baumgartner mug.jpg
Mike Baumgartner
This is something new for The Daily Weekly. Every Monday, starting today, we'll present Q&A's with area newsmakers - for lack of a

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The Horse's Mouth: Mike Baumgartner on Afghanistan, Pot, His F-Bomb and Big Bird

baumgartner mug.jpg
Mike Baumgartner
This is something new for The Daily Weekly. Every Monday, starting today, we'll present Q&A's with area newsmakers - for lack of a sexier description. Each week I'll throw three questions someone's way, then get out of the way - publishing (online) whatever I get in return.

This week Daily Weekly managed to persuade current state Republican Senator from Spokane and U.S. Senate candidate Mike Baumgartner into participating, despite the fact he's had some rough interactions with Seattle bloggers in the past.

Attempting to unseat entrenched Democrat Maria Cantwell, and preparing for a debate with his foe this Friday (7 p.m. on KCTS9), Baumgartner's got plenty to talk about - from the cornerstones of his candidacy, foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan, to his recent endorsement of Initiative 502.

Here's what Baumgartner had to say, straight from the horse's mouth ...

Seattle Weekly: One of the key aspects of your campaign has been foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan. In announcing your debate with Sen. Cantwell, you said she "needs to explain her record in the Middle East and her support of the war in Afghanistan." Specifically, can you explain the differences between your stance on the war in Afghanistan and the way Cantwell has voted? What do you hope Cantwell will explain on Friday? Do you actually expect that to happen?

Baumgartner: D.C. has certainly seen some bi-partisan foreign policy failures in the last decade, and Maria Cantwell deserves her share of the blame. She voted for a poorly planned war in Iraq (no exit strategy/no idea who would replace Saddam) and voted to expand the war in Afghanistan to over 100,000 troops in the tenth year of the war based on an unrealistic strategy of trying to force a democracy into the most remote country on earth. Even the Soviets were only at war there for nine years, you would think we might learn something from that.

9/11 certainly necessitated a military response, but spending billions and billions there with an unrealistic strategy is hurting our economy, helping put us deeply into debt and taking a tremendous toll on our troops and their families. Rising divorce, suicide and PTSD rates are real. Over 2,000 Americans have died in Afghanistan and the real war costs are in the trillions.

Most significantly, it's not making us safer. America is now less popular in Pakistan than Al Qaeda. We should end the war in Afghanistan and change strategy.

Our strategic interest in Afghanistan is not in building a democracy; it is in denying operational training space to trans-national terrorist groups. We can manage that space much more effectively by treating Afghanistan more similar to how we treat such threats from Yemen and Somalia. Free and fair city council elections in Khandahar have little to do with our security in Seattle. In fact, our outsized war strategy fuels much of the corruption plaguing the country. The total Afghan economy is only about $15billion per year. We spend $10billion per month fighting the war there. Ever try to pour a bunch of water onto a tiny little sponge?...that's what has been happening with the billions and billions being spent in Afghanistan.

However, the real concern about Cantwell isn't her past policy on wars, it's how she might deal with future ones. It has been amazing to me that foreign policy hasn't been a bigger part of this election season and not just because we still have 70,000+ troops fighting the longest war in our nation's history. If you think about the Constitution, the job description of the US Senate is really the foreign policy advisory board of the country (ratifying treaties, declaring wars, etc). America will continue to face serious threats from the Middle East - belligerent Iran, disintegrating Pakistan, Egypt in turmoil.

I think that as a former US Diplomat who's spent a lot of time in the Middle East, including both Iraq and Afghanistan, that I can help develop a smarter policy that better utilizes moderate Muslims as allies and ensures that any wars we fight have proper exit strategies, respect civil liberties and are properly authorized. My day job when I'm not in the state Senate is to advise deploying US Brigade Combat Teams on the economics of counterinsurgency in the Middle East, based on my background in econ from WSU and Harvard. It's a perspective sorely lacking in the Senate.

Have Bush and Obama made mistakes in these wars? Yes, and Cantwell has voted for all of it. Despite how she pantomimes opposition with irrelevant letters to the President expressing "concern" the fact is that she voted to expand the war in Afghanistan and she votes to keep funding a failing strategy (most recently the 2012 NDAA, which also allowed for detention of US citizens without due process).

