On Monday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin broke a Beltway taboo: he called for a public timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, in an interview with the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent. My colleague Megan Iorio has excerpted highlights from the interview relating to Afghanistan:
Already, Feingold's call for a timetable for withdrawal is shaping press coverage. The Washington Post reports today:
As the Obama administration prepares for a report from its senior field commander that is likely to request additional forces, congressional Democrats, in particular, have begun to question the wisdom of further reinforcements on top of the 62,000 U.S. troops already deployed in Afghanistan, with an additional 6,000 scheduled to arrive by year's end.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the first time for Obama to set a "flexible timetable" to withdraw U.S. forces, saying he is "not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy."
A timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan is a good idea, regardless of what happens in Afghanistan in the next 12-18 months. Even if one somehow knew for certain - of course, it is very, very far from certain - that, as Admiral Mullen hopes, the U.S. will "turn things around" in the next 12-18 months, that would be no reason not to announce to the world our clear intention to get our military forces out of Afghanistan by a date certain.
Indeed, far from undermining efforts to establish security in Afghanistan, the public announcement of a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is likely to contribute to the security of the people of Afghanistan. It is obviously the case that some Afghan insurgents are fighting U.S. troops because they object, in principle, to the presence of foreign military forces in their country. If we announce a clear intent to withdraw by a date certain, we remove a reason for the fighting. Why die today to accomplish an objective which will be accomplished in any event by the passage of a reasonable amount of time?
The question before us now is not whether the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan eight years ago was justified. Admiral Mullen told the Boston Globe this week that the U.S. is "starting over" in Afghanistan. If we are about to embark on a new war in Afghanistan, we need a fresh debate, one not constrained by an irrational attachment to what we have done in the past. Risking new assets - blood and treasure - to retroactively justify past losses is the "logic" of a gambling addict at a Los Vegas casino. What is lost is irrevocably lost. If we wish to give our past losses meaning, let's give them the significance of proving that we learn from our mistakes, and sparing our military families further death, injury, and personal tragedy.
Some will say: well, it's only Feingold. But someone has to be first. Feingold was also the first Senator to call for a withdrawal timetable from Iraq. Then others followed. Now a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is the basis of a signed agreement between the government of the U.S. and the government of Iraq. Say what you want about that agreement; if we had such an agreement with the government of Afghanistan, it would be a huge leap forward.
If you want there to be other voices in the Senate besides Feingold calling for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy,sign our petition to the Senate.