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Feingold: Troop Surge Will Be "Difficult To Stop Now" But "We'll Do Whatever We Can"

Russ Feingold reiterated what he’s been saying all week, that our troop escalation in Afghanistan doesn’t make any sense and will only increase in
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Russ Feingold reiterated what he’s been saying all week, that our troop escalation in Afghanistan doesn’t make any sense and will only increase instability in the region and Pakistan. When asked if there was anything that could be done to stop this now Feingold said this:

FEINGOLD: Well, that's difficult. And what's going to happen here is that it's probably going to be difficult to stop it now. We'll do whatever we can. We're already working with members of both parties in both houses to question whether this funding should be approved. We're going to fight any attempts to use sort of accounting gimmicks to allow it to be funded. If there's an attempt to have an emergency supplemental, I think that's something we're going to oppose, not only on the grounds of it being an unwise policy, but also being fiscally irresponsible.

Full transcript via ABC News.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Secretary Gates there. Even though you've called the president's decision an expensive gamble, he says the United States must escalate because this is the epicenter of extremist jihad, and that's why our vital national security interests are at stake.

FEINGOLD: Well, Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter, although Al Qaeda is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That's not next door to Waziristan. So I'm wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn't make any sense to me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't the point they're making that if we don't defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, that will strengthen the Taliban as well in Pakistan, and that will put us at risk, because Pakistan of course has nuclear weapons?

FEINGOLD: Well, it's just the opposite. You know, I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and Mr. Holbrooke, our envoy over there, a while ago, you know, is there a risk that if we build up troops in Afghanistan, that will push more extremists into Pakistan? They couldn't deny it, and this week, Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan specifically said that his concern about the buildup is that it will drive more extremists into Pakistan, so I think it's just the opposite, that this boots-on-the-ground approach alienates the Afghan population and specifically encourages the Taliban to further coalesce with Al Qaeda, which is the complete opposite of our national security interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So can we do? Pull out, pull out of Afghanistan now?

FEINGOLD: We should have a rational policy to, over a timetable of the next several years, to withdraw in a rational way. I'm afraid that the president's idea, which is to just set a date where we may start withdrawing troops, gives nobody anything they want. It doesn't give the Afghan people a belief that we're actually leaving. It doesn't give the American people any confidence that we have a plan to finally end this.

But I think the best thing we could do would be a real timetable, flexible timetable that says, look, we're going to continue this for a reasonable period, but it is not the top priority in going after Al Qaeda. It is certainly not the top priority for the people of the United States, given our economic problems. So from either an international nor a national level, does it make sense to put so many resources into a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security needs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the real problem is Pakistan, what more should we be doing there right now?

FEINGOLD: Well, I think we should be figuring out a way to do what many have suggested -- and even the Secretary of Defense suggested in this interview with you -- which is, there is a way to go after these extremists -- particularly the Al Qaeda operatives anywhere -- by cooperating with the Afghan government, by cooperating with the Pakistani government. This is what we have done in the past in Somalia and other places to get Al Qaeda operatives. But the idea of huge troops on the ground doesn't seem to advance that interest whatsoever.

I guess the way I'd look at it is this, George: You know, if -- if -- if we never invaded Afghanistan and we knew what was going on there now, we looked at it, we saw the problems with the government, we saw the fact that there are so many people who are -- who are having a problem with -- with our presence there, if they saw that -- that, in fact, Al Qaeda was based in Pakistan and other places, if they saw the enormous economic problems in our own country, who would advise that we invade Afghanistan at this point? Nobody would.

So the question should be, if we wouldn't do it on those facts, why would we continue it now?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Except that's where the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were launched from.

FEINGOLD: That's right. And that's the only argument. But, you know, we chased these guys over into Pakistan. So why would we continue something that we wouldn't even initiate today? It doesn't relate directly to our fight against Al Qaeda in any way like it did in 2001.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any way you can stop this?

FEINGOLD: Well, that's difficult. And what's going to happen here is that it's probably going to be difficult to stop it now. We'll do whatever we can. We're already working with members of both parties in both houses to question whether this funding should be approved. We're going to fight any attempts to use sort of accounting gimmicks to allow it to be funded. If there's an attempt to have an emergency supplemental, I think that's something we're going to oppose, not only on the grounds of it being an unwise policy, but also being fiscally irresponsible.

But in the end, George, what's going to happen is, if we continue this policy and build up these troops, there's going to be more and more members of Congress who aren't comfortable with it, and it's not just going to be Democrats.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you grant that the funds are there right now, but if they come back in the spring for $30 billion or $40 billion, that's where you'll make your move and try to block it?

FEINGOLD: I don't grant that the funds are there now. We are operating at huge deficits in this country, and the idea of continuing to spend for this war goes -- flies right in the face of the American people's priority to bring spending down.

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