Richardson Targets Dems on Iraq

Bill Richardson challenges his '08 rivals on residual forces in Iraq.

Sept. 24, 2007— -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson is using a new web video to distinguish his position on Iraq from those of his 2008 rivals.

"George Bush says the surge is working. Gen. Petraeus says it will take more time. Republican presidential candidates say stay as long as it takes. No surprises there," says the narration in a Richardson Web video launched Monday. "But, you might be surprised to learn that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards would all leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq."

The four-and-a-half-minute Web video goes on to argue that Richardson is alone among the major Democratic candidates in pushing for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq other than those needed to defend the U.S. embassy. The Internet-only Web video will be followed on Wednesday by a television ad which will air in New Hampshire.

View the web-only video here: VIDEO

View the TV ad here: VIDEO

When Richardson got into the presidential campaign, the rap on the New Mexico governor was that he was not really running for the top job. With his Hispanic heritage and lengthy resume as a former congressman, U.N. ambassador, and Energy Secretary, pundits suggested that Richardson was simply angling to be somebody else's running mate.

But beginning with a hard-hitting speech to the Take Back America conference on June 19, Richardson has sought to distinguish himself from his rivals by directly challenging their Iraq positions.

Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) has said that she would begin bringing U.S. troops out of Iraq within 60 days of taking office. But she has also repeatedly outlined a four-pronged ongoing mission in Iraq.

The former first lady envisions U.S. forces (1) making sure al Qaeda does not obtain a staging ground, (2) guarding against Iranian influence, (3) looking after the treatment of the Kurds, and (4) training Iraqi troops if the Iraqi government gets its act together.

Obama adviser David Axelrod told ABC News on Aug. 19 that the Illinois Democrat foresees U.S. forces performing a similar four-pronged mission as Clinton.

Axelrod argued, however, that the contrast that matters is where Obama and Richardson stood on the war before it began. Although neither Obama nor Richardson was a member of Congress in 2002, Obama opposed the invasion while Richardson supported it.

Edwards has talked about a more limited on-going U.S. troop presence in Iraq than either Clinton or Obama. But Richardson's Web video still goes after Edwards for saying last week at an AARP forum that it is "impossible to say" how many U.S. troops would be in Iraq on Jan. 20, 2010.

The key substantive differences between Edwards and Richardson are that the former North Carolina senator envisions U.S. troops protecting U.S. personnel operating in Iraq whereas Richardson only foresees U.S. troops protecting the embassy.

Edwards also wants the U.S. to retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent genocide, a region-wide civil war, and the possible establishment of an al Qaeda safe haven.

Richardson is content to delegate those tasks to an "all-Muslim peacekeeping force" that he pledges to put together once U.S. troops leave Iraq. The former UN ambassador believes that the countries in the region will have an incentive to police their own region if they know that function is not being performed by the U.S.

Beyond targeting his Democratic rivals, Richardson seeks to appeal to the liberal blogosphere by taking aim at the mainstream media on the issue of residual forces.

"The news media has downplayed the difference in the candidates' positions," the narrator says in the video, "but Democratic activists and those on the Internet have started to take notice."

Testimonials for Richardson's position are then offered by three liberal bloggers: Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller of OpenLeft as well as FireDogLake's Christina Siun O'Connell.

They realize we can't make political progress in Iraq with the current situation," said Richardson spokesman Tom Reynolds. "We think the netroots are an important part of political process and have demonstrated that they are very powerful in getting messages across."

While Richardson's Iraq position is out of step, with the views of most military experts, his stance was recently praised by Gen. William Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan.

Asked to assess Richardson's call for no residual forces in Iraq, Odom, who opposed the Iraq war before it began, told ABC News: "He is absolutely right."

ABC News' Mike Chesney contributed to this report.