Richardson’s Real Foreign Policy

Why, my dear friend Cernig asked me in a recent email, has a rather lengthy and detailed policy point paper penned by presidential candidate Bill Richardson gone largely unnoticed; particularly by the blogging community that tends to catch and magnify such things?

Without first reading the article published in the Harvard International Review website, though, I already had a pretty solid clue as to the answer to such a query.

Still, I read the piece, somewhat skeptical of what I would be treated to, and found myself, to engage in understatement, in shock.  It was good… Damn good, and bares reading by all who take an interest in US foreign policy which, considering the state of the nation today, should be everybody.

On the day of September 11th, 2001, then National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice was slated to give a policy speech about the “Threats of Today and Tomorrow,” and not of yesterday.  Curiously enough, from the evidence we have of those early days in the Bush administration; with his dismissing out of hand the threat posed by terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the emphasis he put on old paradigm warfare weaponry such as his “Bunker Busters” we can safely assume that the threats of today and tomorrow Rice would have talked about had little to do with the actual threats of today and tomorrow.

And it has been this adherence to the old, even while trying to justify it by claiming a “Post 9/11 mentality” that has rendered us in the situation that we are in.  The current administration is rutted into a consistent failure of understanding the dynamics of non state sponsored terrorism and continues to persecute whole states, such as Iraq, like some modern day Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Unfortunately, unlike in Cervantez’ comic depiction of the death of chivalry, there really are monsters lurking about that such fruitless wars of adventure have ignored, and our tilting at these particular windmills has had the effect of actually turning them into monsters.

It is in this spirit that Richardson opens his piece, explaining in good fashion the simple fact that as we ease our way into the new millenium, paradigms are shifting all around us and our failure to shift with them has the danger of turning the US from a leader in the world to a “laggard”. (Sorry, I just like the word)

From there, the presidential hopeful proceeds to engage in a well reasoned assessment of the state of the globe and our necessary role in it, rightfully identifying the underlying factors that foster terrorism, and engaging in intriguing and thought provoking ideas to counteract these factors.

Like Cernig and I have discussed in a dialogue that began years ago, Richardson finds himself of the mind that military might alone cannot end or even cause an abatement in terrorism, and in fact unchecked open hostility only encourages it.  Building off of Kerry’s theme that terrorism should be crime enforcement issue, which is really only the tip of the iceberg, Richardson addresses the socioeconomic issues, laying the ground work for trade, human rights, and educational reform that would allow the moderate muslims with whom we would do well befriend to overcome and win the hearts of minds of their brethren as opposed to the jihadists.

And in so doing, America would put itself in the position to actually maybe win some hearts and minds of our own.

This is not to say that Richardson’s policy is not flawed.  While often I found myself asking questions only to find them answered later on in the article (for instance, when he talked about anti nuclear proliferation efforts I found myself wondering about securing post cold war fissile materials only to find that he does address it later down the road) there are some dots I felt he does leave unconnected, for instance, he addresses to a degree climate change, but I think fails to make the connection that pursuing renewable and alternative energy sources would have with our relations with the Middle East.

But these flaws are, after all, minor compared to the depth and substance of the piece.  There’s a lot there, and with this knowledge the question is of course very valid; why is nobody talking about this?

The answer is pretty simple, actually.  It’s because Bill Richardson is running for president.  You may think that this is counterintuitive; becoming an actual candidate for president actually broaden’s a person’s audience, right?  I mean, that’s why single issue candidates like Tom Tancredo or Mike Gravel run, not so much that they think they’ll actually gain the White House but more to drive up awareness for their specific causes.

Except Richardson does not fall into this category.  The Ron Pauls and Dennis Kuciniches and Tommy Thompsons (well no more him I guess) never gain much traction in the polls, but their followings are not concerned with their electibility as they are with the purity of their ideology.  If you support Hillary Clinton, you do so not because you agree with everything she says, but because you agree with some of what she says and recognize that she is a talented enough politician that she can win the election.

With the fringe candidates, no one thinks they can win, but everyone follows them because they agree with everything they say.

These two concepts are what cause people to microscopically examine everything they say, and in turn guides the nature of their messages.  You will never hear Kucinich soften his stance on pulling out of Iraq in the slightest manner because his stance has little to do with political or even realistic viability and everything to do with purity of ideology.  Likewise, you will never hear Tom Tancredo treat illegal immigrants with a modicum of respect for the same reason.

On the other end of the scale, the Hillary’s and Obama’s and Romney’s and Giulianis are channelling everything they have through finely honed political machines because they know they will have every statement and article picked through with a fine tooth comb because of their group the actual winners will be decided.

But Richardson inhabits none of these groups, instead finding himself in a third group that is best rounded out by Senators Biden and Dodd.  These are the men who are not embedded in a pure ideology, nor are they in the thrall of the body politic.  Instead they represent a kind of limbo, expressing perhaps the most experience and wisdom in their policies but at the same unable to transmit this experience into appreciable advancement in the polls.

But even here Richardson finds himself alone for, unlike Biden and Dodd, Richardson has been able to get traction in some polls, particularly in those early voting states where he has considerable organization and has already hit the market with innovative and effective ad buys.

