RICHARDSON: IRAQ NO, AFGHANISTAN YES.

RICHARDSON: IRAQ NO, AFGHANISTAN YES. As part of the phenomenon that Matt discussed a while back, I must confess to having had little interest in the candidacy of former New Mexico Governor and UN Ambassador Bill Richardson before seeing him speak here this morning at the Take Back America conference. It's not like I'm declaring him as my candidate or anything, but he's a good bit more interesting than I had been willing to consider before. (I had nearly choked on the saccharine several weeks ago in his telling of the story, to Paula Zahn on CNN's icky Dems-and-religion night, of his Latina grandma giving him a crucifix to keep in his pocket as a good luck charm when he played in Little League.)

But today, he proved to be a most engaging fellow with some serious stands, especially on climate change and energy policy. On Iraq, he's simultaneously including himself among the top-tier candidates while setting himself apart from Obama, Clinton and Edwards by claiming to be the only one who opposes "leaving behind" a single troop in Iraq (other than those detailed to the embassy). A candidate for the women of Code Pink to love?

When it comes to Afghanistan, that's another story. "I'm for our involvement in Afghanistan," Richardson said in answer to a question I asked at his after-speech press conference. "There's a clear multinational force there; NATO is there... al-Qaeda and the Taliban still pose a threat... I would refurbish our commitment there."

While liberals rally around the cause of ending the American adventure in Iraq, no one, on any side, really quite knows what to do about Afghanistan, which is every bit as broken as it was when our forces first arrived there. Relations between the U.S.-backed government and next-door neighbor Pakistan are frosty; relations between the Taliban and Pakistani intelligence forces are chummy; and the Musharraf dictatorship in Pakistan is looking very shaky these days (though it's been looking pretty shaky since 2001). And did I mention that Pakistan has nukes?

Richardson knows the players well. In 1998, he tried to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and rival war lords. He didn't get far. But things are different now, and I suppose that, whatever the outcome of the presidential race, there's a role for Richardson in the coming administration.

--Adele M. Stan

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