Eminentoes

Dunderhead Diplomat

Who can save us from the Richardson Juggernaut in the next State Department?

By 5.2.08

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Is Bill Richardson campaigning for Secretary of State? Investor's Business Daily wondered as much as the New Mexico governor jetted off for a tete-a-tete with Hugo Chavez.

The New Mexico governor thought he could talk Chavez into pressuring Colombia's FARC into releasing its hostages, including three U.S. contractors they've held since 2003. Given his catastrophic negotiations with the Taliban, however, you'd think he'd know better.

The problem with this fracas in Caracas is that our allies in Colombia's government are already negotiating for the release of the hostages, and didn't really want Richardson involving Chavez in the process. But such concerns never deter the Armchair Diplomat brigade. These go-getters just know they're better qualified than American diplomats -- or Colombian diplomats -- to negotiate with America's adversaries.

The question of negotiation is an interesting one. IBD rightly wonders what Richardson laid on the table to enlist Chavez's help: "Such disrespect for Colombia raises questions about the governor's judgment and, worse still, what he might have offered Chavez and FARC in behalf of a future U.S. Administration."

That future administration would be Barack Obama's, of course. Richardson, Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton, recently jumped ship from the HMS Clintanic campaign and boarded the Obama dreadnought -- a switch which earned Richardson a Holy Week hide-blistering by James Carville, who called him "Judas."

AS FOR GOVERNOR RICHARDSON'S judgment, an unfortunate track record exists. He's had some success freeing hostages from tyrannies before, but his ill-advised negotiations with the Taliban show his penchant for high-profile handshakes can have disastrous consequences.

In April 1998, Richardson was new to the role of U.N. Ambassador, and he set out to make peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban and the Northern Alliance were locked in a bloody battle. And Osama bin Laden was hiding out in Taliban territory as their honored "guest." Richardson had a South Asian junket planned, and in a press briefing an unnamed "senior State Department official" told reporters that "if it is possible to deliver a message to the Afghan parties to think peace as opposed to war, this is the time to do it before they resume their spring offensives."

An "ebullient" Richardson bragged on April 17th about getting the Northern Alliance and the Taliban to agree to face-to-face-talks, and then sidestepped his failure to secure the extradition of Osama bin Laden, one of the goals of his trip. The AP reported his assessment that he'd made some progress: "Richardson said the Taliban promised to keep Bin Laden 'under wraps' and prevent him from using Afghanistan as a base for terrorist activities." He also bragged that the "Taliban agreed to let women study at the university level and work outside the home without being chaperoned by a male relative."

Meanwhile the AFP interviewed the Taliban's spokesman Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil for his assessment of the talks:

...speaking broadly about the talks with Richardson, Mutawakil asserted the Taliban's opposition to terrorism launched from Afghan soil.

"It was agreed that Afghan soil should not be used against anybody and that the Taliban will prevent terrorism," he said.

Naturally, the Taliban walked out of the peace talks with the Northern Alliance within days, the talks fell apart, and the war's spring offensives resumed. I don't have statistics at hand for the number of female college graduates from Taliban U after 1998, but I feel safe in doubting that there was a drastic jump. In fact, the lot of women under Taliban oppression improved not a bit.
Still, the Taliban kept one of their promises to Richardson: they kept bin Laden comfortably "under wraps" -- while he and Al Qaeda planned the African embassy bombings for that August, and even worse in 2001.

When this incident is considered alongside his role in negotiating North Korea's 1994 Agreed Framework, it is fair to say that Richardson has had a hand in some of the Clinton administration's most memorable international flops. As Governor of New Mexico, he kept trying to revive the Agreed Framework and hosted North Korean diplomats for more talks as late as 2003. Today Richardson presses on undeterred in Caracas, expecting all possible good from evil men.

In this respect, he has allied himself with the ideal candidate in Barack Obama, who has famously declared his willingness to negotiate personally with tyrants such as Iran's Ahmedinejad -- perhaps trusting in his own sincerity or the force of his personality to melt the hearts of terror-abetting dictators. (This hubris was noted even by the FARC -- a message on one of their leader's laptops recovered by the Colombian military expressed their delight at the prospect of an Obama presidency.)

Personal magnetism and earnestness may have served Obama well in Illinois politics, but he lacks the experience of dealing with America's hardened enemies abroad. Richardson, burned by the Taliban, betrayed by the North Koreans, has no such excuse.

As for the 750 or so hostages held by Colombia's narcoterrorists -- among them Americans Mark Goncalves, Kein Stambler and Thomas Howes -- please remember them, and keep them in your prayers.

Especially since Bill Richardson is there to help.

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