Every once in a while, serendipity provides a gift to those who answer its call.
But like a cat, you must be always ready; and that’s why I decided to turn around and see what was going on under the tent perched on the corner of the vacant lot this afternoon.
What was going on was that Republican Congressman Dave Reichert was giving a speech. I don’t get a chance to meet the local Congressman very often, and I said to myself: “Self…what a great chance to talk about Iraq…with a Member of Congress. You should go talk to him.”
So I did.
As it turns out, he was most gracious and more than willing to talk; and we spent about 10 minutes in a back-and-forth. As Paul Harvey would say, “the rest…of the story” is continued below.
There are a couple of reasons why I was particularly interested in talking about Iraq: one is that I have a godson now involved; but even more important is that Reichert is, in effect, the Congressman from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, as Fort Lewis, Washington is within his district (WA-08). As you may or may not know, these troops are at “the point of the spear” as far as the “surge” is concerned, and they are taking casualties in substantial numbers.
So by now I’ve parked the car, and walked up to join the crowd of about 60. The Congressman is here today to be honored for his efforts to help the City of Snoqualmie with its redevelopment efforts; and with the requisite speechifying and handshaking of dignitaries complete, it’s time for my first question…which is basically that I don’t understand how he can continue to support the surge.
Reichert began by reminding me that he was not in office at the time of the original vote. He pointed out that members of both parties felt that there was a reason for the invasion.
Interestingly, he then commented on the fact that hindsight is 20/20…but he told me that if he knew then what he knows today, he would have still voted to invade.
He told me he had just returned from a trip to Iraq with Democratic Congressman Brian Baird, and that Baird had changed his mind as a result of the trip, and now supports remaining in the country.
Reichert recounted his trip through the market, and told me that on previous trips he could not have visited the “Red Zone”. He expressed more than once his belief that violence had been dramatically reduced, as well.
He told me that he had spoken to “hundreds” of troops on the ground, and that not a single one had expressed to him that we should get out because the war was serving no purpose.
He recalled a meeting with Jane Harmon, amongst others; and the problem with the Democratic stance on the war, as he sees it, is that the Democrats offer no alternative plan-or at least could not offer one when he confronted Harmon and the others about this issue at that meeting.
Taking a moment to offer a second question, I asked Reichert if the violence might be reduced in Baghdad these days because we are now at the end of a process of ethnic cleansing. I reminded him that Sunni and Shi’a are separated now more than ever before in the city. I pointed out that Sunni enclaves are now surrounded by blast walls, and that the Shi’a use the checkpoints as locations for targeting Sunni to be attacked if they enter Shi’a territory.
The Congressman told me I am mistaken regarding these issues. He informed me that ethnic cleansing is not an issue. In fact, he reports the local police chief he spoke with (who happens to be Shi’a-I asked), is married to a Sunni woman, and that there are no problems whatsoever. He further challenged my sources regarding this sort of information.
He also reports that Shi’a and Sunni death squads were targeting each other, but that they represent a small minority of the residents of these communities, and that this problem is nothing about which we should be concerned.
He then told me that he is the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee, and as a result he has access to “Top Secret information” that flows from a source at a higher level than mine.
A most interesting moment occurred when he told me that we have to listen to the Generals to decide when to get out of Iraq. I asked him if it wasn’t actually Congress’ job to tell the Generals when to fight wars and when to end them. He said it was not. I then asked him if he believed in the concept of civilian control of the military.
He responded that he did not want me to put words in his mouth; that he was basically trying to say that we don’t want 435 more Generals micromanaging the war.
Although he spent a considerable time talking to me, at one point he looked at me and said “I can see I’m just wasting my time here…” in a reference to his inability to sway me to his point of view. Nonetheless, we continued to engage until his “handler” gently played “bad cop” and led him away.
So what did we learn?
The Congressman seeks succor in the fact that violence is reduced, he does not acknowledge that there are ethnic cleansing problems, now or in the past, and he tells us he is of the belief that we are on the right track.
What he did not like was the question of civilian control over the military. He was far more comfortable with the concept that we should not question our Generals.
What he did not mention was any element of the political situation…suggesting there is not much he wants to highlight in that regard, particularly as it relates to the problems of internal Governmental struggle and its connection to the inability to successfully “nation build”.
Ironically, on the day we were speaking, Iraq’s Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister was announcing that “there will be no reconciliation…”
The question I forgot to ask?
In an effort to improve the conditions faced by our troops back home, I have proposed that Members of Congress get their health care from VA and military facilities. I forgot to ask the Congressman how he might view such a proposal.
In any event, that’s the story for today: we meet a Member of Congress, we have a conversation, and we find that, although he was happy to spend the time, we still find ourselves very far apart on some very basic issues.