In an interview with Tom Hayden last week, Senator Russ Feingold said he is leaning against a further American troop increase and the war-funding measure that is now before Congress. The statements were included in an op-ed piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tuesday morning.
Feingold, whose call for a troop withdrawal has sparked an increase in Congressional questioning of Afghanistan, left the door open for possible changes in the administration’s current position. He would need to “hear some very different arguments” about Afghanistan before altering his opposition, Feingold said.
Feingold’s earlier call on August 23 for a “flexible timetable” for troop withdrawals set off a flurry of dovish speeches by Democratic senators and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans and Gen. Stanley McChrystal argued that a troop increase is essential to success in defeating terrorism.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have given conflicting signals in recent days. On Sunday, Obama said he was not interested in “saving face” or “sending a message that America is here for the duration.”
The administration’s published metrics for progress make priorities of (1) disrupting and defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and (2) improving Pakistan’s stability and counterinsurgency capabilities, ahead of (3) creating a “more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan.”
But with the Kabul regime in free fall, and since the stated purpose of Obama’s recent troop escalation was to secure Afghanistan for its presidential election, it appears that the Humpty Dumpty in Kabul will be impossible to fix without more naked intervention. “There is no question that the nature of the election in Afghanistan has complicated the picture for us,” says the soft-spoken Gates.
For the moment, Feingold has found an opening, and other Democrats have followed. The timeline he proposes is ambiguous. His advocacy of continuing Predator attacks will not satisfy the anti-war movement. His claim that America can defeat Al Qaeda by promising to withdraw will be ridiculed by the military and their allies in Congress. But a silent Congress is beginning to question things, in significant part because 70 percent of Democratic voters, and a majority of Americans overall, are saying they oppose the war. The interview follows:
Tom Hayden: If the president proposes another troop increase, will you oppose it?
Russ Feingold: Unless I hear some very different arguments than what I’ve already heard, I will not support a troop increase.
TH: Are you planning to introduce legislation on Afghanistan? If so, when?
: Right now, I am focused on making sure a timetable is part of the conversation. Just a few weeks ago, there weren’t many in Congress talking about it. Now, there is a chorus of voices in Congress questioning whether adding more troops is really the way to go. I hope the administration will be responsive. However, I am definitely keeping my options open.