Monday, September 14, 2009

Eight years ago: the lone dissenter, Barbara Lee

On September 14, 2001, the Senate voted 98-0, and the House 420-1 to authorize military force in Afghanistan. The only Congressperson to vote 'no' was Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California. I spent the days after September 11th on the Upper West Side, where grief was mixed with a quiet hope that the tragedy would not lead the country into rash judgment. It was clear that action was necessary against Al-Qaeda, but it was not as obvious that a full-scale invasion and overthrow of the Taliban was necessary, particularly because there was no time to develop a coherent strategy for our long-term goals in Afghanistan. After all, we had been negotiating with the Taliban to build an oil pipeline only weeks before 9/11, and had forsworn "nation-building."

To vote 'no' on the military force authorization took tremendous courage in the post-September 11th political and social environment. Lee implored Congress to "step back for a minute, and consider the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control...As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."

A hastily run invasion, the use of young teenage boys as proxy fighters in the "Northern Alliance", the disgusting use of yellow cluster bombs, which were the same color as air-dropped food packets- there were many reasons to be concerned with this war, to say nothing of the notion that a full-scale invasion with civilian casualties would spawn as many vengeful terrorists as it would kill.

There are varying accounts of how many civilian deaths resulted directly from the initial invasion, but I distinctly recall the number approximating 3000 (This is consistent with a number of the sources referenced at Wikipedia), a similar figure to the number of Americans who died on September 11th.

There are many fine people who voted for the war in Afghanistan, and anyone reflecting on those days recalls the national unity and fellowship, the desire to trust our president and have him lead us through the nightmare. That president, of course, was George Bush, and Barbara Lee felt that he had not properly made his case for war. Tonight we remember her words.

Rep. Barbara Lee's speech on the floor of Congress, September 14, 2001:

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