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August 21, 2007

Have other Dems joined Baird in rethinking Iraq?

Posted by David Postman at 10:39 AM

Congressman Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, is featured in a front page Washington Post story this morning about Democrats' changing view on Iraq.

Not every Democrat has come back from Iraq supporting a drawdown of U.S. forces in the coming months, as party leaders have advocated. Staking out positions that could complicate efforts to achieve party unity in September, a few Democratic lawmakers have returned expressing support for a continued troop presence. One of them, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines.

But the Post has been hit with a common journalistic malady: Rampant pluralism. A careful reading shows that so far Baird stands alone with a substantive change of heart about Iraq. The Post points out that Republicans are eager to use any positive statements about Iraq from Democrats to show the party splitting on the war. (And this morning the Republican National Committee features on its homepage a Washington Times story, "Democrats See 'Results' In Iraq." But as the Post points out:

At times, such statements have been clearly taken out of context. When Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) returned from Iraq and said, "We're making some measurable progress," the GOP declared that the Democratic leadership had splintered on the war. What Republicans left out was the rest of Durbin's remarks: "We cannot win this war militarily. We just can't send enough troops."

The paper says "some Democrats have shifted their views" and use Baird as the best example. He clearly has changed his mind and no longer supports the Democrats' withdrawal plan.

That followed comments by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) suggesting that his trip to Iraq made him more flexible in his search for a bipartisan accord on the future U.S. role in the conflict. "If anything, I'm more willing to work to find a way forward," he told reporters late last month.

Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.), who was with McNerney, told his local paper that the troop increase "has really made a difference and really has gotten al-Qaeda on their heels."

But neither Mahoney or McNerney came back "expressing support for a continued troop presence" — at least not in conflict with the Democratic conventional wisdom.

The Contra Costa Times reported late last month:

Freshman Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney remains committed to a timeline for U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq but expressed willingness to be more flexible following a weekend trip to visit American troops and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad and Ramadi.

He did say he's more willing to work toward a bipartisan agreement on Iraq. But he remains committed to a timetable for bringing U.S. troops home.

Ready or not, McNerney says he delivered a clear message to the Iraqi leaders: The U.S. cannot remain in Iraq indefinitely.

"The timetable is really important," he said. "We do want to give them enough time to ... get them into a situation where they can resist (the insurgents) but we can't stay there forever."

And McNerney made clear in an essay on his Web site that he has not backed off a withdrawal timetable.

Even though we were shown some successes, Iraq is still engaged in a religious civil war. I believe we must keep the pressure on to end the conflict and bring our troops home. The most direct way to do this is through setting a timeline. We need to set a definite start date and a definite strategy to end our military involvement. And in between, we need definite benchmarks.

Mahoney also still supports setting a deadline for withdrawal, according to his homestate press.

Yet, for the U.S., the question is not "whether" to stage a drawdown of U.S. forces deployed in Iraq, but "how," Mahoney said Monday after a fact-finding trip to Iraq last weekend.

There may be a split among Democrats when Congress reconvenes and hears the much anticipated progress report on the Iraq surge. But it hasn't happened yet, despite a few encouraging words from a few Democrats.

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