Richardson Stands Apart on Iraq
Pundits and analysts have begun treating the Democratic presidential candidates as being pretty much alike in their stance on the war, but Gov. Bill Richardson vehemently disagrees. In an op-ed to run in tomorrow's Washington Post he calls on everyone to "stop pretending that all Democratic plans are similar." Americans deserve precise answers from candidates about their Iraq plans, he says, "rather than allowing them to continue saying, 'We are against the war . . . but please don't read the small print.'" Here's how he describes his own position:
Those who think we need to keep troops in Iraq misunderstand the Middle East. I have met and negotiated successfully with many regional leaders [and am] convinced that only a complete withdrawal can sufficiently shift the politics of Iraq and its neighbors to break the deadlock . . .Countering objections to his position, he writes that his plan is realistic because:
Our troops have done everything they were asked to do with courage and professionalism, but they cannot win someone else's civil war. So long as American troops are in Iraq, reconciliation among Iraqi factions is postponed. Leaving forces there enables the Iraqis to delay [ending the violence and] prevents us from using diplomacy to bring in other nations to help stabilize and . . .
The presence of American forces in Iraq weakens us in the war against al-Qaeda. It endows the anti-American propaganda of those who portray us as occupiers plundering Iraq's oil and repressing Muslims. The day we leave, this myth collapses, and the Iraqis will drive foreign jihadists out of their country. . . .
Logistically, it would be possible to withdraw in six to eight months. We moved as many as 240,000 troops into and out of Iraq through Kuwait in as little as a three-month period during major troop rotations. After the Persian Gulf War, we redeployed nearly a half-million troops in a few months. . . .
As our withdrawal begins, we will gain diplomatic leverage. Iraqis will start seeing us as brokers, not occupiers. Iraq's neighbors will face the reality that if they don't help with stabilization, they will face the consequences of Iraq's collapse -- including even greater refugee flows over their borders and possible war.
The United States can facilitate Iraqi reconciliation and regional cooperation by holding a conference similar to that which brought peace to Bosnia. . . . [This cannot] happen until we remove the biggest obstacle to diplomacy: the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
* It is less risky. Leaving forces behind leaves them vulnerable. . . .Richardson's credentials and his distinctive reasoning deserve a lot more attention than they are getting, all because he is behind the front three candidates in fund-raising and the polls. Hopefully this op-ed will help him start getting more attention on the war issue.
* It gets our troops out of the quagmire and strengthens us for our real challenges. It is foolish to think that 20,000 to 75,000 troops could bring peace to Iraq when 160,000 have not. We need to get our troops out of the crossfire in Iraq so that we can defeat the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11.
* By hastening the peace process, the likelihood of prolonged bloodshed is reduced. President Richard Nixon withdrew U.S. forces slowly from Vietnam -- with disastrous consequences. Over the seven years it took to get our troops out, 21,000 more Americans and perhaps a million Vietnamese, most of them civilians, died. [Despite those deaths,] the communists took over as soon as we left.