Walter Shapiro Interviews Bill Richardson

Walter Shapiro interviewed Bill Richardson for Salon. I’ll ignore the many horse race questions and post some of the questions on matter of substance:

Now to violate the rules of politics, I’m going to ask you a substantive question. You talk about wanting as president to leave no residual troops in Iraq and then you say, “But we will have to protect the embassy.” How many Marines are you envisioning for that job?

First of all, a residual force is not the same as Marines.

Let me rephrase it. You said no residual forces in Iraq. But we will have Marines there to protect the embassy?

Yes, the existing Marine detachment. You have to keep that. Because that’s where our personnel is.

But Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that he has talked to people who say that it will take as many as 5,000 to 10,000 Marines to protect the embassy.

No, I think that’s excessive. I would listen to a military argument. But where I object to the Biden and Clinton and other positions is that if you look at the Reid-Feingold [redeployment] legislation [currently before the Senate], it does not specify how many [troops would remain]. In fact, there is a [potential] number that is close to 50,000. And it says for the following purposes — which I believe leaves a huge, gaping hole in the residual forces issue. It talks about to train Iraqis. To protect against terrorism. That’s the same mission. You’re either in or you’re out.

But if it said 1,000 [troops] to protect the American embassy, that’s fine with me. It’s a Marine detachment. It’s part of our diplomatic corps. I wouldn’t even consider that a residual force. Of course I would permit that. But residual forces — 5,000 to guard an embassy — that means that the embassy is not safe. I would pull the embassy if it is not safe.

You talk about Darfur, our failure to intervene in Rwanda, the lessons of Bosnia. If we pull back our troops to Kuwait, as you advocate, and there was a level of near genocide between the Shiites and the Sunnis, could we just watch this unfold on Al-Jazeera television? Could we just sit in Kuwait and watch this happen?

You never preclude any option. Those troops in Kuwait would be for protection against international terrorist threats against this country. And if you have a real conflagration [in Iraq], you never limit the options. But the option mainly for shifting those troops to Kuwait and to Afghanistan is terrorism, al-Qaida.

My plan is that there be an all-Muslim peacekeeping force that would involve Iran and Syria, who wouldn’t want a genocide because there would be thousands of refugees in their territory. But also a diplomatic plan that allows and permits a coalition government. And possible partition. A sharing of oil revenues. A political deal that sets up a framework for a future Iraq. Iraq is not exactly helpless.

All these people say it’s going to go into civil war. They have 330,000 security forces and 150 billion reserves of oil. They’ve had three elections. They have some democratic institutions. It’s not exactly like they’re helpless. They should tend to their own security. We have done our job. Our troops have done a magnificent job.

Iraq is not just a question of a genocide or a civil war in Iraq. We’re talking about American foreign policy shifting so many resources into Iraq that we’re neglecting other priorities. Like terrorism, like North Korea, like Iran, like nuclear proliferation — the need to secure fissionable materials — like global climate change, like so many other issues. We’re virtually out of NATO. We don’t participate. We’re not part of the international community because of this obsession.

Later they discussed domestic issues:

I sort of see a contradiction in your domestic policy. You talk about your support for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. This would have been approved during the era of the Gingrich Congress if Bill Clinton had not been opposed to it. If it went through in a Richardson administration with you supporting it, wouldn’t that rule out the funds for any expansion of healthcare or education or other major domestic initiatives?

If you recall, the Clinton deficit-reduction plan, which passed by one vote [in 1993], caused the resurgence in the economy. We grew 20 million more jobs, a [budget] surplus. When we pass a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, first of all I would never pass it if a recession or a war was going on. But you stage it, [over] several years. You commit yourself to certain steps.

No, I believe it would immediately send a signal to grow the economy, make more budget funds available. And I still believe that you could reshift priorities and spend more on healthcare and education. I think you could do it.

I was able to do it. I cut taxes in New Mexico. I increased spending for healthcare and education and had a surplus because the economy grew. I am a believer in growing the economy and being a pro-growth Democrat. I’m not somebody for whom every solution is a tax increase or more spending.

But isn’t there a difference between talking about a balanced budget, which Bill Clinton achieved, and putting into play a constitutional mechanism that the Republicans could use against any new spending programs?

No, I think you also have to take other steps that involve tough medicine like a line-item veto. Clinton tried to do it and he almost got it done. Pay-as-you-go policies. Corporate welfare. I’d have a national commission like the base-closure commission that would list all the $73 billion in fat in corporate welfare in one vote and not allow it to be picked up. It would be tough to get rid of earmarks, you know that. But we’ve got to significantly reduce them or make them open.

Later they returned to foreign policy, looking beyond Iraq:

Let’s switch to a serious policy question. Given your experiences negotiating with Saddam Hussein and North Korea, is there anybody in the world that the U.S. shouldn’t be talking to?

We shouldn’t be talking to Osama bin Laden. We shouldn’t be talking to the most extreme leadership of al-Qaida. We shouldn’t be talking to the most extreme leadership of Hamas. But short of that, I don’t mind using mediation and other techniques to deal with the world’s worst [leaders]. But I am talking about using traditional diplomacy to talk to Iran, to talk to Syria.

I think the proof in the pudding is to talk to North Korea as we did. I think I had a little bit to do with them recently announcing that they’re going to let inspectors in a little bit. I give credit to the administration. But I’ll take credit for getting the remains of our soldiers back. [During the 1990s, Richardson negotiated with North Korea several times and secured its agreement to search for the bodies of U.S. MIAs from the Korean War.]

But there are parameters. You can’t negotiate with someone who wants to kill you.

You just said that you wouldn’t negotiate with “the most extreme leadership of Hamas.” Are there parts of Hamas that we might think about talking to?

There are parts of Hamas that might be able to work with [Palestinian leader Mahmoud] Abbas. I still would fundamentally have a precondition: They have to renounce the destruction of Israel. Yes, I have seen some things that suggest that there are a few openings there.

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  1. 1
    Stephen Fox says:

    Brilliant. Well done. I like your editorial stance, Ron, which is objective and more observing than exhortative or critical…..the interview speaks for itself. Thank you!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    Thanks for the kind words. Other posts here are ofen based upon my opinion as opposed to being ojective, and to be honest my selection of material (Including the interview with Bill Richardson) is heavily biased towards what I think is significant. While many bloggers feel it is necessary to always interject their opinion, there are posts such as this where I agree that the material speaks for itself.

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