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While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era

While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era

4.0 8
by Russ Feingold

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this incisive political memoir, former Wisconsin senator Feingold analyzes political and military events since September 11, 2001, and provides fascinating glimpses into a senator’s daily life and decision-making process, from cloakroom wheeling and dealing and congressional delegations to Iraq, Asia, and Africa to town hall meetings and confrontations with constituents throughout Wisconsin. Citing Winston Churchill’s While England Slept, Feingold writes: “Negligent and willful oversimplification of complicated new problems, as well as a cynical exploitation of the fears generated by 9/11, have undermined our ability effectively to adjust to a new paradigm for America’s place in the world.” Feingold depicts the increasing perceptual rift between inside-the-beltway politicians and Wisconsinites, exacerbated by a Washington bunker mentality as the anthrax attacks forced senators and their staffs out of their offices and into crowded basements; the Bush administration’s machinations to invade Iraq; and Tea Partiers disrupting his Wisconsin town hall meetings to the point where other constituents stopped showing up. His 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. Agent: Robert Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (Feb.)
Library Journal
A former senator from Wisconsin following in the footsteps of great Midwest progressives from LaFollette to Humphrey and beyond, Feinfold offers his take on what has gone wrong in the decade after 9/11. In particular, he discusses how our whirlwind response to 9/11 has weakened both constitutional guarantees and national security. Bound to raise both cheers and hackles.
Kirkus Reviews
Former Senator Feingold shares his progressive foreign-policy vision. Defeated for reelection by a Republican in 2010, the author served 18 years in the Senate, making his mark most notably with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 and by challenging the Bush administration on the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. In this straightforward, clear-eyed look at the fallout after 9/11, Feingold revisits the U.S. reaction in the wake of the attacks, which set off an "unfortunate trend" in soured international relations that is only presently being arrested under President Obama. While Feingold graciously allows former President Bush accolades for his initial words of resolve and restraint after 9/11, he grew increasingly alarmed by the hysterical fear gripping Washington, and cast the lone vote against the Patriot Act. He was disturbed by Bush's 2002 "axis of evil" speech and refused to buy the administration's justification for war, despite Joe Biden's extensive hearings and endorsement of it. (Curiously, meeting former President Nixon, his nemesis, helped Feingold come to doubt the reasoning behind the Saddam-bin Laden conspiracy.) In the post-9/11 Risk game, as he calls it, Feingold urged the government not to lose sight of other important strategic spots like Yemen, Indonesia and Somalia, and he traveled widely with Hilary Clinton and others; he first urged the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2005 and was gratified to see it finally occurring under Obama. He has been a vocal proponent for "restoring the rule of law" to the presidency and of Obama's health-care legislation, which essentially invited the Tea Partiers to organize his defeat in the anti-incumbent fever of 2010. Sage, sensible words by a leader who can now point to how he right he was.
From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week

"In While America Sleeps, Russ Feingold takes us behind the scenes in the Congress in the time leading up to and following 9/11. In thoroughly analyzing the good decisions and the many dangerous mistakes that were made after the attacks, Senator Feingold gives us insights that should help Americans support policies that keep us and our liberties secure.  This book will alarm you, entertain you, enlighten you, and prepare you as citizens to engage in the national debate about a crucial part of our foreign policies."
Senator Bob Kerrey
“While we hail from different political parties and most often disagree about the issues of the day, I have never met a more decent or honest public servant than Russ Feingold. We don’t often hear about Members of Congress with the courage of their convictions, but Russ lived that quality every day in the U.S. Senate. We waged many battles together for campaign finance reform, and I am honored to call him my friend. In his new book, While America Sleeps, Russ illuminates some of the challenges our nation faces in the post-9/11 era with his trademark integrity and independence.”
Senator John McCain
“Great senator! Great book!”
Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs
“Feingold offers a thoughtful prescription for elected officials and voters alike, and he invokes a passionate plea for every American to realize the momentous connections between ourselves and others around the world so that our nation is better able to proactively meet future challenges.”
“Sage, sensible words by a leader who can now point to how right he was.”
“[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.”
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


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 out the obvious flaws in passing aresolution using open-ended terms like terrorism, rather than focusing thelanguage on those who actually had attacked us. As justified as it was topursue real terrorist organizations, either militarily or through lawenforcement, for generations virtually every repressive regime in the worldfrom Ethiopia to Uzbekistan has tried to demonize their political opposition bydescribing them as "terrorist organizations." I was not only relievedbut proud to hear my colleagues successfully persuade a very nervous group ofsenators to carefully tailor the language into what ultimately became theAuthorization for the Use of Military Force, or "AUMF." The wordingwas adjusted to read:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary andappropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons hedetermines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks thatoccurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, inorder to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the UnitedStates by such nations, organizations or persons.

