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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Richardson pandering to the pro-withdrawal base?

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, August 21, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
There's a handy chart at myDD that purports to show, with references, where the dmeocratic candidates stand on various issues related to withdrawal from Iraq. Richardson comes out looking the most committed to withdrawal as soon as possible, which isn't surprising given that his campaign put the chart together (sourced from his affiliated campaign site, No Troops Left Behind).

However, Richardson gave a speech ("the New Realism") at the CSIS (PDF) a while back wherein he said several things that I think contradict the image he is trying to put forth here.

in the introductory remarks he explicitly calls for increase in the size of the military:

if America is to lead again, we need to remember this history and to rebuild
our overextended military, increase the size of our Army, revive our alliances, and restore
our reputation as a nation which respects international law, human rights, and civil

But over the course of the rest of the speech, he doesn't quite spell out exactly where troops are needed (though he has quite a laundry list of foreign policy issues that need our attention).

later in response to a direct question, what woud he do in Iraq, he answers in part,

I would get out this calendar year, but I would couple that with three
other steps: one, diplomacy, American leadership; bring together a reconciliation
conference among the ethnic groups – the Shi’a, the Sunni; find a way that that
reconciliation conference, using the leverage of a withdrawal, brings forth a coalition
government, a sharing of oil revenues, a sharing of Cabinet ministries, and a Dayton-type
accord similar to Dayton – not a division, a splitting up of the country, that would bring
territorial integrity and respect to the religious groups in Iraq.

The problem is that this is largely meaningless. First, "get out this calendar year" ? Which year? 2008? Is it even possible to withdraw from Iraq in one year?

The other things like a "reconciliation coference" and "leverage the threat of withdrawal" seem absurdly naive for someone with such supposedly seasoned foreign policy chops as he has. Contrast this with the much grittier analysis by Cordesman that notes that the US "cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it." The idea that a reconciliation conference akin to South Africa would suffice to meaningfully ameliorate the ethnic division there, utterly ignores the complex interplay of foreign interests and the domestic political landscape that make Iraq such a Gordian knot (and there's no better summary/overview of that knot than the Cordesman report linked above. ESSENTIAL reading for anyone daring to opine on Iraq strategy or policy, including Presidential candidates).

Richardson acknowledges that such conferences would provide no guarantee:

Now, is that going to guarantee success? Is that going to guarantee the stoppage of a civil war and sectarian conflict? It won’t guarantee it, but I believe it will be an important step to make things

emphasis mine; what kind of drivel is this? an "important step" ? Is he serious? This is hand-waving of the most transparent kind. A policy needs to be evaluated according to some measure or metric, and all he has to offer is platitude.

I donm't think Richardson is a fool. In fact I think he knows that he needs to distinguish himself from the other candidates and is using withdrawal as his wedge. He's too intelligent to be ignorant of the emptiness of his words at the CSIS as pertain to Iraq, which lead me to suspect that this is really a pander operation. It's far more plausible that Richardson sees a need for increased troops in Iraq for the long haul. That isn't a position I personally would not neccessarily disagree with him, but that is a position at odds with how he is trying to portray himself to the Democratic electorate and the netroots. I think Biden has a more honest approach: stand on principle and make your case.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.