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Richardson Advocates Full Iraq Troop Withdrawal

September 24, 2007 at 6:30 PM EDT
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In the next in a series of presidential candidate interviews, Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., details his plan for pulling U.S. troops from Iraq and discusses the need for diplomacy in the Middle East, among other issues.

RAY SUAREZ: Governor, welcome to the program.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: Nice to be with you, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, your campaign has announced a one-point program in this season of debate, what to do about Iraq. A one-point program, what is it?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: It’s get all our troops out so that the war can end. And I have a difference with the other Democratic candidates, Senators Obama, Clinton, Edwards, all who want to keep residual troops, anywhere between 50,000 to 75,000, after withdrawing all combat troops. And my position is that the war can only end, peace can come to Iraq with a compromise or an all-Muslim peacekeeping force or a donor conference, a political compromise can only happen only if we get every one of our troops out, because they become targets.

They become the cause of the al-Qaida, the terrorists, and the insurgents fighting each other. And our kids are dying. I mean, it’s the bloodiest three months we’ve had. Iraqis are dying, twice as many since the surge started. There is no military solution. I think there’s a political solution, but the window is ending.

RAY SUAREZ: You know General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, but also a lot of the other candidates in the presidential race have talked about chaos, terrible violence that would follow the United States’ departure from Iraq. Would that be blood that’s on America’s hands?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: There is violence now. There is sectarian conflict. There is chaos now. Our policy has bred that chaos.

I know the region. I was U.N. ambassador. I went head-to-head with Saddam Hussein, got prisoners out. I know the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds. In my judgment, the only way that you get the Maliki government in Iraq to forge a political compromise, to get a division of oil revenues, to have a possible partition, is by getting all of our troops out.

And I don’t understand the reasoning of my Democratic opponents who say they want to take all the combat troops out, but leave troops behind that are non-combat troops. I say, “How are they going to defend themselves?”

So my point is not that I’m trying to attract the antiwar vote. What I want to do is diplomacy, bring Iran and Syria in for possible diplomacy that will allow stability in the region, an all-Muslim peacekeeping force headed by the U.N. Get Turkey in there, get Jordan, get Egypt. This is a Muslim war.

Find a way to have U.S. leadership in a Bosnia-type agreement in Iraq where you divide oil revenues, you divide the land, a possible partition, and you share power. But that can’t happen, Ray, until all American troops are out.

And in the meantime, the casualties of American troops — they’re tired, the National Guard. I’m a governor. They’re going to get deployed again. I just believe this is a morass, a quagmire. And I want to differentiate myself with the other candidates who I believe are earnest about wanting to end the war, but you can’t do it leaving troops behind to perform a mission that 160,000 American troops and untold others are unable to do.

Emphasis on diplomacy

Gov. Bill Richardson
Democratic Presidential Candidate
I believe that you cannot have a peace -- in other words, there can't be a political settlement, a peacekeeping force, stability in the region -- until you get our troops out.

RAY SUAREZ: It's been pointed out that a decade after our involvement or coming up on a decade after our involvement in the former Yugoslavia, 50 and plus years after the armistice in Korea, there were, there are American troops in those places because there was still work to be done after the shooting stopped and after the bulk of the troops left. You can't see any role for American arms in that part of the world?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: No, but those are different situations, Ray. In Bosnia, first there was a peace, and then there was peacekeeping forces. In the Koreas, it's a totally different situation. We have close to 30,000 troops. Right now, there's a negotiation between the United States and North Korea that will lessen tension. And those troops have been there because we have coalition support, other nations in Asia that are allies, the same with NATO in Bosnia.

You know, in Iraq, we're there alone with the British. And the president says 20 other countries, 20 other countries with a few thousand troops. We're in it alone; it's totally different.

And I believe that you cannot have a peace -- in other words, there can't be a political settlement, a peacekeeping force, stability in the region -- until you get our troops out. Now, I would put some troops, American troops, for a contingency in Kuwait where they are needed. I would also expand the number of troops in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and the Taliban are getting stronger.

