On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) argued that the broader al Qaeda network is gaining strength as a result of the Iraq war. Feingold cited Somalia, where an individual listed by the U.S. State Department as a suspected al Qaeda collaborator was yesterday named as the new leader of a militia that has seized control of Somalia’s capital...
VIDEO / LINK: VIDEO: Feingold Argues Emergence of Al Qaeda Leader Shows ‘Insanity’ Of Misplaced Priorities
FEINGOLD: Our number one moral responsibility is to protect the American people — to focus on those who attacked us on 9/11, to not be distracted into a situation where even the administration did not have Iraq as one of the 45 countries that was connected with al Qaeda.
Our number one responsibility is to protect the American people from being killed by terrorists. Iraq has very little to do with that at this point. Iraq is obviously a place where they’re training people, but the idea of standing up and keeping a military involvement forever in Iraq will actually weaken the American people’s ability to go after terrorists who, frankly, look like they’re taking over Somalia right now.
You know, Tim, today it was announced that a guy named Hassan Dahir Aweys is now the head of the government that has taken over in Mogadishu in Somalia. He is on the State Department’s terrorist list. He is known as an al Qaeda operative, or somebody that is connected with al Qaeda. While we were asleep at the switch, while we were bogged down in Iraq, while we were all focused on Iraq as the be all and end all of our American foreign policy, we are losing the battle to al Qaeda because we’re not paying attention.
I asked [Coordinator for Counter Terrorism in the State Department] Ambassador Crumpton at a hearing the other day, how many people in our federal government are working full time on the problem in Somalia? He said one full time person. We’ve spent $2 million in Somalia in the last year while we’re spending $2 billion a week in Iraq. This is insanity if you think about what the priorities are of those who have attacked us and those who are likely to attack us in the future.
St. Paul Pioneer Press has more...
Feingold faults Bush on Somalia policyLINK: Feingold faults Bush on Somalia policy
Returning from a recent trip to Africa, Sen. Russ Feingold faulted the Bush administration for what he called a failure to develop a policy on Somalia, even as he praised U.S. efforts to combat AIDS on the continent.
Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who will lead the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs subcommittee next year, visited Ethiopia and Kenya, two countries that neighbor Somalia, during a weeklong trip. An Islamic militia has taken over much of Somalia, including the capital, and the country's prime minister said this week his troops were bracing for war.
"The stakes are very high for us," Feingold said in a telephone interview.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., agreed the African nation needs more attention from the U.S.
Coleman said "that a major problem with U.S. policy on Somalia in recent history has been its absence."
"A failed state in this part of the world would be a security threat to our nation, and we need a robust strategy to ensure that this does not happen," Coleman said.
Feingold warned that the militants could have an impact not just in Somalia but in the entire region. The U.S. has said the Islamic movement has links to al-Qaida, which Islamic leaders deny.
"So this is just the kind of situation that we should be paying real attention to, instead of only obsessing about Iraq," Feingold said. "Our failure to have a policy in this area is a threat to the American people, and our government has a very serious responsibility to turn this around."
The State Department responded by referring to remarks made last week by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who said the U.S. is working with all sides to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Feingold won passage in October of a defense bill amendment, co-sponsored by Coleman, requiring the U.S. government to coordinate a comprehensive strategy for Somalia and the region.
Feingold said Tuesday that U.S. policy should be to try to get negotiations going between the current secular government, known as the transitional federal government, and the Union of Islamic Courts, the umbrella group behind the militia, to create a coalition government in Somalia. The U.S. has supported such a dialogue, but Feingold argued it hasn't done enough to start one.
In Minnesota's Somali community, the largest in the United States, American policy is a huge concern, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the St. Paul-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center.
"Somalis feel that the administration hasn't done anything on the Somali issue," Jamal said. "The administration's main focus was the war on terror, and right in front of our eyes, Somalia is run over by Taliban-style extremists. The administration hasn't done squat."
Meanwhile, Feingold praised the impact that President Bush's AIDS initiative has had on the countries he visited. The initiative, announced in 2003, targets 15 countries that have about half of the world's 39 million people who are HIV-positive.
"It's hard to ever describe this issue as good news, but I am proud of the effect that the president's program is having," Feingold said. "We received profuse thanks for the very significant funding increases that are going into it.
"It appears that in both Ethiopia and Kenya, the government is fully behind the efforts and sees the American bilateral aid as being one of the most important things."
Feingold said that while more must be done, the progress has been striking. He said he visited a slum in Kenya in 2002, where he witnessed a "pitiful" program to help people with AIDS.
"There was absolutely no money whatsoever for treatment," he said. "Now there is significant funding — not enough — but at least significant funding to treat people who already have AIDS."
Make a note, Russ will be on Countdown tonight with Keith Olberman to discuss what the Iraq Study Group had to say...