Feingold finds Wisconsinites tuned to world [The Capital Times]

Samara Kalk Derby, The Capital Times

Asked what he thinks about calling in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to deal with anti-war protesters, Sen. Russ Feingold says it shouldn’t happen.

“I think that public protest is one of the greatest things that happens in this country,” he told a UW-Madison audience of more than 400 Monday night. “And there should be a lot more of it against this Iraq war.”

He added that he wouldn’t let bills go through in the Senate until they debated Iraq, and his Democratic colleagues said, “Why would you want to talk about that?”

He said he was outraged that his fellow senators don’t want to discuss a war that has cost 4,000 American lives, $10 billion a month, and terror in many parts of the world.

The question that prompted Feingold’s response wasn’t an idle one from protester Miles Kristan.

He led a group of 40 activists Wednesday to the Madison office of Feingold’s colleague, Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, and demanded to speak with him. Kristan said Homeland Security was called, and he and the other protesters left the office before they could get arrested.

Kristan, who recently formed a group called Madison Peace Train, organized an anti-war rally for 3 p.m. today at State Street and the Capitol.

During his lecture on public and private diplomacy at Memorial Union’s Great Hall, Feingold said the most significant theme he hears during his listening sessions around Wisconsin is that residents are interested in what is happening abroad, including the war in Iraq.

People express concern that the war had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11 and that America’s continued engagement in Iraq is a dangerous distraction from the threats the country continues to face from al-Qaida and its affiliated groups, Feingold said.

“By ending our current massive, open-ended presence in Iraq, we can start to put our resources in the right places to address the threats facing us,” he said.

The most recent National Intelligence Estimate of July 2007 warns that al-Qaida has regenerated and reconstituted itself on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Feingold said, adding that the United States can’t simply rely on its troops to fight terrorism.

“Since 9/11 it has become clear to me that some of the most powerful tools we have to counter al-Qaida and its allies are the American people,” Feingold said.

The extremists that threaten the U.S. rally their followers by drawing an ugly caricature of America, he said. “Sadly, they are able to succeed, in part, because not enough people abroad really know us personally — know our interests, values and aspirations as Americans.”

America’s standing has been damaged by the war in Iraq in a way that hurts the country’s relationships with partners and prospective partners in combatting terrorism, Feingold said. The June 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, which surveyed more than 45,000 people in 47 countries, found that after five years of war in Iraq, Americans are now disliked by people who used to count us as friends and allies.

People to people

Perhaps the most important diplomatic initiative must be to encourage and support private citizens to reach across our borders in a personal way, Feingold said, adding that “our best diplomats in the world today are private citizens.”

Studies have shown that in areas where U.S. citizens have contributed their time, money and services, opinions of the United States have improved, Feingold said. A 2006 Terror Free Tomorrow poll found that in Indonesia, almost two years after the tsunami, American aid to tsunami victims continues to be the single biggest factor resulting in favorable opinions toward the United States.

Gilles Bousquet, dean of UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies and director of its International Institute, introduced Feingold and said his speech on the importance of international service and diplomacy would be well received at UW- Madison, which has one of the longest and strongest traditions of international service among U.S. universities.

Since 1961, UW-Madison has produced top numbers of Peace Corps volunteers. It is also home to record numbers of Fulbright Scholars. And each year on campus, the UW welcomes more than 3,600 students from more than 110 countries, Bousquet said.<!–Tue., Mar 20, 2007