After Richardson, Who Will Carry the Torch of a New Realism?


(Bill Richardson, accompanied by foreign policy advisor Calvin Humphrey to his left, negotiating a hostage release with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.)
With Bill Richardson’s anticipated departure from the democratic Presidential primaries, it will be interesting to see towards whom his policy aides and ideas gravitate and which candidate, if any, incorporates his foreign policy language of a “New Realism”. Aside from his oft touted credentials as hostage negotiator/high-level thug handler, Richardson has done a pretty good job, given the limits of a presidential race, in articulating what such a foreign policy agenda should look like beyond sanctimonious moral visions, crude posturing on global jihadism, and the ever indefatigable sermons on democracy promotion (which usually amounts to what Steve Clemons has termed “ballotocracies” rather than true, deep democracies).


No doubt there have been some gaffes on Richardon’s part — I think his reactions on Pakistan were under-thought and quite an overreach when he suggested the US withhold all support unless Mushrraf stepped down after Bhutto’s assassination (probably a political opportunity grab rather than sober policy judgment) and I’m not convinced he is truly fluent in the nuts and bolts of the ideas and proposals he’s espoused. But nevertheless, I think he’s drawn from some excellent policy thinkers — among them, longtime foreign policy aide Calvin Humphrey and UNH Professor Michael Contarino (right) — to articulate and well-reasoned template that others might adopt.

The mantra of diplomacy is not new to Democrats, but Richardson deploys it in a qualitatively different and effective manner. Looking back to an article he (or perhaps Humphrey and Contarino) wrote in mid 2007 for the Harvard International Review serves as the precursor to his recent Foreign Affairs article. In it, his discussion of Russia is unique amongst a sea of Washington commentators, who have thoroughly enjoyed Putin-bashing ignoring the new geopolitical realities of Russia’s rise — not simply derived from oil prices but a strong and disciplined federal center that was an illusion 10 years ago — with which the US must come to terms as both a contender for power and partner in regional stewardship. He writes:

In dealing with other states, the United States needs to stop considering diplomatic engagement with others as a reward for good behavior. The Bush administration’s reluctance to engage obnoxious regimes diplomatically has only encouraged and strengthened their most paranoid and hard-line tendencies. The futility of this policy is most tragically obvious with regard to Iran and North Korea, who responded to Washington’s snubs and threats with intensification of their nuclear programs. The United States must engage Russia and China more effectively, strategically, and systematically, respecting their legitimate interests while encouraging them to work cooperatively in building a stable, peaceful world.
Most urgently, the United States must focus on the real security threats, from which Iraq has so dangerously diverted its attention. This means doing the hard work to build strong coalitions to fight terrorists and to stop nuclear proliferation. There is a pronounced need for better human intelligence and better international intelligence and law enforcement coordination to prevent nuclear trafficking. US diplomatic leadership is needed to unite the world, including Russia and China, to sanction the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and to provide these nations with positive incentives and face-saving ways to renounce nuclear weapons.

His thoughts on the Muslim world are particularly insightful as well rather than the usual talk of ushering democracy into the dark corners of the Middle East. He calls for education reform, active solicitation Arab states’ input for US policymaking, and aggressive brokering of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (something conspicuously absent from Bush’s current visit to the region during yesterday’s press conference). Richardson continues:

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. Moderate US Muslims must be given a louder, more systematic voice in US policy toward the Middle East so that they can speak the truth about the West and be heard by their fellow Muslims. The United States also must re-engage the Middle East peace process, as peace would deprive the Jihadists of their most effective propaganda tool. The sole superpower must use all its sticks and carrots to strengthen Palestinian moderates and to achieve a two-state solution which guarantees Israel’s security.

Even the hackneyed call for a new Marshall Plan for the Middle East in his closing remarks is more sophisticated than usual. It’s not simply an aid program to alleviate poverty (which is important in Afghanistan but less of an issue in Saudi Arabia) — its purpose is also to offset grievances (remember the Marshall plan was as much a constructive, pro-US propaganda tool as an aid device) and build opportunity through jobs. An overhaul of education is exactly what the Arab world in particular needs so that graduates actually develop the skills demanded by emerging labor markets.
I’m not totally sure to what degree Humphrey and Contarino are responsible for developing or importing these insights into the Richardson campaign or if there are others, but whoever they may be, the remaining campaigns would be smart to bring them in or at least draw from their playbook.
–Sameer Lalwani


One comment on “After Richardson, Who Will Carry the Torch of a New Realism?

  1. rich says:

    >>”Richardson has . . . articulat[ed] what such a foreign policy agenda should look like beyond sanctimonious moral visions, crude posturing on global jihadism . .”
    Hmm. Yes, I hate getting stuck between Iraq and a soft place.
    One caucus & one primary. And the field is ‘winnowed’ to 3 candidates with Stephanopolous openly ridiculing John Edwards’ prospects.
    We’ve been told “It’s over” so many times in the past seven days we might as well cancel America and resort to coronations.
    Face it, when even Mitt Romney, the richest Republican running, has to go dark everywhere but Michigan after all of 2 primaries, something’s wrong.
    Excluding candidates from debates, declaring inevitable winners after IA & NH, stratospheric campaign costs, shortened timetables. This needs fixing.
    Sooner or later (maybe now), somebody’s gonna exploit the ‘telescoped’ (shortened) primary season to avoid all scrutiny and ram through a candidate with zero compunction about abusing the electorate. Less than Zero compunction b/c Bush isn’t as low as we can go and provided a template and a hold in the legal fabric so big you can drive a semi truck through it.
    When even Richardson can’t be heard /can’t make it work beyond 4% of the primaries (IA & NH), isn’t there something wrong??
    If Sam Nunn and David Boren were civic-minded enough to look out for our best interests, wouldn’t they address that?
    Rather than short-circuiting a process–must be too open for ’em–that’s produced 3 capable, centrist Dem candidates with a good shot at winning?


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