What has Cantwell shown in 12 years of foreign policy votes that she'll get it right the next time?

You recently announced your support of Initiative 502 -- which isn't something many in your party have been willing to do. Has coming out in favor of an effort to legalize, tax and regulate pot put you at odds with members of your party? Why did you decide now was the time to endorse the initiative?

This might shock some of your readers, but I'm not a big fan of marijuana use and have never used it myself. Back in college, I thought marijuana was harmless for some of my friends, but very destructive for some others.

However, I think that our current war on drugs is also really a failing strategy and that I-502 provides a really thoughtful way to take a smarter approach that helps bring the current widespread recreational marijuana use out of the shadows to provide a safe and legal and taxed approach. As someone who met my wife while embedded to a counternarcotics team in Helmand, Afghanistan, I've seen up close the nexus of drugs and criminal terrorist groups. All anybody has to do is look at the raging drugs war on our Mexican border to think that maybe we should try a different approach. If nothing else, we'll learn from I-502.

I've ran into less resistance from my Republican base than I thought I would. Most of them knew that I voted for legalized sourcing of medical marijuana in the state Senate in 2011. However, some have been very vocal in their disappointment. Interestingly enough, several of those who serve as the Republican political "experts" in this state think it was a bad decision. They say that those who approve of I-502 will give a thumbs up, but won't actually vote for me at the end of the day and that it will just shave votes from my base.

My view has always been that if you get the policy right that the politics will follow. We'll see. Maybe we'll find those guys are right, but it's not like they have a huge track record of Republican success in recent years to speak from anyway.

Like much else, Cantwell is wrong in her opposition to I-502. At the very least, she should be fighting to allow Washington voters more independence from the federal government on how we make drug laws in our state, but she certainly hasn't done that with medical marijuana either.

One of the most notable moments of your campaign so far has been the now infamous interaction with Josh Feit of PubliCola. While you've expressed some regret over the choice of words, you haven't apologized for the comment as a whole -- saying Feit "had it coming," and expressing continued frustration over the media ignoring the war in Afghanistan. While most would classify telling a reporter to go fuck himself as a gaffe, I'm wondering how the comment has actually impacted your campaign?

You're quite right that I haven't apologize for providing that blogger some needed advice and I'll reiterate that he did have it coming. I certainly did not mean for it to be public and will note once again that we had a history of private correspondence.

It's interesting how much attention it has drawn. I literally think that I could announce a cure for cancer on the campaign and it wouldn't get any coverage, but singe the delicate ears of a blogger in a personal email and you get to deal with it for weeks.

How have folks responded? It's been a mix, but I kid you not that I've had multiple members of the legislature, including Seattle area Democrats congratulate me and tell me that they've been wanting to say the same thing for years.

Hopefully folks appreciate a guy who tries to tell it like it is. Peter Callaghan of the TNT recently did a column about me that included him asking a Boston Globe columnist who once called me an "architect of hope" for my work in Iraq. Here is part of what Callaghan wrote:

In the midst of his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, Baumgartner caught the attention of Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who wrote two columns, in 2008 and 2009, featuring the Harvard graduate. In one, he described Baumgartner's views on Iraq as "jarringly clear-minded and forward-thinking, removed from the never-ending discussion of how we got into this mess."

I asked Cullen what he found interesting about Baumgartner.

"Whenever I talked to Michael about Iraq or Afghanistan, I found him refreshingly candid and sincere," Cullen wrote.

"I have a lot of friends - and a couple of nephews - who have served in that theater in the military, some of them with him, and he is widely respected in that world for the same reason: honest, no bullshit. That's what military people want."

Read more here.

Thanks for the opportunity to address the readers of Seattle Weekly. I hope that we can do it again.

EXTRA CREDIT: Big Bird - should he stay or should he go now?

Thumbs up for Big Bird. My wife and I decided to drop cable to save money two years ago, so we end up watching a lot of PBS. She's English, so she likes all of those melodramatic BBC films they run. I particularly like Frontline, they run some of the best stuff on Afghanistan and the war. Anyhow, my mom is a kindergarten teacher so I'm effectively required to like Big Bird. He's not the key to balancing the budget.

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