What in the world does Bill Richardson want?

MUSCATINE, Iowa — I just got a phone call — unprompted — from Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democratic candidate for president, blasting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for saying she would withdraw nearly all American troops from Iraq within a year of beginning redeployment.

“Senator Clinton’s comments are a stunning flip-flop — she’s been saying she would keep troops in Iraq for five years, until 2013, and now she comes up with an inconsistent, incredible turnaround,” Mr. Richardson said.

Mrs. Clinton has maintained that she would leave a residual force behind in Iraq to pursue narrow missions, a position that her spokesman said she still holds. As her aides have done before, the spokesman declined to say how many troops Mrs. Clinton would leave.

Bill Richardson has been pushing for immediate withdrawal all along. Why does he care when his competitors for his party’s nomination for the Presidency come around to his position so long as they do? I have never understood why folks complain that “He (or she) stole my policy position!” I can only guess that I don’t really understand the lengths to which the urge for power can drive one.

I think that the Democratic aspirants for the Presidency are in an unenviable position. At some point the number of troops stationed in Iraq reaches a level where the only practical mission is force protection and at that point leaving our troops there becomes surreal and absurd. But complete withdrawal without reference to conditions on the ground runs the risk of giving Democrats ownership of the likely carnage that would follow which includes the prospect of regional war. That’s a pretty substantial risk and I’ve believed that a Democratic successor to President Bush would be more likely to leave our troops in Iraq as conditions are now rather than risk a serious deterioration on his or her watch. So Hillary Clinton (or whoever that Democratic successor might be) is caught between the Scylla of continuing the status quo and, not inconsequentially, earning the wrath of a significant part of the Democratic base, and the Charybdis of letting the situation deteriorate even farther. Absurdity may well be seen as the least of evils.

4 comments… add one
  • It’s part and parcel of the perceived need to attack the front-runners to somehow boost one’s own campaign. I’ve always thought this was a stupid tactic – attacking a candidate seems unlikely to sway that candidates supporters to support the attacker – but I’m not a political “expert” so what do I know?

    The thing that concerns me about Iraq with the Democrats on the issue of pullout is not withdrawal itself, it’s WHY they want to withdrawal. For most, the decision seems driven largely by domestic political considerations instead of the foreign policy interests of the United States. I think valid policy objective could be served through some kind of withdrawal, but few candidates say what they would be, nor do they have any plans to mitigate the risks withdrawal might bring. Their policies appear to largely be withdrawal for withdrawal’s sake.

    The GoP isn’t any better. With a notable exception or two, the decision to stay and “win” the war appears equally driven by domestic politics.

    So, FWIW, I’m very skeptical that most of the current crop of candidates have the vision and strategic understanding to navigate the rocky shoals of Iraq policy without grounding the ship.

  • One of these days I’ll write a post deconstructing the withdrawalniks. Some are just horrified by the carnage and wish it would all go away. Some feel Iraq is a distraction from their real priorities—domestic spending. Some look forward to the damage it would do to U. S. interests—we’d be getting our long overdue comeuppance.

    There are some serious folks, like Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark), who believe that Iraq will quiet down if we just withdraw. I actually think that’s true in some parts of Iraq but I don’t think it’s true in the areas that are hotly contested by different ethnic, religious, or political factions e.g. Kirkuk, Baghdad, and so on.

  • Another thing annoys me are the calls from the Democrats to “end” the war in Iraq – as if war only occurs when there are Americans involved and as soon as we are gone it will be “over.” I’m am much more amendable to the Democrats this election cycle, but they are their own worst enemy.

  • Unfortunately, for many Americans the war ends when it’s off the nightly news. For some of them the war is already over—they’re not hearing much about it any more and that’s one of the reasons so little is said about it in the campaign.

Leave a Comment