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Dem Rep.: Obama Right On The Surge

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., second from left, greets supporters in Davie, Fla. Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008. Also pictured, from left is Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Reps. Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Scultz, D-Fla.,and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. Alcee (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Political Players is a regular conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. Last week, as Barack Obama completed his foreign tour, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with one of his key supporters, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), about the impact of that trip, and about Republican attacks on Iran and Iraq. You represent one of the most Jewish districts in the United States. Many American Jews, as well as Israeli Jews, have had their doubts about Sen. Obama's commitment to Israel. Do you think he reassured them this week?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: I really think he did. I think his trip is another step in the journey to help make sure that the majority of Jewish voters, and the majority of voters in this country, understand that Barack Obama's foreign policy as president, particularly as it relates to Israel, will be one that they will wholeheartedly embrace and be enthusiastic about. He will continue the policy not only of having American stand side by side Israel as an ally, but make sure that the United States fully engages in helping to advance the peace process, which the Bush administration has not done. One of the reasons that a number of Jews have expressed uncertainty about Obama is his statement a year ago this week in which he said he would unconditionally negotiate with the leaders of a lot of rogue countries, including Iran, a statement that Senator Clinton called naïve and irresponsible. Do you now agree with his policy on that?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Well, what I agree with is what he actually stated, not what has been exaggerated or reported that he stated. He didn't say he would meet unconditionally with leaders around the world regardless of their involvement in terrorism or issues that we don't agree with. What he said was that he would not have preconditions to those conversations.

That's different than unconditional communication. And that what he does want to make sure we do, because we certainly have not made any progress on the Iran front under the Bush administration's policy. He'd do tiered conversations. There would not be preconditions on sitting down, but beginning at lower levels. But it is true that the candidate you supported at the time disagreed with the notion of doing talks without preconditions with these leaders. She did call that policy naïve and irresponsible. Do you think that the policy has been clarified since then? Or have you seen it in a different way?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Well, I think if you sat down with Hillary Clinton and asked her whether she thought she was closer to Barack Obama or to John McCain on this question about the direction that we should take our foreign policy, and the pursuit of diplomatic communication, that she would agree that she is much closer to Barack Obama's approach than she is to John McCain's. John McCain would offer us more of the same. Some prominent supporters of Sen. Clinton feel like Sen. Obama hasn't done enough yet to reach out to them, to raise money for Clinton to help her pay off her debt. Do you think there are additional steps he could take to bring more Clinton supporters into the fold?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Sure, there are. I mean, I think this is an ongoing process. I mean, I think there are additional steps that Senator Obama can take, and there are additional steps that his campaign's leadership, as well as the rank-and-file staffers on his campaign can take.

I mean, this is an evolutionary process, where the two campaigns are going to eventually become intertwined inextricably. And that is not an easy process to complete, especially with a campaign where you had supporters of both candidates who were so emotionally invested in the success of their candidate. You had two unprecedented history-making candidacies here. And a lot of people's hearts and souls were poured into those campaigns. And so we are trying to make sure that we can combine those hearts and souls into a really powerful organization that will help elect Barack Obama president. Have you been able to get over your disappointment that Senator Clinton isn't the nominee?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Oh, yeah. I'm long past my
disappointment. I mean, I certainly still wish that the outcome had been different. But my wish is not because I'm unhappy with Barack Obama, or because I don't agree with him. I mean, I fully believe in Barack Obama.

I have 100 percent confidence in his ability to be president. I'm 100 percent behind him. I'm not looking wistfully back at what might have been. We have to look forward. We have to move forward. So, looking forward, what are those additional steps that the Obama campaign, and Senator Obama himself, as you outlined, should take to bring more of the Clinton supporters into the fold?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: I think most of the Clinton supporters are in the fold. I mean, I think what we have right now is, a vocal minority. You know, a relatively small group compared to the millions of people who supported Hillary Clinton who are now supporting Barack Obama.

So, I think there isn't anything extraordinary that Barack Obama has to do. They have to just continue to do more of what they have been doing, and focus on the issues. On the issues, a number of Republicans this week have brought up Barack Obama's speech to AIPAC, in which he pledged that Jerusalem would remain undivided but the next day, he said, well, that would be a subject of negotiations between both sides. Some Jewish leaders have come out and said they're anxious about that.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Look, I just spoke to the Hadassah convention on behalf of the Obama campaign. And there were 2,000 progressive Jewish women there. And I can tell you that I spoke opposite former U.S. Senator Rudy Boshowitz for McCain. And the reception for our complete message on the issues that are important to the Jewish community was, you know, far more enthusiastic for Senator Obama than it was for Senator McCain.

On the issue of Jerusalem, specifically the Israeli people and the Israeli leadership are the ones that will ultimately decide this. And the fact that they have stated that Jerusalem will be part of final status negotiations is something that Barack Obama is absolutely supportive of.

But what he has reaffirmed many times is that Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel, and should never be re-divided. It should never again be separated by barbed wire and physical separation and checkpoints like it was from 1948 to 1967. That's what he meant by undivided?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Yes. On Iraq, Senator Obama's position seems to be that the additional troops were helpful. But given the costs of the surge, even if he had it to do over again, he would not support it. Is that your position, as well?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Well, yes. It's absolutely my position. And, I mean, it's really hard to see how leaving Iraq to a sovereign government that's taking responsibility for its future while we would go and focus on the fight in Afghanistan, how that's losing. I mean, Senator McCain keeps referring to victory.

We've got an ever-increasing problem with Afghanistan, and the Taliban, and we have hot spots that are popping up all over the world. Iran is really twisting and spiraling into an extremely, extremely dangerous problem.

And we are hopelessly mired in the war in Iraq. We need to responsibly bring an end to that war, so that we can confront the other pressing threats that are around the world. Because we have spread ourselves so thin, militarily, that it almost precludes a military option. But isn't it somewhat ironic that it may be the surge that he opposed, that John McCain supported, that allows Senator Obama, if he becomes president, to begin withdrawing troops from a much more stable situation?

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Look, the whole stated purpose of the surge was to provide separation and relief, so that there could be political progress. Which there has been none. None of. So, that's why we continue to say that the surge was not effective. Because the stated purpose of the surge was to provide that sort of separation so that politically, the Iraqi government could stand on their own. And they have yet to be able to do that.
By Brian Goldsmith