Feingold: Voters Oppose Afghan Troop Surge

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., on "Face the Nation," Oct. 25, 2009.
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that President Obama would "have trouble with the American people" should he decide to add 40,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan.

"It's not about me or any political party; he's going to have trouble with the American people," Feingold told CBS News Chief Washington correspondent and "Face the Nation" anchor Bob Schieffer. "It's not about one party. In fact, I'd say there's a broad majority in this country that thinks it's a very bad idea to put in 40,000 new troops on top of the 60,000 or 70,000 we have now."

Feingold was responding to his fellow senator, Republican John McCain of Arizona, who should he decide to commit additional troops to the Afghan front. McCain argued that for this reason Republicans should be publicly supportive of whatever the president decides.

Schieffer asked Feingold what he thought of former Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks that indecision in Washington would embolden the nation's adversaries - a question, Schieffer said, McCain "sort of danced around" earlier on the program.

"It's too early on Sunday for dancing," Feingold said. "So let me just say I think what the vice president said was terrible. The notion that President Obama is 'dithering'? He's doing his job. He's being thoughtful. He is wrestling with, frankly, one of the toughest decisions I've ever seen a president have to make.

"I don't know if he's going to end up agreeing with me. But I thank God that we've got a president that's thinking about this instead of getting us into a further mistake, such as President Bush did with Iraq."

Feingold said the assertion that al Qaeda would eventually return to power in Afghanistan should the Taliban regain its hold on the country "is based on some very false assumptions."

"Al Qaeda didn't begin in Afghanistan," Feingold said. "And the idea that the Taliban is the same as al Qaeda, and they're going to welcome al Qaeda back with open arms into Afghanistan, is questionable. I understand they let them come there earlier. The al Qaeda came with lots of money, Saudi money, and it looked like a pretty good deal for them. But, you know, they've seen that movie before.

"The idea that the Taliban is going to see it as in their interest to have the world headquarters of al Qaeda back in Afghanistan I think is very dubious."

Schieffer asked if Feingold is prepared to try to stop the president in the Senate should he decide to approve the troop increase.

"Yes," Feingold said. "I'm already working with people like Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Republican congressman Walter Jones (N.C.), (Rep.) Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and others to prepare for that possibility. I have already voted against various spending bills that support this policy. I didn't even think the addition of the troops earlier this year made sense. So there will be resistance to this if necessary."

Feingold also said that he would like the president to announce a flexible timetable for the withdrawal of troops already in Afghanistan.

On Congress' efforts to reform the nation's health care system, Feingold said it would be very hard to accept a bill that did not include a publicly funded alternative, or a public option, to a private insurance plan. Even a program that would go into effect after patients met certain criteria, or a trigger option, would not be helpful, he said.