While this language came to be cited by the Bushadministration (and to a much lesser extent by the Obama administration) tojustify everything from certain illegal torture practices, to aspects ofGuantánamo detention, to extreme claims regarding the power to wiretap withouta warrant, the fact is that the comparatively narrow wording that ultimatelypassed rendered these arguments weak and almost bogus. As the caucus ended,amid all the sorrow and fear, I did feel proud of my Democratic colleagues andof the institution of the United States Senate, whose special role in issues ofwar and self-defense is enshrined in the Constitution. I was guardedlyoptimistic: If the Senate majority played a similar role as other key decisionswere made, we would be able to pursue Al Qaeda and preserve fundamentalconstitutional principles. Unfortunately, the next major piece of legislationto follow the AUMF proved to be just the opposite-a rush to judgment and acapitulation to political fear: the USA Patriot Act. (A fuller discussion ofthe Patriot Act's passage follows later, in chapter 6.)

Given the intense divisiveness that characterized theGeorge W. Bush era after the Iraq War began, it is easy to forget that it wasnot always so. For a brief period after September 11, 2001, it seemed to methat both the Washington political establishment and the public at large wereresolved to put aside prior differences and agendas to get the response to thissurprise attack right. Perhaps I was naïve, but I actually believed that theterrorist attacks would alter the post-Cold War political landscape for asustained period of time. As Professor Theodore J. Lowi of Cornell Universitysaid to the New York Times on September 12, the attack had moved the politicaldynamic even beyond bipartisanship. "We will be operating as if we have anational unity party." That is exactly how I assumed things would evolveand this meant a significant change of emphasis for most members of Congress,including myself. In this vein, my policy director, Sumner Slichter, came intomy office on the morning of September 12 and said wistfully but realistically,"There goes our agenda."

Sumner had been with me and advised me on every vote Ihad taken starting in the Wisconsin Senate in 1983, and he played this rolethroughout my legislative career. He's the guy you would turn to in a situationwhere somebody had to come up with the best answer in one minute. He was-andis-that quick to analyze things. I've often thought about Sumner's comment. Iagreed with him in large part, for none of us felt that "our agenda"could begin to rival the new circumstances and challenges that now confrontedus. At the same time, I was a legislator and these were highly professionallegislative aides working with me on what we believed were very important issuesfor the state of Wisconsin and the nation as a whole. We had picked upsignificant momentum on efforts to legislate against racial profiling, apractice followed by some law enforcement officials of stopping motorists basedon their race alone, an offense nicknamed "driving while black" or"driving while brown." We had had the first signs of positivemovement on my goal of abolishing the death penalty throughout America, just asWisconsin had done in 1851. In 2000, Governor George Ryan of Illinois had declareda moratorium on the death penalty in that state after DNA evidence led to therelease of several death row inmates, and the national conversation was slowlymoving our way. People at my listening sessions, from the neighborhoods ofMilwaukee and Madison to the relatively unpopulated communities like thegorgeous Lake Superior town of Bayfield, were increasingly talking about theneed for more affordable housing. When I brought this back to DC, I found thatpeople like Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator Jack Reed of RhodeIsland were hearing similar concerns, and we set out to work together to createa much-needed National Housing Trust Fund.

By the morning of September 12, 2001, all of this wasstopped in its tracks. Ironically, the issue I assumed would most quickly bederailed was the one I was most associated with-campaign finance reform.Somehow, in the midst of all the tumult between September 2001 and the lead-upto the Iraq War, we were able to pass the McCain-Feingold bill and have itsigned into law. But on September 12 that was the last thing I expected tohappen. What I also can say is that as important as these matters were andstill are, at the time I didn't care. I was completely consumed by the eventsof the previous few hours. And that's exactly how I found most otherlegislators felt for some weeks to come.

