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Public Statements

Interview with Krystle Russin

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Q: The current situation on everyone's minds is the Middle East. What are your thoughts?

A: First, we need to focus on the greater Middle East and the U.S. must look beyond stability alone as the linchpin of our relationships. We must place increased focus on the development of democratic values and human rights as the keys to long-term security. If we learned anything from our failure in Vietnam, it is that regimes removed from the people cannot permanently endure.

They must reform or they will finally crumble, despite the efforts of the United States. We must side with and strengthen the aspirations of those seeking positive change. America needs to be on the side of the people, not the regimes that keep them down. We as Americans must be agents of hope as well as enemies of terrorism. We must help bring modernity to the greater Middle East.

We must make significant investments in the education and human infrastructure in developing countries. The globalization of the last decade taught us that simple measures like buying books and family planning can expose, rebut, isolate and defeat the apostles of hate so that children are no longer brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers and terrorists are deprived the ideological breeding grounds. I believe we must reform and increase our global aid to strengthen our focus on the missions of education and health, of freedom for women, and economic development for all.

The U.S. should take a page from our Cold War playbook. No one expected communism to fall as suddenly as it did. But that didn't prevent us from expanding society-to-society aid to support human rights groups, independent media and labor unions and other groups dedicated to building a democratic culture from the ground up. Democracy won't come to the greater Middle East overnight, but the U.S. should start by supporting the region's democrats in their struggles against repressive regimes or by working with those which take genuine steps towards change.

And we must have a new vision and a renewed engagement to reinvigorate the Mideast peace process. This Administration made a grave error when it disregarded almost seventy years of American friendship and leadership in the Middle East and the efforts of every President of the last 30 years.

A great nation like ours should not be dragged kicking and resisting - should not have to be pressured to the task of making
peace. A great nation like ours should be leading the effort to make peace or we risk encouraging through our inaction the worst instincts of an already troubled region. Israel is our ally, the only true democracy in this troubled region, and we know that Israel as a partner is fundamental to our security. From Truman through Clinton, America has always been committed to Israel's independence and survival - we will never waiver.

Israel's security will be best assured over the long term if real and lasting peace can be brought to the Middle East. I know from my own trips to Israel that the majority of the Israeli people understand and expect that one day there will be a Palestinian state. Their frustration is that they do not see a committed partner in peace on the Palestinian side. Palestinians must stop the violence - this is the fundamental building block of the peace process. The Palestinian leadership must be reformed, not only for the future of the Palestinian people but also for the sake of peace. I believe Israel would respond to this new partner after all, Israel has already indicated its willingness to freeze settlements and to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a comprehensive peace process.

Without demanding unilateral concessions, the United States must mediate a series of confidence building steps which start down the road to peace. Both parties must walk this path together - simultaneously. And the world can help them do it. While maintaining our long term commitment to Israel's existence and security, the United States must work to keep both sides focused on the end game of peace. Extremists must not be allowed to control this process. American engagement and successful mediation are not only essential to peace in this war-torn area but also critical to the success of our own efforts in the war against terrorism.

When I visited the region last year, in meetings with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Mubarak of Egypt, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, it became clear that September 11 had changed the imperatives of these countries. The Bush Administration has missed an opportunity to enlist much greater support in the peace process and needs to focus on this urgent priority- now. The transformation of the Middle East which can come from these efforts will determine much of our own security.

Q: With your experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. How has this shaped your paradigm of the conflict in the Middle East, North Korea?

A: I have been really lucky to have had a lot of experiences which impressed upon me how important foreign policy is to people's lives and how it takes such up at dawn, personal effort to make it work. It was seared into me early as a foreign service brat moving around and living all over the place. When I was a little kid, I remember walking on the beaches of Normandy where thousands of young Americans died fighting for freedom. It was a few years after the war and my father was serving abroad in the foreign service. As we walked and my father pointed out burnt-out bunkers, exploded shells, and the skeletons of landing vehicles - I came face to face - at a young age - with the meaning of our nation's sacrifices.

I think that beach, where thousands died for a freedom we defend today, symbolizes how my father and his generation, known as the greatest generation, answered the questions of their time. They had the courage to win the war, but they didn't stop there - they went farther and secured the peace, rebuilding Europe and setting the stage to win the Cold War. These were the kinds of lessons I was taught and which I brought to my work in the Senate and which I want to bring to the White House.

Q: How do you feel your time serving in the Navy will help you if elected president?

A: I think it's been invaluable. I will bring the perspective to foreign policy and national security not just of the situation room but of the front lines. These questions are important to me because I've seen what happens when soldiers' lives are put on the line. You better have a smart foreign policy to back them up. The Presidency has three key job descriptions: chief executive of the fiscal and domestic policies of the United States - head of state and therefore, the nation's chief diplomat - and Commander in Chief of the Nation's military forces. I think my experience in the Navy helped teach me something about two thirds of that job, and I'm lucky to have had that experience and training.

Q: What do you feel is the most important issue in this campaign?

A: Leadership to make America stronger - on all the issues. I really believe if we had leadership that dared to tell the truth and help Americans make tough choices we'd be better on almost every issue - the economy, health care, national security, you name it. I can't wait to remind this President that landing on an aircraft carrier does not make up for a failed economic policy.

Q: You have been in the Senate for almost 20 years. When looking back, what do you think was the moment when you feel you truly made a difference? What are some of the issues and constituent concerns you worked with that you would like to bring to the White House?

A: You get a chance to make a difference every day in the Senate, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in bigger ways. As a
Senator I went to Harlem to visit a program called Youthbuild where kids from court diversion programs and dropouts were being trained in construction and getting their GED. It was incredible. With tough love, opportunity and responsibility, these kids were turning their lives around. So I went back to the Senate, and we made Youthbuild a national program. Today it's in, I think, about 70 cities with thousands of graduates - that is just one of the things you can do to take your vision of how the country ought to work and take it nationwide. It's such a rewarding feeling.

Q: How do you view your political philosophy? How does it compare to other Democratic candidates?

A: I don't compare myself to other candidates, I think that's a huge mistake. Political pundits make small fortunes offering commentary on politicians. I think if you're running for President, you should just tell people where you stand and let them make judgments about what that means. I don't like political labels, I'd much rather talk issues. I believe in just going out and talking common sense, and that's worked pretty well for me.

Q: What do you remember most from working for Vietnam veterans in Washington? When Sen. Pell told you that you might become a member of Congress yourself, did you ever expect it to happen?

A: Those were tough times in America, and I remember still how much it was vets fighting for vets that really made the difference. We believed in each other. It was so hard to get politicians to listen, but we raised our voices and we knocked on doors and we fought with our heads and our gut. I still remember with pride at the outcome, that for our generation of Veterans the war did not end when we came home. For us, the fight continued - the recognition honoring our deeds came when Veterans pushed for it - Agent Orange, outreach centers, extension of the GI Bill - increased funding for Veterans Affairs, these all happened because Veterans remembered their brothers and sisters and never stopped fighting to keep faith with the promise to veterans. We had a sense of special responsibility to those who weren't lucky enough to make it home.

Q: Why should people vote for you in the upcoming election?

A: Because it is time we had a President who is on the side of the many, not the few - a President with a real economic strategy to get this nation moving again. That means investing in people; it means restoring fiscal discipline, and it means that when an Enron bilks the retirement savings of ordinary investors and shatters consumer confidence, those greedy few at the top are going to go to jail.

Q: If you could seek advice from three people (alive or dead) during your run for the White House who would they
be and why?

A: My parents, because they really understood what patriotism and service are all about and this would've been a very special journey for them.

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