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Governor Richardson Calls for an Exit Strategy in Iraq and Stands by the Clinton-Era Sanctions

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Governor Richardson explains why he doesn’t support an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, but instead calls for an exit strategy from the country. Richardson also says the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq during the Clinton administration were justified. [includes rush transcript]

Governor Bill Richardson served as the US ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. During this time more than half a million children and a million Iraqis died as a result of the UN sanctions imposed upon Iraq. Many people strongly criticized the role US foreign policy had in these deaths. And today, with Iraqi resistance to the U.S occupation stronger than ever, we ask Governor Richardson to talk about his views on US foreign policy in Iraq then and now.

  • Bill Richardson, Democratic Governor of New Mexico

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Iraq, your feeling about the war right now and what should happen. Should the U.S. withdraw immediately?

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: No. I believe setting a deadline and withdrawing immediately is not sensible policy. I think we need to have an exit strategy. We don’t have that. I think we need to find a way to send a message to the international community that this is not just America, that we need international support. I believe that we’ve mishandled our relationship with our allies, with the United Nations.

I believe that it’s important that we have an Iraq policy that we’re either going to finish the job or we’re going to exit. And, right now, we’re muddling through. What I believe we need to do is have a sensible military, economic, political, foreign policy assessment of what our goals and objectives are. Our objective, I believe, should be to start pursuing as rapidly as we can an exit strategy. Do we have a deadline? Do we pull out immediately? No.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan has been going around the country speaking out. She lost her son, Casey, in the war. You are the first governor to have your state, New Mexico, provide life insurance for national guardsmen on active duty. But I didn’t want to ask about that.

I wanted to ask: as she travels leading up to the big anti-war protest that’ll take place in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, on the 24th, she came through New York. And there she was fiercely critical of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her authorization of war, standing with the President to authorize the invasion. What are your thoughts about that. She is saying Democrats enabled this as well as Republicans. It was not just President Bush.

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, look, I believe that Senator Clinton has a sound policy on Iraq. I believe that her— she is calling for an exit strategy, for a sensible policy. You know, I want to tell you that in those days when there was information about weapons of mass destruction, when there was information about Saddam Hussein and his very torturous activities with his own people, I could have seen a senator taking the vote that he or she did.

Right now, there is no link to Al Qaeda. There are no weapons of mass destruction. So, in retrospect, I believe that those votes taken, but without the proper information, may have not been the correct votes. But I believe that the president should have met with Cindy Sheehan. She is somebody that lost a child, lost a son.

This is why I provided health insurance, $250,000. Cause the death benefit was shameful. It’s $11,000. And I said, our state is going to step up and we’re going to do $250,000 life insurance for every one of the New Mexico national guardsmen. But, again, you know, in retrospect, when you had bad intelligence, I can see how those senators voted the way they did.

AMY GOODMAN: But many say that, although president Bush led this invasion, that president Clinton laid the groundwork with the sanctions and with the previous bombing of Iraq. You were president Clinton’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, I stand behind that. I think the the strikes that we made, the efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein. There were weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions were the correct policy. Was the correct policy to invade? That’s probably another question.

But to think that Saddam Hussein was a benevolent dictator and the best thing to do would be to ignore him, I think that would have been very, very bad foreign policy; because what we have in the area is potential threats to Israel. We’ve got Saddam Hussein, who acknowledged that one of his objectives was to threaten not just U.S. interests but the surrounding countries, that he went to war with Iran. He, you know, he egregiously violated human rights of thousands of people.

AMY GOODMAN: But the U.N. sanctions, for example, the sanctions led to the deaths of more than a half a million children, not to mention more than a million Iraqis.

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, I stand behind the sanctions. I believe that they successfully contained Saddam Hussein. I believe that the sanctions were an instrument of our policy.

AMY GOODMAN: To ask a question that was asked of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, do you think the price was worth it, 500,000 children dead?

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, I believe our policy was correct, yes.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Governor Bill Richardson. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor, I’d like to ask you, you have been mentioned often in the last couple of years as a potential presidential candidate yourself. You certainly have a long experience in various parts of the federal government, a long resume, and you’re seen more as a centrist Democrat, I would think, even among the major Latino leaders in the country. What— could you talk to us in terms of how you see your future role in the Democratic party and in leadership in the country?

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, right now, Juan, I’m concentrating on being Chair of the Democratic Governors, and I believe what you are seeing is governors in this country, at least in the democratic side, are leading. We’re dealing with practical problems. We’re resolving issues. We have to balance budgets. We have to deal with Katrina and energy and gas prices; so we’re taking matters into our own hands in the absence of congressional policy. That’s objective number one.

Objective number two: I’m up for re-election as Governor of New Mexico. I believe I’ve done a good job. I’m going to concentrate on that. And then beyond that, I mean, we’ll see. I like to just take one step at a time. So, I’m doing the proverbial dance with you and telling you that, you know, we’ll see what’ll happen. But my concentration is being a good Governor of New Mexico, getting re-elected, and also making sure that the visibility of Democratic governors, like governor Doyle’s letter on price gouging leading seven governors to ask for an investigation, is what we’re doing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to—

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Richardson— go ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to follow up in terms of your job as governor. You mentioned previously that some of the Native Americans in your state, especially the Navajos, are blessed by having natural resources; but also there’s been increasing problems in terms of uranium mining on some Navajo lands and areas where the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, four years ago found that it tested in some areas where gamma ray radiations were 25 times higher than the levels that might trigger E.P.A. action. The concerns over— there’s been reports that a company called Strathmore Minerals Corporation has been trying to do some mining in your state and has met with you.

Could you talk about the dangers of some of this mining to the Native Americans and what your policies as governor have been?

GOVERNOR RICHARDSON: Well, the Chairman of the Navajo Nation, the President, Joe Shirley, came to see me to express extreme concern about, on state land, allowing uranium mining. Now, it’s uncertain whether that mine first of all, that uranium activity is going to happen at all, whether on state land or Navajo land. But I’m very well aware of his concerns. I am considered one of the strongest environmentalist governors in the country in terms of protecting national forests, having a balance between energy exploration and protecting wildlife in sensitive areas. So I’m going to take that very much into account.

I do believe that the Navajo Nation needs to develop its own energy resources independently of states and the federal government, but in a responsible and sensitive way, and I believe that President Shirley is following that path. Uranium mining has not happened in New Mexico in a long time; and, you know, if there is an application we’ll look at it, but I’ll be very sensitive to what President Shirley told me.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson. We’re at the state capital in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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