Washington Representative Brian Baird has scheduled a town hall meeting at Vancouver on Monday, and it stands to be one of the most notable such meetings on Iraq in the region this season. The reason is his change of tack on the subject. For quite some time basically anti-war, he has shifted course (probably less than 180 degrees, but substantially); his release today sums up his current view:
"The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. As tragic and costly as that mistake has been, a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible."
Hotter subjects have we none, and Baird's meeting is likely to be incendiary; at least one protest effort is already under plan. (Remember the the recent boiling point town halls of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who consistently has been nearly as anti-war as most of the people who attended.)
This is one of those subjects on which you're better off being up front about your perspective, so, while this is a regional and not a national news blog, here's ours: We thought in 2003, as the invasion was being launched, George Bush was absolutely correct on Iraq. George H.W. Bush, that is, in his calm, reasoned and intelligence/history-based analysis in 1991 (and later) on why American troops should not push on to Baghdad in the first Gulf War: The end result would far greater bloodshed, immense cost, a long-term American occupation of a large foreign country, regional instability, civil war and other demons by the host. He was right then, and right now, and day after day he is being proven prophetic.
Probably few minds will be changed at this point by either that last paragraph or much else anyone says: Opinions on Iraq seem to be hardening, if anything.
But - this being a Northwest blog - we would suggest a listen to an hour-long KUOW speaker's forum recording, of a talk by Washington Post military reporter Thomas Ricks, consistently one of the better reporters on Iraq, about the Big Picture over there, with some focus on where we're going.
In sum, he suggests the course seems almost locked for some time to come. He wouldn't argue with Baird that withdrawal of troops carries a big risk of violence and instability; but then, he said, any option before us carries that risk - there are no good options at all. Whether the level of violence or instability worsens or improves over the coming months, he said, our response will be the same: A year from now, we'll have half as many troops over there as we do now, because we won't be able to support any more. "This war rapidly is becming not a problem for [Bush] but for the next president" - and the next president probably wouldn't be able, whatever he or she wanted to do, to pulled troops and equipment out inside a year or two.
"I don't think this will end well," he said. We're in act three of a five-act Shakespeare tragedy, he said, and the fourth act will be bloody and the fifth "messy."
We tend not to be quite as pessimistic as Ricks. But his analysis is more clear and compelling that almost anything you'll hear at a town hall, as calmly and clearly thought out as H.W.'s, and it's recommended for some pre-meeting perspective.