Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Feingold: "It's Time To Play Hardball" On Iraq War

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) spends a lot of time roaming Wisconsin on his "listening sessions" and he says there's one common refrain that he hears from even his most conservative constituents: They want America out of Iraq.

"This attitude about what should be done in Iraq is a consensus -- everywhere but in Washington," said Feingold. "People don’t want us just to slow walk this, they don't want us to just worry about the escalation, they want us to get out of Iraq."

The Wisconsin Democrat held a lengthy conference call with leading Progressive bloggers Monday night just an hour after Senate Republicans voted down any debate whatsoever on the bipartisan Warner-Levin resolution opposing George W. Bush's escalation of the Iraq war.

Feingold said that, while he voted to allow debate on the Warner resolution, he finds it "unacceptable" and that he is "determined to support whatever will help us end this mistake quickly and in an orderly and safe manner."

He came down hard on the Warner-Levin amendment, saying that it is weak to begin with and gets worse by making damaging concessions that support the status quo in Iraq. And, even worse, Feingold says, the resolution potentially blocks what he calls the "logical next steps" of getting out of Iraq completely, by proposing a surge in Anbar Province which, Feingold maintains, is a "formula for disaster" because of the number of troops America is losing there.

"Al Anbar is an attempt to try to subdue an insurgency with a huge supply of ground troops -- that's not going to work. And yet the Warner amendment explicitly endorses that kind of an escalation at this time," said Feingold. "And then there's also a provision that attempts to throw roadblocks at any attempts by Congress to use the power of the purse, which is an entirely Constitutional and appropriate step for us to consider at this point."

Feingold, who has announced that he will not seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, spent a good part of the call discussing his fellow Democrats, whom he believes are not seizing the power of the majority party or heeding the message sent by voters in the midterm elections when they blindly support the Warner resolution.

"It's going for some kind of a political point instead of getting at the heart of this matter. Who was thinking about whether or not to escalate in Iraq on November 7? That wasn't the issue," said Feingold. "The issue that determined that election was whether we should be in Iraq at all and the answer was 'no.' So we should not sign on to something that, in my view, looks almost like a reauthorization of what's going on right now."

"It is incredibly weak, even dangerous and I think it reminds me more of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution than it does a resolution that really gets us out of this situation."

But Feingold, who voted against the original Iraq war resolution in 2002, seems increasingly fed up with Democrats too wimpy to fight the White House -- even with an incredibly unpopular president -- and who seem more comfortable playing it safe and doing nothing than making the tough decisions.

Here's Feingold on timid Democrats on Capitol Hill:
"This is not a time to finesse the situation. This is not a time for a slow walk. This almost reminds me a little bit of the way Democrats behaved in October 2002, which was trying to play it safe, trying to use words such as 'well, we're going to vote for this resolution, but what it really means is that the president should go to the UN. That stuff doesn’t fly. And this kind of attempt to go a little bit of the way just to show you're on the other side of the president doesn’t fly either.

"This is an important moment to see if we're really going to try to end this war and, frankly, I am disappointed that Democrats are playing it too safe on this.

"This goes back to the beginning -- remember most of these guys voted for the war, so they’ve got a heck of a lot of baggage on this thing. So they’re afraid, as they have been all along, of standing up to these phony arguments of the White House. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be able to say they’re against the war, but they’re not for a timeline to withdraw the troops, they’re not for cutting the funding -- you know, they’re not for anything that's actually going to get the job done.

"So essentially it's trying to have it both ways and that has to end because Americans are dying unnecessarily. Too many of my colleagues are out there trying to massage this thing and finesse it -- it needs to end.

"They want to be immune from criticism from the White House. That's not how you win, by being afraid of the criticism. You stand up to the criticism and you say 'they were wrong. They took us in there on a fraudulent basis, they’ve screwed this up, they've screwed up the war against terrorism, they’ve weakened out military. We are going to take a completely different approach.'

"But the tragedy that we're facing, is that people simply will not do the strong thing when it needs to be done. They wait and they wait and they wait -- and in the meantime, thousands of Americans have died unnecessarily."
And when it comes to the other side of the aisle, Feingold says that it's time to take off the gloves and stop trying to extend bipartisanship on an issue as important as war when the Republicans are clearly not interested in doing the right thing.

"When the other side is in their turtle shell and in denial and doing something that nobody believes in, this escalation, the answer isn't to try to have some kind of a half-baked, middle-of-the-road approach and get everybody on board. The answer is to firmly stand with the American people," said Feingold. "It's time to play hardball on this issue. And that means that we should, as the majority party in the Senate and the House, say 'look, we are going to take the lead to try to end this war and we're going to tie this place up as long as it takes.'"

While saying that he has some disagreements with how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has approached Republicans on the anti-escalation resolutions -- saying "this sort of weak-tea approach didn’t work" -- Feingold is clear in his reluctance to second-guess what Reid will do next.

"He's a tough guy and he does know that this war has become a terrible mistake and I want to give him the chance to think over what they did to us today and see if he'll pull the trigger," said Feingold. "He has surprised me in a very positive way on a number of occasions so I don’t consider him to be the person who's dragging his feet the most here by any means."

Feingold himself is proving to be very tough on the escalation issue -- to the point of saying that the president's "troop surge" is almost irrelevant to the larger point of getting American troops out of Iraq entirely. Feingold's measure, which would carry the force of law if passed, would cut off funding for the entire Iraq effort in six months and place the onus on the Bush administration to get all troops home on that deadline.

"It has historical precedence and it’s one that is surely at its core in our Constitutional role in that it says -- as we did with regard to Somalia in the early 90s, as we did with Cambodia -- it says 'look, this mission will end by this date and that's how it is.' And it’s worked in the past and it can work here…. It’s only the notion of a timeline and backing it up with some kind of date by which the funding is ended that really has any teeth and that's really going to get us out of this war."

And it's the mantra of getting the United States out of Iraq completely that Feingold says are his personal marching orders in the new Congress.

"I simply can’t go home every week knowing that Wisconsin men and women are going to die for no good purpose at this point. Simply because politicians want to play it safe," he said quietly, near the end of the conference call. "There comes a point where it’s against my conscience to put up with that. So I am for as tough an approach as is necessary to end this war."