He has been mostly a reliable liberal on domestic issues and a low-profile player on defense issues. Slight of build and unpretentious in manner, he has never been a high-profile player. But he began to stand out on Iraq when he was one of 21 Democrats to vote against a resolution authorizing use of force in 2002. Once the war began, though, he adjusted, pushing for more funding for the conflict, and specifically money to ease the strains on his old service, the Army.
A good, reliable liberal from New England. We could use more like him.
He also began a series of regular trips to Iraq, noteworthy for their emphasis on getting out of the protective bubble in Baghdad and into the field for interviews with Army officers, some of whom he knows from his own Army days. After each trip, he composes a lengthy written report and circulates several hundred copies to members of Congress and Army officers.
What a wonderful thing to do: to write a report, and to distribute it widely. He's been to Iraq 12 times, and gets out of Baghdad. So his perspective is an educated one.
What has emerged from all this has been an intense focus on changing the role U.S. troops are playing in Iraq. He has been more cautious on an Iraq withdrawal than has Sen. Obama. While Sen. Obama has, as a presidential candidate, declared that he would start a withdrawal immediately and complete it within 16 months, Sen. Reed hasn't adopted that fixed timetable as his position.
He sn't running for president, so his stance can be nuanced. I do not understand commentators harping on consistency and flip-flopping: having a nuanced stance condemns candidates to being marginalized; slogans and positions are what get noticed, and it is how people run for office.
Instead, his efforts in the Senate have focused on pushing repeatedly, in an amendment he sponsors with Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, to change the mission for U.S. troops from combat and security to counterterrorism and training. That amendment has been offered in various forms, and in one version called for making this change in mission within nine months, but has focused more on the mission and a phased withdrawal than on a timetable.
A good way to go, something that should've been done two, three years ago, and hasn't been emphasized because the Bush government doesn't know what it is doing.
The tantalizing question is whether any of this might translate into a vice-presidential bid. It doesn't seem highly likely. In electoral-college terms, Sen. Reed would deliver exactly nothing. His home state of Rhode Island is already reliably Democratic, having gone that way in every presidential election since 1984. And Sen. Reed isn't well-known around the nation.
But he does offer genuine national-security credentials and a similar view on Iraq, one rooted in personal and professional expertise. And for a candidate with Sen. Obama's profile, short as it is on personal experience on national security, those wouldn't be bad things to have around.