The end result is that while he has this policy base that is akin to the detail and purity of the Kuciniches of the world, he finds himself in a state where he must also channel it through the political process that the frontrunners has.  So while this piece eloquently maps out a decent road map to a stronger, better America in the world, hardly any of it actually makes it to the political sphere of opinion peddling.

This is because since he doesn’t belong to either of the two groups who rightly garner their own grassroots following and therefore their own buzz, he has to do it himself, and he hasn’t.  For political purposes, instead of leading with these proposals, Richardson has taken political conventional wisdom and employed it to his detriment, particularly in two areas.

-Senator vs. Governor.  Anyone who watches the debates knows at least one thing of Bill Richardson, he’s the Governor of New Mexico.  The conventional wisdom of presidential politics is simply that for many underlying reasons Governors are more likely to be elected than congressmen.  It would seem that the Richardson camp has taken this nugget and over applied it to the campaign resulting in a disproportionate amount of Richardson’s messaging focusing not on his policies, but on his experience.

– The big issue of the day.  Perhaps some Democrats overlearned the political lessons of the last few elections cycles.  Specifically that nuanced positions are a liability, and that it doesn’t matter if you are strong on everything else across the board, if you are weak on the big issue of the day, you’re going to lose.  These two concepts, I believe, have molded the rest of Richardson’s foreign policy down to the very simple, very crowd pleasing, but not very substative, “Get the troops out of Iraq now.”

I was a Governor, and we need to get out of Iraq completely and immediately.  This is the message you hear from him in his tv spots and in the debates over and over again.  Unfortunately, this strategy does him no favors and in an environment where the onus lies upon him to advertise his real foreign policy, he has failed.


2 Responses to “Richardson’s Real Foreign Policy”

  1. stephen fox says:

    Please read Bill Richardson’s recently published article on how we must reconfigure the entire US Foreign Policy, printed in the Harvard International Review, yet has hardly been noticed by any mainstream media.

    You could conclude, as I have, that win-or-lose, Bill Richardson is changing the nature of the debate between the Democrat candidates and improving the international focus of their dialogue, not to mention being the strongest candidate to speak for ending the Iraq war immediately.

    I hope you can share this important document with your friends, colleagues, and readers. It is a very important international policy breakthrough and deserves to be read and considered by every single American, the entire diplomatic community from every nation, as well as your insightful readers!

    I am not officially connected to his campaign, but as a private citizen, I recognize the importance of this statement enough to send it to you.
    Thank you, Stephen Fox

    New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s International Policies, from Harvard
    International Review

    “New Realism: Crafting a US Foreign Policy for a New Century”
    Governor Bill Richardson
    Redacted from the Harvard International Review

    US foreign policymakers face novel challenges in the 21st century. Jihadists and environmental crises have replaced armies and missiles as the greatest threats; globalization has eroded the significance of national borders. Many problems that were once national are now global, and dangers that once came onlyfrom states now come also from societies—not from hostile governments, but from hostile individuals or from impersonal social trends, such as the consumption of fossil fuels. The piece does a credible job of laying out the problems before us and arguing that Bush has not taken the appropriate measures to deal with them.

    The highlights of Richardson’s plans:

    First and foremost, the United States must repair its alliances. US leaders also must restore commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation.

    Promoting expansion of the UN Security Council’s permanent membership to include Japan, India, Germany, and one country each from Africa and Latin America.

    Ethical reform at the United Nations so that this vital institution can help its many underdeveloped and destitute member states meet the challenges of the 21st century.

    Expanding the G8 to include India and China.

    The US government must join the International Criminal Court and respect all
    international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions.”

    On environmental issues, the United States must be the leader, not the laggard, in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by embracing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, Lead the world with a man-on-the-moon effort to improve energy efficiency and to commercialize clean, alternative technologies.

    Stop considering diplomatic engagement with others as a reward for good behavior.

    Various efforts including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

    The United States needs to start showing, both through its words and through its actions, that this is not, as the Jihadists claim, a clash of civilizations. Rather, it is a clash between civilization and barbarity.

    Closing Guantanamo

    The United States also needs to pressure Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other friends in the Arab world to reform their education systems, which are incubators of anti-US sentiment.

    Spend more to develop first responders and to drastically improve public health facilities, which, five years after 9/11, are not ready for a biological attack.

    The United States needs to lead the global fight against poverty, which is the basis of so much violence.

    Encourage rich countries to honor UN Millennium goal commitments.

    Lead donors on debt relief, shifting aid from loans to grants, and focus on primary health care and affordable vaccines.

    Promote trade agreements, which create more jobs in all nations and which seriously address wage disparities, worker rights, and the environment.

    Pressure pharmaceutical companies to allow expanded use of generic drugs, and encourage public-private partnerships to reduce costs and enhance access to anti-malarial drugs and bed nets.

    Promote a multilateral Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa.


    I look forward to your reply,
    Stephen Fox

  2. Um… er… wow, this is embarrassing. See, this post was written after reading said document. So, yeah… It was kind of a deal where I agreed with much of his piece, felt a few small inconsequential things were lacking, and then looked at everything from a horse race perspective.

    So… yeah… Thanks for the comment though.

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