The battles over the budget and Social Security weresuddenly pushed from the headlines. Instead we began to hear the initialreactions of members of Congress to the terrorist attacks. To be sure, sometried to outdo one another with tough talk. The Democratic senator fromGeorgia, Zell Miller, took the cake with "I say bomb the hell out of them.If there's collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians tobe expendable." Others looked immediately for people to blame within theUS government. It is not surprising that this contingent was led by theflamboyant Congressman Rohrabacher of California, who stated, "It's a dayof disgrace. The president needs to clean house and wipe away the seniorexecutives of the intelligence agency." But this was not typical. Thefocus was on measured expressions of unity and nonpartisanship led by thechairs of the two major political parties. Terry McAuliffe of the DemocraticNational Committee noted that "the budget debate and everything else is onthe back burner now," while Virginia Governor James Gilmore of theRepublican National Committee declared that "partisanship at this point isexactly the wrong approach."

This mood was reflected among the lawmakers most directlyinvolved in working with the White House in the hours after 9/11. When arequest for a doubling of the initial commitment of $20 billion for New York to$40 billion was assented to by President Bush, Senator Chuck Schumer of NewYork reported, with some emotion, "He said, 'I'm for it.' There was a lumpin my throat." The negotiations that led to this outcome were actuallyinterrupted on Thursday, September 13, because of a frenzied evacuation of theCapitol in response to a telephone bomb threat. In an example of goodwill andeven humor at such a tough time, John McCain, standing with John Kerry on theCapitol lawn, quipped, as the negotiations continued outside, "I know I'mdying in bed. John and I have been through too much already."

Although I later became his leading congressional critic,the person I most credit for creating the tone and resolve that Americaevidenced in those first critical days after 9/11 is George W. Bush. His briefaddress on the evening of September 11 was a vast improvement over the hurriedand fuzzy attempt to broadcast earlier in the day, when he was still far awayfrom the White House. His tone was measured as he said, "These actsshatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." Hismanner was firm as he reassured us. "Our military is powerful, and it'sprepared." In the following days the president made repeated and strongstatements warning all Americans "not to discriminate against or retaliateagainst Arab Americans and Muslims in our nation." His performance whentouring the World Trade Center with Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York heartenedvirtually all Americans.

For many Democrats, the president's reaction and mannerwere more surprising for their skill than their restraint. After the bitterelection of 2000, when many felt that he had gained the presidency only byvirtue of an abysmal decision of the United States Supreme Court, the mostcommon criticism of Bush was that he was not up to the job or that he was notreally interested in the substance of the work. He was not expected to be anextremist in foreign policy any more than his relatively moderate father,President George H. W. Bush, had been, and he was not likely to go off the deepend even in the cataclysmic environment in the days and weeks after 9/11. Ishared this view of George W. Bush and indeed thought that both Vice PresidentDick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld were of a similarpersuasion-not my cup of tea but still in the more moderate tradition of theFord administration. (On the other hand, US Attorney General John Ashcroft was,at best, an archconservative in the Ronald Reagan line.) In fact, over the lasttwenty years Cheney and Rumsfeld had been frequently mentioned as possibleRepublican vice presidential candidates because of their business backgroundsand relative moderation compared to the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the RepublicanParty. All of this suggested an almost ideal combination going forward in responseto 9/11: a Democratic Senate countering the extreme conservative tendencies ofthe remaining "Contract with America" House, refereed by a moderateand reasonably cautious administration.

This impression was not only confirmed but enhanced ninedays after September 11, when, on the evening of September 20, the presidentaddressed a joint session of Congress. This speech was perhaps the best I hadever heard by a president in my lifetime. At the time, one of my closestfriends, John Sylvester (Sly), a progressive talk-radio host in Madison, wasvisiting me to see what was going on after the 9/11 attacks. I had had a briefmoment with the president as he left the chamber after his speech. Sly recallsmy coming back to my apartment and saying, "Did you see me with thepresident? I told the president 'we will get this done together. You will havemy full support.' That was one hell of a speech." Of course, I had a seatright at the front of the House chamber and the emotion of the occasion made allof us susceptible to hyperbole, but I did feel Bush chimed perfectly with thetone of the country and truly led the nation this time.

