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While America Sleeps

Cover of While America Sleeps

While America Sleeps

A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era
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Former senator Russ Feingold looks at institutional failures, both domestic and abroad, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and proposes steps to be taken--by the government and by individuals--to ensure that the next ten years are focused on solving the international problems that threaten America.

In While America Sleeps, Russ Feingold details our nation's collective failure to respond properly to the challenges posed by the post-9/11 era. Oversimplification of complicated new problems as well as the
cynical exploitation of the fears generated by 9/11 have undermined our ability to adjust effectively to America's new place in the world. This has weakened our efforts to protect American lives, our national security, and our constitutional values. Ranging from institutional failures to "get it right" by Congress, the executive branch, and the media to the way we have spoken of the war on terror, the nature of Islam, and American exceptionalism, too often we have not made the best choices in confronting, in Churchill's words, the "new conditions under which we now have
to dwell."
Senator Feingold explores the way in which the American public has been fed inadequate information
or mere slogans to explain 9/11, Al Qaeda, and related events. This compares unfavorably with the candor often associated with, for example, FDR's fireside chats during World War II. Lumping Al Qaeda into a catch-all category known as "bad guys," failing to make it clear that Islam itself is not a threat to our way of life, and underestimating the extreme difficulty of fully invading individual countries as a way to root out international terrorism are examples of this misdirection. Moreover, our general inability to keep our eyes on the international ball seems to have grown
even worse in the years following 9/11.
More than ten years after one of the greatest wake-up calls in human history, our nation seems to have again grown complacent about the issues that suddenly seemed so urgent immediately after 9/11. While America Sleeps suggests ways in which we can awaken a new national commitment to engage with
the rest of the world and one another in a less simplistic and more thoughtful way. Feingold's hope is that when the history of this era is written, it will be said that our country was taken off guard at the height of its power at the turn of the century and stumbled for a decade in an unfamiliar environment, but in the following decade America found a new national commitment of unity and resolve to adapt to its new status and leadership in the world.

Former senator Russ Feingold looks at institutional failures, both domestic and abroad, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and proposes steps to be taken--by the government and by individuals--to ensure that the next ten years are focused on solving the international problems that threaten America.

In While America Sleeps, Russ Feingold details our nation's collective failure to respond properly to the challenges posed by the post-9/11 era. Oversimplification of complicated new problems as well as the
cynical exploitation of the fears generated by 9/11 have undermined our ability to adjust effectively to America's new place in the world. This has weakened our efforts to protect American lives, our national security, and our constitutional values. Ranging from institutional failures to "get it right" by Congress, the executive branch, and the media to the way we have spoken of the war on terror, the nature of Islam, and American exceptionalism, too often we have not made the best choices in confronting, in Churchill's words, the "new conditions under which we now have
to dwell."
Senator Feingold explores the way in which the American public has been fed inadequate information
or mere slogans to explain 9/11, Al Qaeda, and related events. This compares unfavorably with the candor often associated with, for example, FDR's fireside chats during World War II. Lumping Al Qaeda into a catch-all category known as "bad guys," failing to make it clear that Islam itself is not a threat to our way of life, and underestimating the extreme difficulty of fully invading individual countries as a way to root out international terrorism are examples of this misdirection. Moreover, our general inability to keep our eyes on the international ball seems to have grown
even worse in the years following 9/11.
More than ten years after one of the greatest wake-up calls in human history, our nation seems to have again grown complacent about the issues that suddenly seemed so urgent immediately after 9/11. While America Sleeps suggests ways in which we can awaken a new national commitment to engage with
the rest of the world and one another in a less simplistic and more thoughtful way. Feingold's hope is that when the history of this era is written, it will be said that our country was taken off guard at the height of its power at the turn of the century and stumbled for a decade in an unfamiliar environment, but in the following decade America found a new national commitment of unity and resolve to adapt to its new status and leadership in the world.

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    1

    A Quiet, Almost Smoldering Determination

    We are supported by the collective will of the world.

    When I walked into the Democratic Caucus room just twodays after September 11, I was entering well-known territory. Even afterSenator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Caucus to join ours in thespring of 2001, we Democrats continued to meet in the smaller of the two roomsused for Senate caucuses in the US Capitol building. Despite the Republicans'sudden loss of control of the Senate for the first time since 1994, the tenuousDemocratic majority allowed them to continue to convene in the spacious MikeMansfield Room, where the majority caucus traditionally gathered for the weeklyparty lunch meetings. This room is named after the mild-mannered but reveredformer Democratic majority leader from Montana, whose portrait dominates theroom. Maybe Tom Daschle enjoyed the thought of the minority Republicans havingto meet under the watchful eye of a looming Mansfield, informally posed, andholding his beloved pipe.

    The much smaller Lyndon Johnson Room, where we had beenmeeting since our huge loss of majority in 1994, was certainly familiar by now.What was unfamiliar-and incongruous-was the whiteboard resting on an easel inthe middle of this ornately old-fashioned, chandeliered room. For a moment Iassumed that someone had forgotten to remove the board from a previous meeting.As senators filed into the room, though, I read the words scrawled on it ingreen felt-tip pen:

    That the President is authorized to use all necessary andappropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons hedetermines planned, authorized, harbored, committed, or aided in the planningor commission of the attacks against the United States that occurred onSeptember 11, 2001, and to deter and preempt any related future acts ofterrorism or aggression against the United States.

    I had wondered whether our initial response to the shockof 9/11 would be measured or reckless and this was a first sign that it couldbe heartbreakingly reckless indeed. Despite the fact that we had a RepublicanHouse and, of course, a Republican president, Jeffords's switch made the SenateDemocratic majority partly responsible for the critical post-9/11 choices thathad to be made. This was the challenge for the Democratic Caucus. I believedthat Tom Daschle's very determined and skillful luring of Jeffords could proveto be exceptionally fortunate timing, allowing the Senate Democratic majorityto both check Republican excesses in response to 9/11 and provide bipartisanunity for good decisions that could be reached across the aisle.

    Once I understood that the language on the easel wasactually the proposal for our caucus to consider, I began to wonder if I wasgoing to be placed in a very difficult position. I had already stated on thefloor of the Senate the day after September 11 that there was no question in mymind that military action against Al Qaeda was not only warranted butnecessary. It was fully justified under our own laws as well as under Article51 of the United Nations Charter, which guarantees the right of self-defense toall nations-a time-honored principle of international law. I considered joiningthe queue to raise my objections to the imprecise wording, which I could do byslightly raising my hand until the majority leader noticed and wrote down myname. This proved to be unnecessary.

    Almost immediately some of our most seasoned members,including Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan,chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate ArmedServices Committee, respectively, pointed...

About the Author-
  • RU SS FEINGOLD represented the state of Wisconsin in the United States Senate from 1993 to 2011. Since leaving the Senate, he has been a visiting professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the inaugural Mimi and Peter Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford University. In February of 2011, Feingold founded Progressives United, an organization devoted to challenging the dominance of corporate money over our
    American democracy. Feingold, a Rhodes scholar, is an honors law graduate of both Harvard Law School and Oxford University and earned his bachelor of arts with honors from the University of Wisconsin--Madison. He is the recipient of the 1999 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award and the 2011 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms
    Medal.

Reviews-
  • Publishers Weekly "[Feingold's] shockingly reasonable and carefully considered responses, as well as his respect for, and collaboration with, such Republican colleagues as John McCain and John Ashcroft, will make progressives, Wisconsinites, and other frustrated Americans nostalgic for the days of a more thoughtful, productive Congress."
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A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era
Russ Feingold
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