But this war is bleeding our ability as a country to have a military that is ready, that is properly equipped. And it takes away our focus, this war in Iraq, from what really should be the priority of American foreign policy: threat of international terrorism; nuclear proliferation; a little nuclear weapon, a nuclear material this size possibly crossing a border; energy independence; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; tribal and ethnic conflict; dealing with the third world more effectively.

I just believe this war is detracting from the real threats of this country, Ahmadinejad in Iran. The North Koreans, I think we still need more discussions. Peace in the Middle East, the situation with Israel and Palestine, the fact that we don't talk to Syria, the fact that we don't have a Middle East peace envoy, the fact that we're just reacting and saying, "We don't talk to our enemies. We don't talk to Iran. We don't talk to Syria." We barely talk to North Korea. When we did, we got some results.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let's talk about those nations in particular. Earlier in the Democratic campaign season, there was a lot of back-and-forth between the candidates about when and whether and under what circumstances to talk to the Syrias, the Koreas, and so on. What rules do you put in place for that kind of engagement?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: The only point I want to make is I have talked to many of these leaders already in my career. I've talked to the North Koreans. I was there five months ago. We got the remains of six of our soldiers back. I think we helped push them towards taking down their nuclear reactor.

Here's when you talk to them. You talk to them, I believe, without preconditions, but only if you're going to get something out of the talks. You don't just talk to them like I think the debate with Obama and Clinton. Would you do it the first year? Would you commit to doing that?

There should be no commitment. It may be sooner. But would I be afraid to meet with Ahmadinejad? No. With the North Koreans? No, if I'm president. With the Syrians? No. With bin Laden? No, you don't meet with him. I mean, he's a terrorist.

But I remember very much what Yitzhak Rabin said. He won the Nobel Prize, the prime minister of Israel. He said, "You don't make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies." I would do that as president.

Views on Iran, Ahmadinejad

Gov. Bill Richardson
Democratic Presidential Candidate
In my judgment, you have to deal with Iran. And the way not to deal with Iran is what this administration is doing, saying they're axis of evil, leaking military options, if they do this, we're going to take military action.

RAY SUAREZ: Ahmadinejad is in New York today, and there was a lot of argument about the circumstances under which he would be welcomed by the city and the United Nations. He wanted to go to Ground Zero. He's visiting Columbia University. When there are leaders who the United States doesn't see eye-to-eye with, should they be welcomed to the United States, as home of the U.N.?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Yes, as home of the U.N., yes. Those are multilateral agreements that any world leader can come to the United States, as long as they're members of the United Nations. And New York is the seat of the United Nations.

But I wouldn't have allowed Ahmadinejad to go to Ground Zero. I'm glad the New York police said no. That would have been an insult to the families.

Speaking of Columbia, I wouldn't have invited him, but Columbia did, and it was his platform. The guy, Ahmadinejad, he's a total propagandist. I mean, here the guy talks about having a debate with President Bush in front of thousands of people.

I believe we need to talk to Iran, but not necessarily Ahmadinejad. There are moderate clerics there. There's foreign ministry individuals that I know are moderate. Forty percent of the Iranian people vote for a moderate president. I would be reaching out to Iran, through various other entities, students, business leaders, cultural exchange, visits.

In my judgment, you have to deal with Iran. And the way not to deal with Iran is what this administration is doing, saying they're axis of evil, leaking military options, if they do this, we're going to take military action.

I would get international support for our goals. I'd get the Russians; I'd get the European Union to come together in an effective coalition that I believe could pressure Iran. I think they're susceptible to sanctions, to pressure. They've got one refinery. They import their gasoline. They import one-half of their food. There's domestic unrest, high unemployment.

If necessary, we push them, because we can't allow them to have nuclear weapons. We can't allow them to continue helping terrorists in Iraq. But the way to deal with that is to seek common ground and find ways to meet with them and be tough with them and negotiate with them.