He had reminded us that the only other attack like thison American soil in the entire 136 years since the Civil War had been PearlHarbor. And, regarding the uniqueness of this attack, he said that"Americans have known the casualties of war-but not at the center of agreat city on a peaceful morning." He accurately stated that "AlQaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime," but he immediatelyreminded all Americans that "the terrorists practice a fringe form ofIslamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vastmajority of Muslim clerics, a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachingsof Islam." He pointed out that "there are thousands of theseterrorists in more than sixty countries." (Later we discovered that thelist on which Bush based this comment did not include Iraq.) This carefullyconsidered performance contrasted well with his subsequent "axis ofevil" speech, not to mention his "crusade" and "wanted deador alive" gaffes.

Meet 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.

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While America Sleeps 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
DickK More than 1 year ago
Russ Feingold is very articulate and this book reads easily. I recommend it highly.
Blooming-with-Books More than 1 year ago
While America Sleeps is an insightful look from former US Senator Russ Feingold in how America contributed to the its own fall. By assuming an attitude of disinterest in the world outside our own we convinced the rest of the world that we don't care about their plight or day-to-day struggles unless there is something in it for us. America ignored the warning signs, thinking the mere greatness of our name would keep us safe. But we were rudely awakened on 9/11 when we were attacked on our own soil not with conventional weapons, but with airplanes. But in the war on terror that followed we lost our focus. Instead of focusing on Al Qaeda we determined that we needed a target with boundaries, we needed to focus our attention on a country we could see rather than faceless terrorists that could be hidden throughout the world's vast population. While the majority of the country had to return to its normal day-to-day life, Washington was scared. And any threat whether or not it was credible added to the anxiety. 9/11 gave certain government agencies the excuse needed to end or curtail basic freedoms Americans expected. Privacy was one victim of 9/11. Under the Patriot Act the government claimed the right to Library records, records of phone and internet usage, and the right to search and seizure without notice. 9/11 also provided the government with a reason to torture post 9/11 detainees, while they downplayed the inhuman cruelty of a practice that did not lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden. Playing on fear these government agencies grabbed power that was not theirs and refuse to let it go. But many Americans are unaware of what they have lost in the decade following 9/11. Civil liberties and Constitutional rights have been undermined in the name of the war on terror. To truly fight terrorists and Al Qaeda we must focus on the needs of the outside world. We must care about their needs be reaching out to the people of other countries. What happens in one is not isolated to only that country. Terrorists have no boarders in promoting their cause. We must make an effort to learn the languages of others, to understand their culture. Americans suffer from false notions that they have a "divine role" and that they are "the ideal government" a notion held since its founding. We must reach out and attempt to bridge the gap that divides us from the rest of the world. As the years have past since 9/11 America has turned its focus inward. The wake-up call has faded. America is returning to its sleeping state of oblivion. Unless we make a change in how we conduct our day-to-day living, our education system, our government, and our media coverage - we will forever remain vulnerable to terror and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. We received our wake-up call but did we heed it? Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it neither can we claim ignorance of the world as an excuse for ignoring it. This is an intriguing look at Washington and how it is run. The power wielded by a few is the greatest danger to fixing what is broken. But the greatest power lies not in who is elected, but in those who are behind the scenes, those who have financial power. Not light reading. It is thoughtfully and provokingly written is such a manner as to awaken the reader to the dangers that are both within and without. America must remember this warning from Proverbs 18:12 "Before his downfall, a man's heart is proud." Arc provided for review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Russ Feingold was one of the best and most honest politicians this country has ever seen. I certainly hope he runs for president because he gets it. He understand truth, where to find answers, and he does not lie, unlike Bush, Cheney, and all the other traitors who first ignored all the warning signs about and then profited from 9/11. Excellent, thoughtful, dead on book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a former citizen of Wisconsin, Mr. Feingold was not my choice of Senator. Didn't like him then, care less for him now.
MJS98 More than 1 year ago
A poorly written book by the former disgraced senator from wisconsin full of outdated ideas and failed political ventures One of the worst books I've read in years