Tuesday, June 19, 2007

# Posted 8:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BILL RICHARDSON DOES HIS BEST JOHN KERRY IMITATION: Ryan Lizza writes in TNR [subscription required] that:
On March 20, 2003, the day after US bombs dropped on Baghdad, Bill Richardson signed an optimistic neocon statement on the war. "Together with sucessful democratic reform in Iraq," it read, "the Gulf has the potential of making a clean break with a past rooted in repression and entering into the growing global community of democratic states." The statement was released by Freedom House, the human rights organization beloved by hawks and the interventionist wings of both parties. Richardson was a truste of Freedom House and had been the organization's chairman before he became governor. Other signatories included Kenneth Adelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Diana Negroponte, and James Woolsey.

But, early this year, Richardson's neocon moment ended -- right about the time he started campaigning in Iowa. His new position is about as far as possible from his old one: He wants all the troops out of Iraq this calendar year -- "The difference I have with other candidates is I'm saying no residual troops at all," he told me. [Emphasis in original.] And his first big speech on foreign policy, in contrast to his idealistic Freedom House declaration, called for "a new realism".
Give the man credit. His realism is actually is quite new.

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(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Huh. I wonder if it's possible that the last 4+ years have soured a few people on the whole using force to bring freedom to the middle east project.
nah. it'd be a lot better if the facts never forced Richardson or anyone else to ever change how they felt about anything. Here's to it always being March 20, 2003!! We shall prevail! Anyone who thinks otherwise is a flip-flopper!
Lizza's article clearly anticipates that criticism. Appropriately, it notes that Richardson's stance on the war changed rapidly "right about the time he started campaigning in Iowa". (See above)

I don't know enough about Richardson to defend that specific chronology of his beliefs, but if Lizza is correct, then wouldn't you call it a flip-flop?
I really despise this republican meme of "flip flop" (perhaps even more than the word meme itself.) If Bush were to suddenly have a change of heart and incursion of brain mass and decide to withdraw troops would we call him a flip flopper? Let's drop the childish name calling. The situation is far too grave in Iraq to diminish it with empty rhetoric and inane banter.

Lizza didn’t do his research. Richardson has been calling for a troop withdrawal since March 2006. http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060320/REPOSITORY/603200320/1221/48HOURS

He started making this call nearly two years before the first votes will be cast. Considering the state of the war in 2006, I would count this as an evolution, not a flip-flop. It is important that we have leaders who can take on new information and make an informed change of course or opinion.
As I said, I'm not in a position to defend Lizza's chronology. However, March 2006 sounds like the time that prospective candidates start visiting Iowa and New Hampshire.

More broadly, I think flip-flop is a good term that can be used in a rigorous and substantive manner. If a politician changes his position 180 degrees in order to advance his personal interests, rather than in response to new evidence, the epithet is quite appropriate. (See "Romney, Mitt").

Of course, there always will (and should be) disagreements about whether a specific reversal came in response to new facts or new ambitions. But if the evidence is clear, flip-flop is a meaningful conclusion.
lets see. March 2006 was also the time of the bombing in Samarra. Now IF Richardson believes that we were making real headway toward democracy and improvement in 2005, but that things went off track in March 2006, that could be a very coherent narrative.

However I dont think its a narrative thats consistent with standard wisdom in the democratic base, that this was a hopeless clusterfuck from day 1, that the surge is absurd, etc, etc.
So when should Richardson have come out in favor of withdrawal? What point in time was completely disconnected from the 2008 Presidential election? I doubt it would have been less suspicious to Lizza if he'd made the announcement later on, once the 2008 campaign had really gotten going, but if he'd made it more than a few months sooner he would have had to scoop Murtha.

So I doubt it was the timing that drew Lizza's attention to Richardson. Maybe it was the neoconness of Richardson's original statement in favor of the war? But that doesn't seem right, either. If you supported military involvement in order to try to bring about a dramatic transformation to democracy in the Middle East, by now it should be clear that this glorious transformation is not happening, so we might as well get our troops out of there (unless we have some other reason for staying).

So what is the relevant difference between Richardson and the dozens of other politicians (and millions of other Americans) who initially favored the war but now think that we should be leaving? Maybe there's something else in Lizza's walled article, but the one thing that I know of that sets Richardson apart from the other Democratic contenders is that he is arguing for complete withdrawal, rather than leaving some sort of residual force in place. That is a potentially important policy difference, but as far as I can tell it has no relevance whatsoever to the question of flip-flopping.
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