Sen. Russ Feingold explained to Wolf Blitzer why he doesn't think a troop surge in Afghanistan makes any sense, and that he would vote against funding
December 3, 2009

Sen. Russ Feingold explained to Wolf Blitzer why he doesn't think a troop surge in Afghanistan makes any sense, and that he would vote against funding it.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee.

Did I get that right, Senator?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a key word there being key, is that...

FEINGOLD: That's right.


Let's talk a little bit about why you oppose what the president is doing. What's wrong with his logic?

FEINGOLD: Well, it just doesn't add up for me.

The president says, we're doing this. We're adding 30,000, 35,000 troops to finish the job. And I ask the question, "What job?" because the president has been so eloquent in pointing out our issue is fighting al Qaeda.

The argument falls apart when you realize that al Qaeda does not have its headquarters in Afghanistan anymore. It is headquartered in Pakistan. It is active in Somalia, and Yemen, North Africa, affiliates of it in Southeast Asia.

Why does it make sense to have a huge ground presence in Afghanistan to deal with a small al Qaeda contingent, when we don't do that in so many other countries where we're actually having some success without invading the country and attacking those that are part of al Qaeda? It doesn't make sense.

BLITZER: Well, here's how the president responds to that. I will play this clip from his speech last night.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.


BLITZER: I guess the main point he's trying to make is, if -- if the U.S. were to lose, let's say, in Afghanistan, just walk away, all those al Qaeda operatives who have crossed the border into Pakistan would simply go back to a pre-9/11 situation that the Taliban would control and give them that safe haven in Afghanistan.

FEINGOLD: That's an incredibly unlikely scenario, in my view, that al Qaeda would find that to be the ideal place to return to. The notion that the Taliban would automatically welcome them with open arms is questionable, in light of the fact that in the first place they came into Afghanistan with the Taliban's blessing because they had a lot of money to pass around.

Now they are hiding in caves in Pakistan. And I'm wondering why the president thinks he shouldn't have ground forces and troops in countries all over the world that are not only potential, but current safe havens for al Qaeda. Why aren't we doing that approach of a huge land presence in those places, as in Northern Africa, in Yemen and Somalia? It doesn't make sense. Why this one place, where it's not the place that al Qaeda actually is headquartered in?


BLITZER: Have you spoken to the president about your concerns?

FEINGOLD: I have not had the opportunity, but I would enjoy it.

BLITZER: Because he obviously has given a great deal of thought to all of this. He's had many meetings in his own Situation Room. He's met with his intelligence and national security advisers. And he says the U.S. needs 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. But then they -- they can start withdrawing in July of 2011, in other words, a temporary surge and then the beginning of the, I guess, exodus. Is that -- is that something unacceptable to you?

FEINGOLD: Well, yes, because all you have got here are people are calling it a timeline. My -- timelines I have seen involve several points along a line. It doesn't involve one point in the future that could involve just withdrawing one American troop.

There's no sense at all of how long we will stay there. The withdrawal doesn't even begin for a year-and-a-half, and then there's absolutely no commitment to finishing the withdrawal. It simply says we will begin a withdrawal.

So, you know, it's nice to hear the word that -- the notion that we might not be staying there forever, but there's no meat on the bones. And so that troubles me a great deal. You have this huge surge of troop buildup, without any clear exit strategy, and my question is, what are we going to accomplish, with all the human sacrifice and economic sacrifice in the next three years, that is going to be much better than what we have now?

I'm extremely skeptical. And it will not help us in any significant way in the worldwide struggle against al Qaeda, which is my priority, is the president's priority, and is our national security priority.

BLITZER: Will you vote against funding for this new escalation in Afghanistan? The president says it's going to cost an extra $30 billion.

FEINGOLD: Absolutely.

You know, I started to raise this question in "The Christian Science Monitor" before we even knew who the new president was going to be. I didn't like the idea of the buildup that started late last year and that put us up to 60,000 or 70,000 troops.

I have been warning that this doesn't make sense and in fact that it may destabilize Pakistan, which many people agree with. And yet they are moving forward with it, without any, I think, serious regard for the regional consequences of this huge troop buildup.

BLITZER: The president is rejecting suggestions from some of his critics that this could be another quagmire, like Vietnam. I will play this little clip of what he said.


OBAMA: And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.


BLITZER: Do you see parallels with Vietnam?

FEINGOLD: I'm not interested in Vietnam analogies.

You know, our top priority is to protect our country, the people of our country, and to deal with the fact that we have enormous domestic problems. Taking all these resources, hundreds of billions of dollars, and sacrificing so much of our military in Afghanistan, when we have other international priorities and enormous priorities economically in our country, seems to be a very odd choice in a time of great crisis.

That's the problem, not whether it's similar to Vietnam. And that's not my interest at this point. I want to get it right right now. And this really seems to move in the wrong direction in almost every respect.

BLITZER: As normally a close ally and supporter of the president, how frustrated were you last night in listening to his speech?

FEINGOLD: Well, I knew it was coming. I felt it's been coming for a long time.

I was somewhat hopeful when the president indicated that he wasn't even given an option for a long time that involved any kind of exit or any kind of withdrawal. I was disappointed when he went with the troop increase, but at least he showed some rhetorical connection to the idea that we ought to not have this be open-ended.

And I'm hopeful that that thought will -- will grow in his mind and that of his advisers, that this really is a potential situation that is extremely draining for the United States, and I think counterproductive in our fight against al Qaeda.

So, I wasn't happy, but I respect the president. I think he was thoughtful. I think he cares about getting this right. I think he is sincere about it. I just don't agree with him. And it's my job, as an elected official, to express that, just as it is his job to exercise his judgment.

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINGOLD: Thank you, Wolf.

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