Lone Opponent of Afghanistan War Feels Vindicated
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) was the lone 'no' vote in Congress against the war in Afghanistan in 2001, voting against an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
At the time, she came under attack for being unpatriotic, even receiving death threats. Today, she feels vindicated.
"When I voted 'no,' I said it was a blank check and would set the stage for perpetual war, and that's what it's done," she said in a recent interview with The Hill. "I think members now understand it was a blank check. No way should we give any president authority to wage a war forever."
The 2001 AUMF has been used more than 30 times to take military action in places including Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen and Iraq, as well as several African nations. The same legislation is also used as justification for detaining individuals at Guantanamo Bay, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report.
The AUMF in question was used 18 times by then-President George W. Bush, and has been used at least 12 times by President Obama.
It is also being used now to provide legal justification for a new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The argument that this is a reasonable interpretation of the 2001 AUMF has provoked considerable skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Lee said she realized how broadly the AUMF could be used back when it was first passed, 13 years ago.
"It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the
Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit," she wrote back on Sept. 23, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lee said she has been working with other lawmakers to repeal the 2001 AUMF, as well as the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War. She believes Congress should draft a new resolution to cover the current war on ISIS.
"Everyday we're digging ourselves deeper into this war. Congress has totally gotten off the hook, and I'm continuing to call for, writing for, doing amendments, calling for a full debate and vote on this new war," she said.
Some Republicans and Democrats blame delays on a new AUMF on the president. They say he has not drafted language for such an authorization, which is a how such measures have been launched in the past.
But Lee says it's Congress's fault, and lawmakers are too eager to dodge taking responsibility for the new war.
"Those who want to dodge the issue are blaming the president," she said.
Lee also was the lone House vote against using military force in Serbia under then-President Bill Clinton, and was one of five members of Congress who voted against bombing Iraq.
But she says she is "not a pacifist.” Her father was an Army lieutenant colonel who served 25 years in the military and fought in three wars — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, she said.
"I'm not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. We have to ensure our national security. We have to make sure the country is safe and we combat terrorism in a very effective way," she said.
"But that doesn't mean three days after a horrific attack you rush to judgment and create an [AUMF that's been used more than 30 times] to conduct drone attacks, civilians have been killed as a result of that, you've had domestic spying, you've had Guantanamo — it's been used in a variety of ways," she said.
"So the lessons are we need to...have a narrow authorization or declaration and don't make any kind of use of force so broad it can cover any action any president can take," she said.
More generally, Lee said she learned through her father about the other side of war — when veterans come home. She said she helped her father navigate the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy to receive benefits.
"We need to be sure we understand that we have a moral, fiscal and national commitment to their economic security and their health and their veterans benefits, and their everything when they come home," she said.
"I think that when we look at homeless veterans, when we look at all of the brain injuries, when we look at all the terrible things that have happened, we have to be prepared to help our veterans and to do everything it takes to help make their lives whole," she said.
"The use of force should be the last resort. We should do everything we can do to not put our young men and women into harm's way. Plus, it creates more enemies. ISIS was nowhere around prior to the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. Now we've got a mess on our hands," she said.
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