Senator Nelson on Afghanistan, Economy

06/25/10 Mark Anderson
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At today’s Tampa press conference, Florida Senator Bill Nelson shared his views on the the firing of General Stanly McChrystal, and the appointment of General David Petraeus as his replacement as the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Nelson delivered a mixed message on progress in Afghanistan: one of confidence in the command change on the ground, but also one of concern over how different the two Mideast wars are.

"I just had General Petraeus in the office for a visit. I know him because he's been the head of the command here at MacDill. He is very optimistic. he points out that this is a change of personnel; that it's not a change of policy, and the policy is to try to give some stability to Afghanistan so that the government can then take over and provide for their own security. Now the problem is, well Iraq is not Afghanistan. Afghanistan for centuries has never been governable, and that's the trouble that we face."

He believes Petraeus is uniquely qualified to take over the top Afghan war post.

"He is the one guy who is not only schooled in this, but who wrote the book about counter insurgency. Petraeus is one guy that can pull it off."

Nelson said that the U.S. was instrumental in enabling terrorism to take hold in Afghanistan, by contributing to the defeat of the USSR in the region in the late 1970s, via the so called “Charlie Wilson War.” Wilson was a congressman from Texas, who worked with the CIA to defeat the Soviets.

"We had no choice but to get in because after we left Afghanistan; after Charlie Wilson's war, that created the vacuum that was filled by Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden."

He said that there are signs of progress in the region, that more time is needed to win, and that the NATO forces should be able to begin a controlled withdrawal in mid 2011.

"It was reported in the papers last week that we got the number three guy in in Al Qaeda. He is, was, the chief operating officer. He's the one that directed the operations. That was a big, big victory for America. Now number one and two, Osama being number one, are still being stashed in a cave, across the border in Pakistan. But the noose is tightening, and we're going to find them."

Nelson changed gears to defend the economic stimulus bill designed to get the economy moving again. When challenged about the effectiveness of the bill given the huge deficit increases, he offered these points.

"we're going to start construction next year, from high speed rail from downtown Tampa all the way to Orlando. Over the course of four years that's going to provide 26 thousand jobs."

"What about this extension coming off of interstate four, connecting with the Crosstown Expressway and then going on into the Port of Tampa?"

"I have been working on that for ten years, getting the design and the engineering. And in the stimulus bill, we now have the funds that that construction is going to start. That's the kind of stuff that the stimulus bill has done in providing jobs."

Nelson was noncommittal on guessing who would win the many mid term races this fall. He said that the nature of political campaigns has changed, with an increasing number of ultra-wealthy candidates pouring their own money into races. Nelson is up for reelection in 2012.

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