Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Man with a plan :: Cindy Sheehan likes Bill Richardson on Iraq—if only he’d call her.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Santa Fe Reporter.

By Dave Maass

In a field of Democratic presidential contenders putting forth vague timelines for troop withdrawal from Iraq, one candidate’s plan sticks out for Cindy Sheehan.

The outspoken and controversial “Gold Star Mom,” whose son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq, led the anti-war charge in 2006, only to face disappointment when the new Democratic-controlled Congress failed to pass a veto-proof withdrawal timeline in 2007. Sheehan is now challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

And she’s also identified Gov. Bill Richardson’s promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq within the first three months of his presidential term as “the way to go.”

Sheehan tells SFR she won’t be making an endorsement for the Democratic primaries, and will instead likely back US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., if she wins the Green Party’s presidential nomination. In the Democratic field, however, Sheehan says she’s leaning toward US Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, even though “Kucinich isn’t as strong on immediate and total withdrawal as Richardson.”

That may only be because Richardson is one of the few Democratic candidates who hasn’t met with her, Sheehan says, and he’s not putting much effort into California.

“People are thinking, ‘Well, any Democrat would be better than George Bush,’ even though Hillary and Obama and Edwards haven’t said they would advocate for an immediate withdrawal of our troops from the Middle East,” Sheehan says. “I think that is very naïve and not very wise. If they really wanted the occupation to end, they would be working for the bottom-tier candidates like Richardson, Kucinich and [Mike] Gravel.”

But national priorities are changing, Cook Political Report’s senior editor, Jennifer Duffy, tells SFR. Health care, the housing crisis and the swinging stock markets are propelling “the economy” into the top concern slot, trumping Iraq, in voters’ minds, Duffy says. Plus, Iraq has quieted down in the last few months.

“I think that people realize you can’t wave a magic wand and end this,” Duffy says. “I also think that the news out of Iraq is not as awful as it was for a time. To me, this whole thing is just encapsulated in an ad that Hillary put up in Iowa yesterday. She goes through all her issues and then goes, ‘Yeah, and we’ll get out of Iraq.’ It’s sort of like a big postscript for her.”

Richardson’s Iraq plan tops his pitch list. Recently, he even launched separate campaign Web sites dedicated to the issue, including and, a poke at Clinton and Obama’s refusal to promise an end to the occupation by the end of the first presidential term.

Richardson’s position has yet to propel him above fourth place in the polls, and Duffy suggests that if Richardson did move up in the polls, his Iraq policy wouldn’t withstand scrutiny.

In fact, in his 2005 memoir, Between Worlds, Richardson admits to getting both the first and second Iraq wars wrong.

Regarding the second war, Richardson takes a position nearly identical to John Edwards.’

“Had I known then what I know now, I would not have supported the president’s decision to go to war,” Richardson writes.

While perhaps this doesn’t count as a flip-flop (maybe just a “flip,” Duffy says), Richardson’s reversal does further obfuscate the options anti-war voters will have to choose from.

“I think it’s extremely muddied as far as the candidates and their views on the war, and definitely between what they say and how they vote,” Toby Hartbargar, Iraq Veterans for Peace member and administrative employee, tells SFR. “I’m extremely pessimistic about the outcome of the election. Whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, either way, looking at the frontrunners right now, it’s fairly depressing.”

However unlikely, a Sheehan endorsement may clear it up a bit, Duffy says, but perhaps not in a way that would help Richardson.

“I think [Sheehan] suffers from a little overexposure,” Duffy says. “I don’t think that her endorsement would carry enormous weight, but it would come with all the negatives. If somebody was on the fence between Richardson and, say, Clinton, it could push them one way or another. She’s just a become a very polarizing figure.”

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