Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jim Webb and Russ Feingold on Afghanistan

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 8/31/09

Directly after the invasion of Iraq I attended an anti-war rally in Montpelier, Vermont. But I knew any efforts then would be useless because the invasion brought out the same anti-war crowd that had been waiting for this moment since Vietnam. And when I was told at a party for Wes Clark by one of his state administrators in his run here for President that the enthusiasm she felt for Clark was “ . . . just like the George McGovern days,” I knew our plight was hopeless.

A few of us brought a new approach, claiming a states rights defense against Dick Cheney, which seems to be catching on now in other areas.

It didn’t need to be like that. There were disciplined, discriminate and outspoken voices, strong enough to build a new, focused movement on: Wes Clark’s, Jim Webb’s, Russ Feingold’s, Robert C. Byrd’s, Gary Hart’s. Some had been there before, some not. The venerable senator from West Virginia, Robert C. Byrd, was a solitary voice in the Senate and his vote against Iraq was a pure pilgrim’s progress. He had voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution as a young man. He knew better than to vote for this one.

But most in the Senate – Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry included - voted for the invasion. They should today be held accountable. They waited for the moment to yield; for the moment when enthusiasm for the war in the heartland, a naturally occurring vengeance in response to the tragedies of 9/11, began to flag to turn the tide on the president. But it was this weakness of character and tragically expedient political maneuvering which enabled Bush, Cheney, Rove and company in the first place. Liberal appeasement was tantamount to Cheney strength. It was the Bush administration’s primary tool of war. They knew they could depend on it.

This past week on The News Hour, Jim Webb, who just returned from Burma where he had conversations with the reclusive leader, General Than Shwe, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, was asked about the war in Afghanistan by Margaret Warner. Did Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran, see any comparisons with Vietnam? Entirely different situations, he said, but he felt the Afghanistan incursion had even less of a planned future.

“The challenge in both,” he said, “is to clearly articulate your strategy so that you will have an end point that you are working toward. Quite frankly, I see that as less visible in Afghanistan than I did during the Vietnam War.”

This week Russ Feingold, the senator from Wisconsin, also spoke up as August, 2009, becomes the deadliest month for U.S. troops.

“I am saddened by reports that for the second consecutive month, we’ve seen a record number of deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “This grim milestone comes ahead of a potential request for even more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. The current troop increase in Afghanistan could push members of the Taliban and other militants into Pakistan, further destabilizing a nuclear power. After nearly eight years in Afghanistan, we continue to risk further loss of American lives and increased resentment among the Afghan people – all without a clearly focused mission. It is time we discuss a flexible timetable for withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, along with a clear public strategy for achieving our counterterrorism and regional stability goals.”

Obama’s first error was in rewarding those – Biden and Clinton in particular – who failed the first leadership test of the Iraq vote and took the path of expediency at that time. He should follow the moral compasses now of Webb and Feingold as they go against the general direction of their own party leadership. He should have in the first place. They should now be cultivated as party leaders because they were brave when they needed to be brave and not a year or so later when the winds changed.


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