MADISON, Wis. — The get-out-now-at-all-costs U.S. senator whose ideas brought you the leadership vacuum in Iraq now filled by Islamic terrorists has the same thoughts on fleeing Afghanistan.
Russ Feingold, who is begging Wisconsin voters for his old Senate seat back, pushed hard for withdrawing U.S. troops from the war zones long before President Obamabegan what many military experts describe as ill-conceived plans to end American presence in dangerous nations.
One veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tells Wisconsin Watchdog that Feingold’s ideas about broadcasting military exit timetables to the enemy put American lives at risk.
On Thursday, Feingold defended his 2009, full-throated call for a “public timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan” and blasted Obama’s change of heart on his previous timeline for exit.
“As far as I know, this is not going to make sense in the long run,” Feingold said during a campaign stop in Wausau. “I did vote for the original invasion against Al Qaeda because it made sense. Fifteen years later, it’s not making a lot of sense to me right now.”
Obama, however, is learning that leaving another nation to fend for itself against Islamic extremists isn’t such a good idea, either.
The president, who made complete withdrawal from Afghanistan his campaign pledge, now says he plans to leave at least 5,500 troops there until 2018 — after his term ends.
CNN described Thursday’s decision as a “major political reversal that jeopardizes a cornerstone of his legacy.”
But the job is far from over, with increasing Taliban gains and fears from Kabul that a U.S. departure would sink Afghanistan into chaos.
Within minutes after Obama declared he was “ending the war in Iraq” in 2011 (based on terms agreed to in the Bush administration, by the way), the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, good pals of al Qaeda, filled the vacuum left by the departure of U.S. forces.
The rest is bloody history.
Feingold wanted out then.
And he wanted out in Afghanistan in 2009.
The leading liberal opponent of the surge strategy of bolstering for a defined time U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, Feingold told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in a 2009 interview he would try to cut off funding for the troop increase.
“STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any way you can stop this?
“FEINGOLD: Well, that’s difficult. And what’s going to happen here is that it’s probably going to be difficult to stop it now. We’ll do whatever we can. We’re already working with members of both parties in both houses to question whether this funding should be approved. We’re going to fight any attempts to use sort of accounting gimmicks to allow it to be funded. If there’s an attempt to have an emergency supplemental, I think that’s something we’re going to oppose, not only on the grounds of it being an unwise policy, but also being fiscally irresponsible.”
Not many Americans wanted to be in — and stay in — Afghanistan and Iraq. There certainly are sound criticisms of why we were ever in Iraq to begin with. But once there, military leaders generally agree that premature exits only opened the door for regional security threats the likes few fully anticipated.
A lot of people who served there feel the same way.
“By no means should Russ Feingold go to sleep at night thinking he was doing us any favors,” said Kevin Nicholson, a decorated Marine veteran with extensive service in Afghanistan and Iraq and member of the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs.
“What he said to us was, ‘I don’t care about your mission, I’m going to cut you off at the knees. I am willing to imperil your mission.’ There are human lives on the line. The idea that someone would think of defunding Iraq (and Afghanistan) mid-stream is just bizarre.”
“If he’s that weak back then, he’s that weak now,” Nicholson added.
He was there, in Iraq, at the time Feingold was pushing for withdrawal and maneuvering to restrict funding.
Nicholson said many of his fellow Marines were not happy with Feingold’s call — and, eventually, Obama’s action — to declare a public timeline for leaving. Doing so, he said, was nothing more than an intelligence leak.
“That puts American lives at risk,” Nicholson said. “It’s like broadcasting your plan to invade Normandy. You don’t tell the enemy your plan.”
He said public disclosure of the definitive timelines “unequivocally” affected the morale of the forces on the ground.
Threats of funding cuts didn’t help either.
Feingold, who has long campaigned on his advocacy for veterans, voted at least nine times against additional funding for veterans benefits over the course of his 18-year Senate tenure, which ended with his defeat in 2010.
In September 1993, Feingold voted against an appropriations act that would have provided $97 million to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In December 1995, Feingold voted against an appropriations act that provided $80 billion to the VA.
In September 1999, Feingold’s campaign finance reform friend U.S. Sen.John McCainoffered an amendment to require the secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a plan to ensure that veterans with similar economic status and eligibility priority have similar access to health-care resources, regardless of where they live.
Feingold voted against the amendment. He was one of only two senators to also vote against the original bill. The amendment passed 79-18 without Feingold’s support, and the bill passed 95-2.
One month later, Feingold voted against an appropriations act that included $44 billion for the VA.
Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment Friday morning on his positions and votes.
But Feingold’s liberal backers sure have had plenty to say about the Democrat’s opponent, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh Republican.
The liberal Capital Times last year railed against Johnson’s vote against a bill aimed at streamlining government-subsidized medical care outside the VA medical system.
Johnson defended his vote by explaining the VA health system is a “government-run health care system that is broken” and it doesn’t make sense to throw money at it.
Feingold, according to the record, has not explained his votes against VA funding and veterans benefits.
“Wisconsin voters should be outraged by Russ Feingold’s troubling record of voting against funding for vital VA programs and services. Feingold should explain his consistent opposition to bipartisan bills that would provide Veterans the support they deserve,” said Chris Martin, communications director for the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform.
The free-market organization describes itself as a coalition of concerned citizens and community leaders committed to creating greater economic opportunities for Wisconsin families.
Nicholson said he agrees the VA system is broken and there needs to be an end to the mangled government single-payer health care system. But he said Feingold, who wholeheartedly supported Obamacare, has consistently voted down various VA funding bills without providing a viable alternative.
“But beyond that he was wrong” about Afghanistan and Iraq, Nicholson said.
“The greatest indictment of his record is that he left veterans high and dry.”