As the United States struggles to begin a serious discussion about how best to deal with the threat posed by terrorist groups in general and Islamic State militants in particular, Russ Feingold is offering answers based on decades of experience and a deep understanding of all the issues that must be addressed. And it may be that the most important of these answers is this one: “[If] we are to win this fight, we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past with yet another rush toward a full-scale ground invasion led by tens of thousands of American troops.”
“The last invasion of Iraq cost our country trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives and greatly destabilized the region to the terrible detriment of our security,” argues the former senator from Wisconsin, who warns that “our response to the threat from ISIL cannot be reactionary or one-dimensional.”
The right combinations of expanded intelligence-gathering, the ending of arms sales and freezing of assets, diplomacy, development aid, and carefully-targeted military inventions—“a modern, comprehensive and bipartisan strategy that harnesses all of America’s strengths”—can work, says Feingold. But the combinations must be informed by our experience and our understanding of past mistakes, current challenges, and future possibilities.
Feingold brings that understanding and experience to the current debate. He served 18 years in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he chaired the subcommittee of Africa and was a key player on subcommittees dealing with Near Eastern Affairs, South and Central Asian Affairs, and East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He recognized the folly of giving George W. Bush and Dick Cheney the authority to order the invasion of Iraq, joining the minority of senators who wisely opposed a war based on false premises. Because he had traveled so extensively in Africa and the Middle East, because he had studied the intelligence rather than embracing the fool’s mission of neocon fabulists, Feingold recognized the danger of military intervention, ongoing occupation, and regime change without a plan for what would come next. And he kept speaking up, as a senator and a citizen.
In 2012, he wrote an acclaimed book on international affairs, While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call to the Post-9/11 World (Broadway Books), which Democrats and Republicans hailed as an outline for an engaged and effective response to global challenges. Former senator Robert Kerrey said Feingold’s writing and thinking prepare “citizens to engage in the national debate about a crucial part of our foreign policies.” Feingold, himself, engaged in 2013, accepting an appointment as the US State Department’s special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa—a role that put him in the thick of the global discourse about averting violence, extending democracy, addressing poverty and political instability, and responding to terrorist threats.