For a forthcoming (later this week) article on Afghanistan for Rolling Stone, I interviewed Senator Russ Feingold, one of the few members of the Senate who’s been willing to speak up to criticize the current policy in the war. The senator has proposed a “flexible timetable” for withdrawing US forces. Here’s a slightly edited transcript of the interview:
Q. What do you think our approach ought to be in Afghanistan?
Feingold: “The whole problem is, the question, what should we do in Afghanistan? That’s not the question. The question is, how should we effectively fight Al Qaeda? It’s a global threat, and how does Afghanistan fit into that? Too often, it’s what do we do with Afghanistan, and by the way how do we deal with Al Qaeda?
“Now we deal with Al Qaeda in every country in the world without invading the country. We deal with them in Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia, in European countries, in our own country, with various means that range from law enforcement to military action to other kinds of actions. Recently we were able to get rid of one the greatest threats we had, someone who was hiding in Somalia, without invading Somalia!
“So I think the burden is on those who want to continue an occupation to show that putting more and more resources and more and more American blood into Afghanistan is the best way to stop Al Qaeda globally. I think that’s entirely unconvincing. The best argument they have is somehow the Taliban with then take over Afghanistan and then Al Qaeda will move their whole operation into Afghanistan again. That’s not at all clear. And that’s not at all clear that it’s any worse-case scenario than Al Qaeda setting up shop in Yemen or Somalia or where they are now, in Pakistan. And there’s no reason in my mind why they’re suddenly going to say, ‘Oh, gee, let’s leave Pakistan, where we’re very well hidden, and let’s go back to Afghanistan.’ The whole thing is on a very weak premise.
“Now the president’s goal is the right goal. The goal is to look at this regionally, and say, ‘We’ve got to stop Al Qaeda.’ Implementation of the goal, with regard to Afghanistan, doesn’t seem to fit that mission. Although it’s related, at best it’s tangentially related, as opposed to being at the core of the issue, which is, how do we stop this global network?”