STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, thank you both very much.
GATES: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretaries Clinton and Gates late yesterday. Now I'm joined in the studio by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Welcome.
FEINGOLD: Good morning, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Secretary Gates there. Even though you've called the president's decision an expensive gamble, he says the United States must escalate because this is the epicenter of extremist jihad, and that's why our vital national security interests are at stake.
FEINGOLD: Well, Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter, although Al Qaida is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That's not next door to Waziristan. So I'm wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn't make any sense to me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't the point they're making that if we don't defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, that will strengthen the Taliban as well in Pakistan, and that will put us at risk, because Pakistan of course has nuclear weapons?
FEINGOLD: Well, it's just the opposite. You know, I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and Mr. Holbrooke, our envoy over there, a while ago, you know, is there a risk that if we build up troops in Afghanistan, that will push more extremists into Pakistan? They couldn't deny it, and this week, Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan specifically said that his concern about the buildup is that it will drive more extremists into Pakistan, so I think it's just the opposite, that this boots-on-the-ground approach alienates the Afghan population and specifically encourages the Taliban to further coalesce with Al Qaida, which is the complete opposite of our national security interest.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So (inaudible) pull out, pull out of Afghanistan now?
FEINGOLD: We should have a rational policy to, over a timetable of the next several years, to withdraw in a rational way. I'm afraid that the president's idea, which is to just set a date where we may start withdrawing troops, gives nobody anything they want. It doesn't give the Afghan people a belief that we're actually leaving. It doesn't give the American people any confidence that we have a plan to finally end this.
But I think the best thing we could do would be a real timetable, flexible timetable, that says, look, we're going to continue this for a reasonable period, but it is not the top priority in going after Al Qaida. It is certainly not the top priority for the people of the United States, given our economic problems. So from either an international nor a national level, does it make sense to put so many resources into a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security needs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the real problem is Pakistan, what more should we be doing there right now?