Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise too much. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has a more sensible approach to the war than many of her colleagues, and at least apparently the White House. Feinstein completely rejected the notion that the US could live with a resurgent Taliban, and warned that it would have a “dramatic impact” on Pakistan if the US pulled out of Afghanistan. Feinstein also questioned why Barack Obama would have appointed Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lead the effort if the White House didn’t run with his “very solid recommendations,” as she told George Stephanopoulos yesterday, and that the White House needed to make up its mind tout suite:
FEINSTEIN: Well, what he revealed was his thinking up to this point, and that the fact that he wanted to hear from various members, and some of us spoke up. And I’ll tell you what I said. I reviewed all of the intelligence and looked at the situation, and it was pretty clear to me that violence was up 100 percent, 950 attacks in August. The Taliban now controls 37 percent of the people in the areas where these people are. Attrition in police is running 67 percent, either killed or leaving the service.
And the mission is in serious jeopardy. I think General McChrystal, who is one of our very best, if not the best at this, has said a counterterrorism strategy will not work. The president said to us very clearly, just as you said, George, we will not pull out.
Now, if you’re going to stay, you have to have a way of winning. The question is, what is that way? And I think the counterinsurgency strategy, which means protecting the people, not shooting from afar, but securing, taking, holding, and providing security for a period of time is really critical. …
STEPHANOPOULOS: That leads to — that leads to a key question that I know the White House was debating, actually, this week. In order to defeat Al Qaida, do you need to completely defeat the Taliban or can you learn to live with the Taliban?
What’s your answer to that question, Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: I think it depends on what you mean by “Taliban.” I think if you take the Haqqani network, which I gather was generally responsible for the bombing of the interior ministry in Kabul, I think they’re hardcore fanatics.
If you look back, too, at Taliban control, when it had more in the earlier days, and I’ve got to tell you, I particularly worry about women in Afghanistan, acid in their face of children, girl children who go to school, women who can’t work when they’re widowed, huddled on the streets, begging, women beaten and shot in stadiums, you know, Sharia law with all of its violence, I mean, that’s one element of the — of the Taliban.
I think we need to look for those warlords that we can work with, those Pashtuns who want to work for stability, for good, solid governance. I don’t think we can make the country into a Jeffersonian democracy, but I do think you — you’ve got to stabilize this country.
You leave this country, and the Taliban are increasing all of the time. They’re taking over more. It will have a dramatic impact on Pakistan one day. I really believe that.
FEINSTEIN: Now, should we stay there for 10, 12 years? General, I don’t think so. I don’t think the American people are up for that or want that. But I think — I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out.
If you don’t want to take the recommendations, then you — you — you put your people in such jeopardy, just like the base in Nuristan. We lost eight of our men. We didn’t have the ability to defend them, and now the base is closing, and effectively we’re — we’re retreating away from it. And so I think the decision has to be made sooner, rather than later.
Feinstein makes a lot more sense than the White House leakers did last week. One can certainly hope to promote moderate Pashtuns in place of the Taliban leadership which springs from that tribe, but the idea of moderate Taliban is nonsense, as Lara Logan reported on CBS. The Pashtuns have increasingly followed the radical Taliban tribal leadership because the Taliban appear to be winning. Caving in to the Taliban now would only cement that trend instead of convincing the Pashtuns to jettison their radical leadership and integrate into an Afghanistan democracy.
Also, note the phrasing Feinstein uses to describe the alternative “counterterrorism” strategy floated by the White House. She calls it “shooting from afar,” a direct reference to Barack Obama’s rather ignorant criticism of Bush’s strategy in Afghanistan, where Obama accused Bush of “air-raiding villages and killing civilians,” which we weren’t doing then. However, that’s exactly what the Obama administration proposes now in its leaked trial balloons, and at least Feinstein is willing to call them on it.