Immigration policy

Gov. Bill Richardson
Democratic Presidential Candidate
The first thing you do is have foreign policy discussion with the president of Mexico. Just as I talked about being tough with our enemies, sometimes you've got to be tough with your friends. Mexico is a friend.

RAY SUAREZ: One of the most complex relationships the United States has right now is with Mexico...


RAY SUAREZ: ... a country where you did a lot of your growing up, a country you're very familiar with.


RAY SUAREZ: What do we do now, that this country is caught up in a debate over immigration and how we're going to move forward from where we are?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the first thing you do is have foreign policy discussion with the president of Mexico. Just as I talked about being tough with our enemies, sometimes you've got to be tough with your friends. Mexico is a friend.

If you were the president of Mexico, Ray, I'd say, "Mr. President, you've got to do something to give jobs to your people, to reduce poverty there. At the very least, stop handing out maps on the easiest place to cross."

Now, having said that, I think you also have to have stronger border security. You've got to find ways to have more technology to detect some kind of nuclear material at the border. I'd keep the National Guard there longer.

But would I build this wall? No, that is foolish. This country is not a nation of walls. Plus, if you build a wall that's 12 feet tall, a lot of 13-foot ladders are going to happen. It doesn't work. What you also do is those that knowingly hire illegal workers need to be punished.

And then, finally, there's got to be a legalization program. What's the alternative, round everybody up and deport them? That's not going to happen. Or the current status, which is leave the problem and not deal with it? I think that's unacceptable.

So a legalization program -- not amnesty, not citizenship, but based on principles that they can stay if they follow the following conditions: if they pay back taxes, they pay a fine, pass a background check, learn English, embrace American values, get behind those that are trying to get here legally.

Is that messy? Yes, it's messy. Is it bureaucracy? Yes. Is it going to be screwed up by somebody in the U.S. government? Possibly. But it's a tough decision that we have to take. What's the alternative, the deportation of 12 million people? That's not American.

RAY SUAREZ: But can we -- you say there's going to be bureaucracy, and you answer your own question, yes. But can this country really get its arms around 12 million people, figure out where they are, where they're working, where they're living, who should stay, who should go, and get some sort of durable solution that lasts out into the future?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: The Senate and the president tried to come up with a plan, but because they got so much political heat, they didn't. It shows that the president and the Congress have a dysfunctional relationship. Nonetheless, I believe there are barometers of being able to do what is sensible.

For one, you shouldn't divide up families in the way you do that. Secondly, I think you've got to be compassionate but recognize that we're also a nation of laws and that, if laws are broken, there are certain punishments, like, you know, a fine for having come here illegally, paying back taxes, passing a full background check or you're gone, embracing American values.

You know, Ray, we're a nation of immigrants. A lot of these individuals are working in jobs that Americans don't want. But if there are jobs, for instance, in the guest workers that Americans want, those jobs first should be posted and offered to an American. I think there's a way to do this.

I'm just being honest. There's going to be bureaucracy. There's going to be -- we're going to have to increase the budget for immigration. I mean, we have to raise the quotas for legal immigration, H-1B visas, we have to have that in this country to be more competitive.

But at the same time, the immigration bureau is full of backlogged cases where legal immigrants can't get in, a huge backlog. I mean, try to get a passport now. It takes months.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you think really coming here to live here full-time not until you were in the eighth grade gives you an insight into this that maybe other candidates don't have?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I believe that having been bicultural -- my mom would only speak to me in Spanish. My father wouldn't speak to me. No, I'm kidding. He'd speak to me in English.

Yeah, I think being bicultural, being brought up in two languages, has given me a perspective of respecting other points of view, of being a negotiator, being a diplomat. I believe that diplomacy is key and that, if you talk and try to resolve problems through negotiation, through diplomacy, that you can fix problems, that you've got to be bipartisan, that this country needs somebody that can bring us together, that we need to heal, that we're so divided over immigration and Iraq, and a middle class that is straining to pay health care costs and college loans for their kids, and pensions that are disappearing with bankruptcies.

