Published on Friday, July 24, 2009 by The Nation
Feingold: White House is Whistling Past Afghan Graveyard
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Sen. Russ Feingold defends his lone vote to oppose an amendment to the latest defense spending bill.
In 2001 Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold famously and courageously stood up as the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act. On July 21 he did it again, casting the lone vote  opposing Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's amendment to the 2010 Defense Authorization bill that immediately authorizes an expansion of the military by 30,000 troops. In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Feingold says he "did not believe it was in the best interest of our troops or our national security." The measure passed 93-1.
Feingold said he is increasingly disturbed by the war in Afghanistan, where troop levels are escalating by the month, US casualties are mounting and the insurgency is expanding. "It appears that no one even asked the president about [
On July 23 Vice President Joe Biden told the BBC  that "in terms of national interest of
Feingold believes "the so-called surge may actually make matters worse by pushing militants into Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation which is still not effectively dealing with terrorist sanctuaries in that country." He is particularly concerned with what he calls the "balloon effect:" resistance fighters in
As a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, Feingold has grilled both civilian and military officials. In May he asked  Obama's special envoy to
"Are you sure that the troop buildup in
Feingold received  a similar answer from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in May. "Can I [be] 100 percent certain that won't destabilize
"This is something I've been trying to hammer away at," Feingold tells The Nation. "They admitted that it's a problem, but where's the follow-up? This administration is almost whistling past the graveyard on this issue." Feingold added, "How is it that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our special envoy to this region both agree that this could be a problem and that it is not talked about as a serious mistake if we're going to keep increasing troops and increase that effect? This is, in my view, the central flaw in what is otherwise a policy that is better than the Bush administration's. This is the central flaw in the thinking of the administration on this issue, and it needs to be pursued."
In the halls of
On a wide range of issues that Feingold has hammered away at for years, the senator finds himself confronting a Democratic president for whom he campaigned. Some of the Bush-era policies that Feingold passionately opposed are now Obama's policies. To Feingold's credit, the change in administrations has clearly not altered his core principles. Since January 20 Feingold has pressed the Obama administration on Bush-era policies that are either being continued or expanded under Obama.
In a May 22 letter  to Obama, Feingold expressed concern over the president's suggestion that the
Recently, in a sharp break from many Democrats, Feingold wrote Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for a prosecutor to investigate the torture program. Feingold said the investigation should target officials at "the highest levels of government, which is where the need for accountability is most acute. Those who developed, authorized and provided legal justification for the interrogations should be held responsible."
In some cases, the policies are getting worse, as Feingold has pointed out. "It's both an easier and a lonelier role," he says. "It's easier because this president understands these issues and cares about them deeply. He wants to support the side of the law and civil liberties, but he's getting counterpressures from, obviously, elements of his administration that are not wanting him to give any ground in this area at all."
"But it's lonelier," Feingold adds, "because when I do have to disagree, yes, it's disagreeing not only with all the Republicans but even a Democratic president and some Democratic senators. That's a role I still have to play. I'm here to defend the Constitution and try to protect this country. That's why I'm here. And if it means sometimes I'm going to disagree with my president, I will."
© 2009 The Nation
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs