Bill Richardson is not among the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. But he is notable for having more foreign-policy experience than the leading three: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He served as UN ambassador from 1997 to 1998 and then went on to head the Department of Energy, where he dealt not only with the problems posed by OPEC and our dependence on imported oil, but also with the dependability and security of America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
With a two-theater war under way, and the menace of Iran’s nuclear program looming over the horizon, is Richardson worth a second look? Is he made of presidential timber, or perhaps vice-presidential timber?
We got a glimpse of him this past weekend on Face the Nation, where Bob Schieffer questioned him on what to do about Iran.
Richardson was adamant that he would not have invited the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and is “glad we didn’t let him go to Ground Zero.” He expressed determination to stop Iranian interference with the American war effort in Iraq: “We cannot have them, obviously, continue helping the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards in Iraq.” And he is also determined to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring the most fearsome weapon known to man: “we cannot have Iran have nuclear weapons.”
This is tough talk. What are Richardson’s means for realizing these laudable objectives? The way to accomplish them, he told Schieffer, “perhaps is a carrot-and-stick policy.”
“Perhaps” a carrot-and-stick policy? Was the tentativeness revealed here just a verbal slip? To answer that, it helps to know just what are Richardson’s carrots and what are his sticks.
To begin with carrot number one, Richardson would not have voted–“as I regret Senator Clinton did”–for a Senate resolution designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorists. “This was provocative. It didn’t need to happen.”
Carrot number two would be to cease “calling [the Iranians] names” and “labeling them terrorists,” which is “just making the situation worse and enflaming the Muslim world.”
Carrot number three would be to rule out a military strike against the facilities housing Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Such a move, said Richardson, would be
enormously unwise, because it would strengthen the hard-liners in Iran like Ahmadinejad. It would embolden those elements in Iran that want to provoke a war against the United States. It would further inflame the Muslim world that is already very strongly against us as we’re trying to resolve the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It would be a disastrous event.
Carrot number four would be to “engage Iran,” something that has to be done with tact. Thus, “I would go around Ahmadinejad. . . . I would go to the moderate Islamic clerics. I would talk to students. I would talk to university professors, business leaders. Forty percent of the vote in Iran in that last presidential election went to a moderate candidate.” Richardson was referring here to the ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who won 35 percent of the vote in a run-off in 2005, has been implicated as an organizer of Iranian terrorism abroad, and is known as one of the fathers of the Iranian nuclear-weapons effort. (It is true that, by comparison with Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani was indeed the moderate candidate.)
Carrot number five is to help Iran transform its atomic weapons into a peaceful energy program: “we can work with them to develop a civilian nuclear-fuel cycle, perhaps with the Russians.”
Carrot number six would be to withdraw all American forces from neighboring Iraq within eight months of assuming office and then invite Iran to take part in a “reconciliation effort” that would involve an “all-Muslim peacekeeping force headed by the UN.”
Now for Richardson’s sticks. There is none. If this man is presidential or vice-presidential timber, we are talking of balsa wood.
To watch the tough-talking Richardson in action, click below.