It's one thing for the Bernie Sanderses and Russ Feingolds to openly question the mission in Afghanistan. It's quite another for Dianne Feinstein to do so.
KING: Well Senator Feinstein, you're the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence. To the question of where this ends, it is eight years after 9/11. We've paused and reflected on that just the other day. You see the things that we can't see, the intelligence. Are we winning in Afghanistan? Are we any closer to finding Osama bin Laden, and does the president have a clear strategy, in your view?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell you this. A lot of the leadership has been taken out of al Qaeda. I can say and I think you would agree that Afghanistan and the Pakistani border are still the major safe haven, the major safe haven for terrorists in the world. And these are people who will, if they can, come after us, not necessarily the Taliban, but certainly al Qaeda and other affiliated groups.
So we have to consider that. We have about 60,000 troops there, another 8,000 are moving in with our allies, it about equals the force that is in Iraq. To the best of my knowledge, the president has had no request for additional troops up to this time. My view is that the mission has to be very clear. I don't believe --
KING: Has to be means it is not now?
FEINSTEIN: I believe it is not now. I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity.
I do believe that clearing out Al Qaida, clearing out the Taliban is a bona fide part one of the mission. I do agree that training Afghan troops, Afghan -- Afghan police is an important piece of the mission.
I believe the mission should be time limited, that there should be no, well, we'll let you know in a year and a half, depending on how we do. I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan.
Feinstein is actually more charitable about the presence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan than the commanding general on the ground, Stanley McChrystal, who said this week that there are no signs of major Al Qaeda anywhere in the country.
But as far as the wariness of the viability of Constitutional democracy in Afghanistan, you need only look to their recent election, into which the opposition leader is now seeking a criminal investigation. He has accused Hamid Karzai of treason and "state-engineered fraud". Despite this, Karzai will probably win election on the first ballot, and a vote that has been horribly compromised will be made official. We saw in Iran how this can lead to violence and chaos, and Afghanistan is not nearly as stable. Without a viable partner in the government, as Feinstein says we cannot expect an endless commitment. Yet because Karzai is Pashtun the US will likely back him in this fight, alienating the other ethnic groups in the region. Kalashnikovs are flying off the shelves in the Tajik areas. Civil war is not an unlikely scenario at this point.
This further limits the mission, away from state-building and toward dealing with the elements in the country willing to deal. Otherwise we set ourselves up for a decade-long slog that will only end with more dead and more treasure squandered, to little effect. And yes, as Sen. Feinstein says, that process should have an end date.