I think, more than anything, the fact that I have been brought up in two cultures, that I have foreign policy experience, that I have CEO experience as a governor, gives me an edge, but that's going to be up to the voters.

Inspiring bipartisanship

Gov. Bill Richardson
Democratic Presidential Candidate
If I'm the nominee, I'll name my cabinet before the election, so that the American people know what team it is. I'll have independents. I'll have Republicans in my cabinet. I won't overdo the Republicans.

RAY SUAREZ: But can all Americans hear that from you? Or are there going to be some who assume that you're in the tank for the other guys, because you can see their point of view in a way that they're not ready to open up to yet?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: My sense when I speak to voters in the small states, the Iowas, New Hampshires, Nevadas, South Carolinas, the first primary states, they want somebody that inspires them. They want to come together, as voters. They're tired of this divisiveness and the partisanship in the Congress and the dysfunctional relationship of getting nothing done.

They're ready for a Kennedy-type leadership. And I'm no John F. Kennedy. But they want somebody to tell them, "We're going to have to sacrifice to become energy independent. We're going to have to do something about this debt, which is $9 trillion, that Japan and China and commercial banks control. We've got to do something about this crisis with home ownership, where over a million people or many more could lose their homes."

They're ready to come together and be inspired, because we've had a lot of politicians, Ray, that have been saying to the voters, "You can have a war, and we don't have to fund it through the regular budget process. You're going to have tax cuts even if you don't want it. Here, we're going to spend, spend, spend." Now it's $9 trillion, so future generations that want to do something about greenhouse gas emissions or improving science and math in schools or training or affordable housing are not going to be able to have these resources for the next generation.

RAY SUAREZ: But can the guy who's sitting here saying he could be the cold water in the face of that, that you can't just spend, spend, spend?


RAY SUAREZ: Can you get elected president when you're the guy who says, you know, we actually have to burn less gas and spend less money?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Absolutely. I've done it as a governor, Ray. New Mexico is the clean energy state. We're an oil and gas state, but we're moving towards solar, wind, biomass, greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

In addition to that, I've balanced five budgets. You know, we've got to be fiscally disciplined. I am for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget over a four- or five-year period. I want to get rid of those congressional earmarks that, you know, prevent this bridge in Minneapolis from being repaired. I want to also get rid of corporate welfare. We have to have pay-as-you-go policies. We've got to deal with Social Security and Medicare.

I would name my cabinet -- if I'm the nominee, I'll name my cabinet before the election, so that the American people know what team it is. I'll have independents. I'll have Republicans in my cabinet. I won't overdo the Republicans. But I just think that we need bipartisanship and we need not just talk about it. We need to show how we're going to do it, how we can govern.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the horizon a little less bright because a lot of money has been spent the country has had to borrow? Will the next president have his hands tied in ways that your colleagues up on the stump aren't talking about yet?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Yeah, we're going to have some real tough times, but that doesn't mean we can't resolve problems. I'm optimistic about this country. I'm patriotic. I believe problems are resolvable if you join, if you build coalitions, if we get the public sensitized to what is important to this country, if you work with the Republicans. I think we can do it.

You know, we've got to do three things off the bat. If I'm elected president, the first week I would say, one, we've got to end this war. It's got to be bipartisan, because I suspect the president is going to get his way most of the next two years.

Secondly, we've got to reduce the debt. We've got to end this debt. And, third, we've got to do something about the viability of Social Security and Medicare.

And then the other priorities, we duke it out, energy, becoming energy independent. I think that's going to take an Apollo program, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, shifting away from fossil fuels. And then universal health care. It's not going to be easy. There's going to be huge lobbies fighting it.

But I think we have the ability today to come together as a country, if we get some leadership that is willing to govern, make tough choices, but also call the best of the American people, which is their generosity and their fairness, into common goals. I think it is doable.

RAY SUAREZ: Governor Richardson, thanks for joining us.


JIM LEHRER: For more on Governor Richardson, you can visit our Vote 2008 Web site at All of our candidate interviews and campaign updates are also available there.