The Iraq War
Without reading a key intelligence report, Clinton favored the invasion of Iraq, and trusted George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Don Rumsfeld to wage that war. As a result, 5,000 American soldiers lost their lives. Many thousands more were (and remain) seriously wounded. The war will ultimately cost $6 trillion.
Feingold opposed the Iraq War, arguing that Bush must "do better than the shoddy piecing together of flimsy evidence that contradicts the very briefings we've received by various agencies ..." He also worried about an occupation:
Mr. President, we need an honest assessment of the commitment required of America. If the right way to address this threat is through internationally-supported military action in Iraq ... we will need to take action to ensure stability in Iraq. This could be very costly and time consuming, could involve the occupation—the occupation, Mr. President, of a Middle Eastern country .... Consider the regional implications of that scenario, the unrest in moderate states, calls for action against American interests, the difficulty of bringing stability to Iraq so we can extricate ourselves in the midst of regional turmoil. Mr. President, we need much more information about how we propose to proceed so that we can weigh the costs and benefits to our national security.
In 2005, Clinton erroneously claimed that the insurgency was failing. That same year, Feingold was pushing to bring the troops home as soon as possible. On the most consequential foreign policy judgment call in a generation, Clinton was catastrophically wrong, while Feingold was right and prescient in his warnings.
The Patriot Act
Clinton voted for the Patriot Act, along with every other U.S. senator save one: Russ Feingold. He explained on the Senate floor that his first and abiding reaction to 9/11 was a solemn resolve to stop and defeat the terrorists responsible for it. "But I also quickly realized that two cautions were necessary, and I raised them on the Senate floor the day after the attacks," he explained to his colleagues. "The first caution was that we must continue to respect our Constitution and protect our civil liberties in the wake of the attacks ... we must examine every item that is proposed in response to these events to be sure we are not rewarding these terrorists and weakening ourselves by giving up the cherished freedoms that they seek to destroy. The second caution I issued was a warning against the mistreatment of Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, South Asians, or others."
Feingold went on to express prescient concerns about what the legislation would permit. At one point, for example, he declared himself "very troubled by the broad expansion of government power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." In later years, he would warn specifically about Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which would be used to facilitate mass surveillance. Unlike Clinton, he would also vote against the reauthorization of the bill.