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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Criticism of Richardson's comments on Bhutto misguided

Michael Lipkin's thoughts on Bill Richardson's statements after the death of Benazir Bhutto, and the subsequent criticism that followed them.


I’m sure most of you heard the terrible news this morning, but for those that haven’t, former Pakistani Prime Minister and Parliamentary candidate Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a political rally. Bhutto was an active voice for more democracy and openness the Pakistani politics and someone who fought against the Taliban and valiantly stood in the face of repeated attempts on her life.

Since nothing happens in a vacuum, by the end of the day, all the major candidates for president released statements expressing their dismay at the attack and their sympathies for Bhutto’s plight. In addition, Governor Richardson made some statements that some right-wing bloggers have used to attack him. He said:

“The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan's return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence. We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.”

Parallels have been made between this quote and other “unsound” comments made by Barack Obama about how he would deal with Pakistan. Others have criticized Richardson for implying similar tactics to what has happened with Bush and Iraq (the overthrow of a dictator) or America’s involvement in the removal of the Shah of Iran.

Just to take a step back for a second. While these words seem harsh, a lot of people have been reading in to them and misconstruing their intention. Richardson at no point mentions military action. Yes, he says “force”, but precedes it with “diplomatic leverage”. What he is suggesting is what he has always suggesting: to use peaceful means to bring sides of the argument together and reach a diplomatic solution. He also mentions having international support, again consistent with his views, and what is viewed as one of the main flaws with the second invasion of Iraq. These were not slips or gaffes on Richardson’s part.

Let’s be serious here. This is not a fully fleshed out, specific plan for what to do with Pakistan once brought into office. This is a general idea of what direction Richardson would take. So it’s not fair to critique his comments as if they were in fact a detailed foreign policy. But the main idea here is a solid one. Supporting dictators just because they sometimes help us with the Taliban is not the right path, especially if there were politicians like Bhutto who was in support of America, against terrorism and a popular, freely-elected leader. A firm, but fair hand in these situations can become necessary. While we should avoid making the mistakes of the past, that does not mean we should shy away from any strategy that may evoke failed policies. Bill Richardson knows this and made a valid, if blunt, statement to that effect.

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