Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Training Day

With the announcement of a new military training facility in Orchards, Vancouver seems destined to remain, at least in part, an army town.

And as early as 2011, that facility will be home to hundreds of recruits, with many drawn to military service because of love of country, family tradition or simply out of a desire to be gainfully employed in what promises to be a tough job market for years to come.

Just where those recruits will be going – where they will serve, fight and in some cases, die – depends in large part on President Obama’s strategy for the eight-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. Obama outlined a plan Tuesday for more than 30,000 additional troops at another, better-known training facility, West Point.

On the day of the President’s speech, I spoke with Congressman Brian Baird about his recent trip to the war-torn region and his thoughts on the decision to send more troops, as well as the war’s effect on economic priorities closer to home.

VBJ: Do you agree with the President’s decision to send in more troops?

Baird: That’s not the important decision. The most important decision will not be what we say, but what we do. What’s clear is that military action needs to be contingent on real action by the Afghan government to end the corruption there.

VBJ: With today’s announcement, do you think Afghanistan has finally become Obama’s war?

Baird: That’s a silly question. And one that’s typical of our political process [since] we think we get to start over every four years. People need to understand that this decision is vastly influenced by what came before. Given that history, what do we do? Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone has that answer.

VBJ: You made a recent trip to Afghanistan. What was your impression of the situation there?

Baird: I was also in Pakistan, in Islamabad and Peshawar, near the Afghan border. The Pakstani army took over Taliban areas nearby, and that was mostly a good thing for the people. But it took 30,000 troops to take a small valley from the Taliban. My question is what it will take to clear a whole country [Afghanistan].

VBJ: What do you say to parents of young people looking to join the military, as well as family members of troops on their second or third deployment? Are you comfortable with your support of the war?

Baird: The short answer is that I’m never comfortable with these decisions… The minute I saw the fireball over the Pentagon on 9-11, I thought the world has changed, that there’s no question that we are going to war, and that means people are going to die. The question then and always is the safety and security of the country. But it’s not quite as clear now what the mission is, or what we can do to succeed.

VBJ: Has the spiraling cost of the Afghan war affected your view on priorities at home like healthcare reform?

Baird: The problem is that we tried to fight both in Iraq and Afghanistan without paying for it and now we’re borrowing billions from the Chinese to keep things going. Before we start adding more things on the list, we need to find ways to pay for them.