those who did not see our moral responsibility.

Baird saw himself as having a higher responsibility than merely representing the people of his district. He said he represented America and believed that his actions were America’s best interest. We could not, he said, abandon Iraq in the chaos we created. We could not, he said, now leave them with Al Quada operating within its border (he acknowledged that Al Quada was not in Iraq before the war nor was Iraq responsible for 9/11). We could not, he said, leave Iraq vulnerable to an attack by Iran.

The audience, however, was not buying it and some in the audience could barely contain their contempt and disagreement with Baird’s views. During the 2-½ hours I was there, only one person supported Baird’s position. The peace community knew the issues. People made intelligent and sometimes emotional arguments. Many pointed out that they had been longtime supporters of Baird and some felt betrayed that he was no longer the person they had supported.

Baird did acknowledge that there was a problem with the war profiteers but backed away from acknowledging what people in the room believed—that this occupation was about oil. Baird backed away from calling our presence in Iraq an “occupation.” While he reiterated his belief that this war was a “mistake,” he was not willing to call it an intentional and deliberate policy decision by the President and his administration. While he acknowledged that the war was based on lies and deception, he did not call for impeachment.

The arguments against staying in Iraq are familiar to the readers here. A few raised the issue of impeachment and at least one raised the issue that the foundation of fascism is being laid in this county. Baird responded to some—sometimes going into long-winded recitations of his voting record-- but ignored impeachment and the idea that the fascism has taken hold in this country. He dismissed out of hand a person who asked if he would support a criminal investigation of 9/11. When Baird said it was already done, the crowd objected; he then said he saw the smoke from the Pentagon and he has seen the wreckage strewn across the Pentagon lawn. (I have yet to see any photos of wreckage—has anyone seen any in the Washington Post?)

Despite his arrogance and gamesmanship in distracting the conversation from hot button issues, I felt a little sorry for Baird as the audience pounded him on.

If Baird has not intentionally chosen to become Bush’s poster boy for continuing the war and sees his position as statesmanlike in trying to do the right thing in a bad situation, then clearly, he has failed to convince this audience.

However, it may be that he truly and sincerely wants to find a way out of Iraq that enables the Iraqis to recover as a sovereign nation. So, instead of continuing to beat up on him, let me offer some offer some constructive advice.
To begin with, it is important not to use Bush language. There can be no “success” in an immoral war. Do not use that word.

Stop using fear tactics as a way to justify continued American occupation—children being beheaded, women stoned to death, Iran nuking Iraq, etc. We no longer believe any of that—for good or for ill, we see that as more propaganda and not the basis for a moral argument.

Admit we have invaded Iraq for no other reason other than Oil and that this war was not a mistake—it was deliberate and intentional—and immoral and illegal.

As an immoral and illegal war, you need to hold the President and Vice President accountable for the lies they told to take us into a costly war that has destroyed Iraq. This means signing onto H Res 333 for Impeachment of Cheney, and then taking the courageous lead in introducing a house resolution calling for the impeachment of Bush.

Once you deal with the immorality at the front end, your desire to find a moral way out of Iraq would have more credibility. Without it, it will be impossible to convince anyone that you have staked a moral position—it will just seem that someone made you an offer you could not refuse.

Stop portraying Iraqis as if they are all thugs. Recognize that Iraq had a secular government, and before our long history of war on Iraq they had good schools and health care for all citizens. We know they can build a strong society that cares for all of its people.

They know that they need to find a way to work together in order to stop the bloodbath and to rebuild their country. They have a vital resource—Oil—and that their security depends on stabilizing their country, managing their wealth and taking their rightful place at the power tables of the world. They are not stupid. They know a protracted civil war will render them weak.

Bring in the international community to help the Iraqis find peace and reconciliation, restoring Iraq as a sovereign nation.

And yes, America gets to pay the bill. It would help to have the corporations who have benefited from this immoral war and occupation to kick in the largest amounts. They should also be required to repay the billions of dollars that remain unaccounted for.

Instead of taking a “stay the course” position, Baird would be far more effective if he reframed the whole issue in terms of finding a way out that returns Iraq to the Iraqis. While he could make a reasoned argument against an immediate withdrawal, the truth is that few are advocating getting all troops out tomorrow. It is a false argument—and that is why he got some pushback.

We need to make it clear to all that we are not in the business of occupying Iraq. In particular, we need to signal that this has been a huge mistake, that we are morally guilty and have a responsibility to pay for rebuilding Iraq.

Baird missed an opportunity to use his epiphany as a way to move us forward. Here are a few things that must be done over the next 6 months that might lead to political progress and reconciliation—or at least send the right signal to Iraq and the world (and convince his constituents that he really is an integrity guy):
1. Stop construction on all American bases in Iraq and remove all American contractors immediately.
2. Remove all private military (mercenaries) in Iraq immediately.
3. In the areas where you claim we have established some degree of safety, have our troops, Iraqi citizens and international relief organizations work together to restore water and electricity, and normalize daily life. Show how it can be done.
4. Bring in the international community to begin rebuilding the infrastructure—on our tab. They should replace the corporations that currently are sucking up all our money but have failed to provide the basic services for which they have been paid;.
5. Provide resources and incentives to bring back the technocrats and skilled workers (and their families) who have left Iraq.
6. Implement a full-employment jobs program for Iraqis to begin stabilizing the country and begin the long overdue rebuilding and reconstruction.

All these things must be done, even as we plan to remove troops.

Had Baird done these things, he would have emerged as a serious statesman leading the way out of this quagmire. There is still time to do this. Whether that really is his intention, however, is still a question.

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