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Bill Richardson, Iraq withdrawl, and the Cambodia factor

January 26, 2007 |  2:32 pm

The affable New Mexico governor and second-tier (so far) Democratic presidential hopeful stopped by our Editorial Board Wednesday for an on-the-record chat with both Ed Board members and some news-side reporters. Early on, he mentioned he was going to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. So by and by, we asked about how. Here's a transcription of the extended exchange:

Bill_richardson How are you going to get us out of Iraq?

This is what I would do. It's clear, but it'll take a little while.

1) I would get us out of Iraq this calendar year. Without fail. When, I would let our military people decide that. But I would set a deadline determined by our military.

Number two, I would at the same time put it to the Maliki government that you've got to do three things: 1) You've got to convene a reconciliation conference of the three ethnic groups -- the Shia, the Sunni, Kurds -- and you develop a power transition of cabinet ministries, civil administration, and you use the leverage of a withdrawl to achieve that.

I would then convene a Persian Gulf Middle East peace conference that would deal with providing Iraq security, reconstruction, and their own transition.

More Richardson discussion of the peace conference, the Israeli-Palestine dispute, the Maliki government, Plan B, and the Cambodia option, all after the jump.

The interview continues:

Who would be invited?

Moslem countries, Arab countries, NATO--

A Syria, Iran?

Absolutely. I would talk to Iran directly, and I would talk to Syria. I would say to Iran: We need to negotiate your not messing around in Iraq, we need to negotiation your not building nuclear weapons, and you tie that to an overall Persian Gulf settlement. You'll also try to deal with Syria, with Hezbollah, Israeli-Palestinian issue -- try to bring a process together.

I think the best we can do on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is set up what we used to have, what every Republican president had, is an envoy! You know, a process where you got somebody there permanently -- Dennis Ross, or whoever! Holbrooke, or you know, a Republican; James Baker would have been great. I mean James Baker went to Syria 11 times before he got Syria's support in the first Gulf War. Why don't we do this now?

So -- and then what would I do with those troops?... I would redeploy those troops in two main areas: 1) Afghanistan. The Taliban, the terrorism is gaining strength; we need more troops there. American troops, NATO troops. I worry that that will fall part.

And in the second area, I would let our force commanders in the Middle East determine, based on terrorism threats, where to deploy the rest of the American troops. To possibly Bahrain; that's probably logistically the most effective place.

And I would do it this year. And it takes diplomacy to do it. It takes a Dayton-type process to do this reconciliation process. The Maliki government right now is not pushing for a reconciliation, but they say they are. They are not helping us, when we tried to get some Iran[ian] -- not terrorists, but elements out of the country -- the Maliki government wanted them there. I mean heck, Maliki even told Bush he wouldn't meet with him! I mean, here we're paying for everything, and they met in Istanbul, they were supposed to have a meeting and then he snubbed him. That's a problem.

Are we backing the wrong horse with Maliki?

Well, we're betting on a weak horse. I don't know if there's any other horse. He got elected, you gotta respect that. I know he's been in office eight months but he seems to get worse, he was supposed to get better, if you're a leader.

Would you tie the redeployment of the troops to the Gulf peace conference, in other words, does the peace conference have to be up and going and real before you redeploy the troops?

There has to be a connection, there has to be a linkage, but eventually if that linkage didn't work, Plan B would be to withdraw.

So Plan B is, Maliki doesn't do what you want, he says "I don't really care what you do"; the Mideast peace conference, everyone says, you know, "America's sort of a weak giant, on the run, and we actually don't like each other, we don't want to sit around and talk about it"; we just leave and the place descends into utter, horrible chaos?

No, no, no. You link it to reconciliation talks, but Plan B has to be a diplomatic process that involves other nations sharing the load. I mean, if Saudi Arabia is saying "this is the worst thing in the world for the U.S. to leave," you know, what are you going to do about it? You gotta finance troops.

But I think eventually the best situation is a linkage. But if the linkage is not there, you know, the phased withdrawl, it has to happen. Because right now, it can't be any worse. There's a civil war going on. The Iraqi people want us to leave. So, you cut your losses.

Phased_withdrawl_1 The can't-be-any-worse argument was also very popular in 1975 in Vietnam, and Cambodians found out that it could actually get quite a good deal worse. Is that something that worries you? What do you build into that process?

Yeah. It worries me, but how worse can it get?

Two million people killed in a genocide?

Well, but you're assuming that our presence there has prevented that from happening. Our presence there has caused, I think, the civil war to accelerate. [...] Is our presence preventing this genocide? I'm not sure.

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