WASHINGTON - Sen. Russ Feingold, a potential anti-war candidate in the 2008 presidential field, urged fellow Democrats on Monday to show more backbone in challenging President Bush on Iraq.
"We must get out of our political foxholes and be willing to clearly and specifically point out what a strategic error the Iraq invasion has been," Feingold, D-Wis., told a National Press Club audience.
He said some Democrats in Congress gave in to "intimidation" by the Bush administration when they voted to authorize the war in 2002, and warned: "If we do not show both a practical and emotional readiness to lead in the fight against terrorism, we will lose in '06 and we will lose in '08, just like we did in '02 and '04."
In March, Feingold called for the censure of Bush over the administration's warrantless surveillance program. So far, only two Democrats, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have signed on as co-sponsors.
Feingold, who also has proposed that U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of the year, rejected criticism that such a move could lead to chaos.
"I believe the situation would probably get better" if U.S. troops left, he said. "The lesson of insurgency is when the occupying power leaves, it tends to lessen, rather than increase, the level of violence."
White House spokesman Alex Conant responded: "We must defeat the terrorists by denying them safe haven and the president will continue to listen to our commanders for what troop levels are needed. The U.S. must stand with the brave citizens of Iraq as their new democracy grows."
Feingold, who insists he won't think about a presidential run until after this year's congressional elections, nonetheless made a few joking references to a potential campaign.
Asked whether he and his campaign finance reform ally, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have talked about their respective presidential ambitions, Feingold deadpanned, "I think he'd beat me in Wisconsin."
© 2006 The Associated Press