Senator Russ Feingold was way ahead of the Senate curve in insisting on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and last week he got it right again in calling for a flexible timetable to bring US troops out of Afghanistan.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Feingold writes that "we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals." He voices particular concern about the war destabilizing Pakistan--"a witch's brew of threats to our national security that we cannot afford to further destabilize." He also points out that this "nation-building experiment...may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries."
Feingold lays out a compelling case for an alternative course--"a civilian-led strategy discouraging any support for the Taliban by Pakistani security forces, and offer[ing] assistance to improve Afghanistan's economy while fighting corruption in its government. This should be coupled with targeted military operations and a diplomatic strategy that incorporates all the countries in the region."
Senator Feingold is expressing what many progressives now believe. Overall, 51 percent of Americans say the war is not worth fighting, including 7 in 10 Democrats. Yet too many top Democrats have become part of a poorly reasoned bipartisan consensus that threatens to entrap the US in another costly occupation. In contrast, progressives who want to see President Obama succeed see Afghanistan as a threat to his presidency-- especially to his domestic agenda, as resources, lives and political capital are lost in the "graveyard of Empires". (Much like LBJ's presidency was tarnished and defined by the Vietnam War.)
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This is perhaps a watershed moment for progressives. Nearly 100 Representatives in the House are calling for an exit strategy, and now we have an ally in the Senate to rally around in demanding a sane timetable--one that is a much needed contrast to Af-Pak Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's inane description of success in Afghanistan as, "We'll know it when we see it."
In October, antiwar groups will demonstrate, educate, and lobby to raise awareness about alternatives to the current course in Afghanistan. In the meantime, you can support Senator Feingold's call for a timetable here.
And check out The Nation for our special issue this Fall and TheNation.com for further opportunities for action in the coming months.