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Russ Feingold vs. George Will

Ah, the varieties of opposition to the Afghanistan war. Last week, conservative columnist George Will argued that the Obama administration needed to scale back its Afghanistan involvement, turning away from an expected increase of troops and civilian resources and toward “what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.”

You know who didn’t like that idea? Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the Afghanistan war skeptic who’s called for a “flexible timetable” for withdrawing U.S. troops. Feingold writes to The Washington Post in response to its stay-the-course editorial, but in the course of doing so, he takes issue with one of Will’s proposals:

We need a smart strategy focused on pursuing al-Qaeda without energizing anti-American sentiment in the region. That requires a more focused mission to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban — more than simply an offshore presence and definitely not an adoption of the strategy of the 1990s, which lacked the focus and resolve that this mission must have.

Keeping large numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won’t help us go after the many militants taking sanctuary in Pakistan. Nor can we expect our military to build a legitimate Afghan government. While we should help address governance problems through long-term civilian efforts, only the Afghan people can make a legitimate government a reality.

It’ll be interesting to see how Feingold fleshes out this alternative in the coming weeks. What’s a “more focused” mission to take on al-Qaeda and the Taliban that reduces a reliance on both ground troops and “offshore”-based assaults, which in the context of landlocked Afghanistan means air or cruise-missile strikes?

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