Bill Richardson Discusses Libya

Bill Richardson
Karen Zhou

Institute of Politics visiting fellow Bill Richardson, who previously served as the governor of New Mexico, US Energy Secretary, and US ambassador to the UN, delivers the 2011 Corliss Lamont Lecture alongside moderator Graham Allison at the JFK, Jr. Forum on Thursday.

Former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson said yesterday that he supported President Obama’s decision to join the NATO coalition conducting airstrikes in support of rebels in Libya, though he hedged his remarks by saying that he was against putting American soldiers on the ground.

Richardson said that if the NATO forces had not intervened, the situation in Libya would have turned into a "massive humanitarian disaster." Despite this necessity, he said that it is critical that the U.S. works within the framework of the mission sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council because American military forces are already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If there is a debate within the administration on providing training or airlifting weapons to the rebels, or possibly some small arms through a small country or covert action in assisting the rebels, as long as it’s not boots on the ground, as long as its part of a NATO effort ... I would say yes," Richardson said.

Richardson predicted that the conflict would ultimately end when Gaddafi’s military forces him to step down from power and go into exile.

Richardson has significant experience with dictatorial regimes after having conducted negotiations with some of the world’s most famous strongmen, including Saddam Hussein, Kim Jung-Il, and Slobodan Milosevic.

After leaving his post as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 1998, Richardson has proven adept at negotiating with regimes unfriendly to the U.S., leading President Clinton to remark that "bad people like [Richardson]."

"I try to connect with the bad person—the dictator—to find ways for common ground, what makes this person tick," Richardson said.

During the Clinton administration, Richardson also served as Secretary of Energy, and last night he weighed in on the current alarm surrounding nuclear energy after the nuclear disaster in Japan. He said that given the fact that the U.S. currently gets 20 percent of its power from nuclear power sources, the U.S. should consider increased safety regulations at the 104 plants currently operating in 31 states.

"I’m not for a moratorium on nuclear—I’m for a time out," Richardson said. "We need to join together in a bipartisan way. This is not politics. This is what’s good for the country."

Ultimately, Richardson said that the U.S. needs to invest in clean sources of energy like solar and wind rather than relying on the sources used currently.

Students at the event said that they appreciated hearing Richardson’s opinion on current events given his wealth of experience.

"He had so many different perspectives, so he really gave credibility to his opinions," said Arturo Elizondo ’14.

Richardson’s remarks were given as the 2011 Corliss Lamont Lecture, which is given to an individual whose actions have diminished the likelihood of nuclear war.

—Staff writer Monica M. Dodge can be reached at mdodge@college.harvard.edu.

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