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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Bill Nelson" - Transcript


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MR. SHUSTER: Washington is reacting this morning to the president's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many in the Republican Party are supporting it, saying it provides a strategic vision, but what about Democrats? California Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed concerns before the president even announced his strategy.

This morning, President Obama brought it all back to who was responsible for us being in Afghanistan in the first place.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (From video.): So let me be clear, al Qaeda and its allies, the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

MR. SHUSTER: We're joined now by Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson who sits on the Armed Services Committee, and Senator Nelson, Senator Feingold, one of your colleagues just issued a statement saying he's concerned that the president's plan is too narrowly focused.

What's your take?

SEN. NELSON: I think the president was strong, and I think he's right on. I think you have to engage the nations in the region, Central Asia, the Gulf States, certainly, Russia and China, hopefully, Iran and that's a huge agenda item if the Iranians have someone at The Hague next week, I think putting in the 4,000 additional trainers. You look at what was the success in Iraq, it was not only training, it was not only intelligence, it was also reaching out to the more moderate elements in Iraq, to the Sunnis, in this case, to the Taliban. I think the president has put together the whole package. If it's going to be successful, this will certainly be the best attempt.

MR. SHUSTER: Wasn't part of the success though in Iraq also regional? I mean, in other words, there was a lot of money that flowed to some of these regional tribes, a lot of work in terms of actually helping them with particular, I don't know, social problems in their own communities as a way of supporting and getting their support for the overall military plan. And I wonder is there a way to do that in Afghanistan?

SEN. NELSON: David, you're right on. I can say it a little more harshly. In Iraq, we paid off leaders, the Sunni factions, so that they would start helping us and then they got sick and tired of all the brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq.

I think you will see a similar kind of thing here in reaching out to elements of the Taliban, but here is a distinct difference, we, with Iraq, a distinct difference. We have a real, reasonable opportunity to have cooperation from Iran because remember before 9/11, in the aftermath of 9/11, Iran actually helped us. They don't like al Qaeda. They don't like the extreme elements of the Taliban. We've got a good chance and that's a big difference with Iraq.

MR. SHUSTER: Another big difference in terms of how all of this is being handled by the Obama administration as opposed to the Bush administration and President Obama has promised to include war costs in the budget and he addressed that issue this morning. Watch.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (From video.): But make no mistake, our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future, and that's why my budget includes indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs.

MR. SHUSTER: Now, critics will argue, Senator, as you know, that this is nation building and maybe that's not appropriate. What's your reaction to that?

SEN. NELSON: Well, the question is: Do we want to stabilize Afghanistan? You can't stabilize Afghanistan unless you help Pakistan, and by the way, there's another agenda item there is you've got to get stabilization between two nuclear powers, Pakistan and India. So India needs to be a part of this and therein the region as well.

One success has to depend on another's success here, and so it's a comprehensive way of looking at the interests of the United States in that part of the world.

MR. SHUSTER: Senator, before we let you go, a real quick question for you on the budget. House Republicans released a sort of counter budget. Senate Republicans have decided not to and maybe that was a wise idea given how much criticism was directed at the House Republicans for not including any numbers. But what's your view about what your Republican colleagues in both the Senate and the House are up to as far as the budget?

SEN. NELSON: Typically, a budget is partisan; it shouldn't be, but it always has been as far as I can remember back to my House days back in the '70s. Now, what we have that we passed out of the committee last night is a reasonable reduction of the budget deficit over five years to get the deficit under three percent of Gross National Product, and at the same time, spend the money that we have to spend in the next five years given the fact that we have inherited a $1.7 trillion deficit just in this one year.

So we're starting from a huge hole and we're going to start digging our way of that hole and start moving back toward balance.

MR. SHUSTER: Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Nelson, great of you to join us today and we appreciate it.

SEN. NELSON: Thanks, David.

MR. SHUSTER: You're welcome.

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