War on Terror

Barbara Lee's Lonely Vote After 9/11: A Look Back

Thirteen years after Rep. Lee opposed an Authorization for Use of Military Force, her solitary stance has become mainstream.

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The Jeannette Rankin of 2001
U.S. Congress

When Congress passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force after the 9/11 attacks, virtually every legislator in Washington voted for it—even Ron Paul, though he expressed some misgivings. The only "no" vote came from the California Democrat Barbara Lee, whose district includes such radical strongholds as Berkeley and Oakland. Thirteen years later, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf has looked back at Lee's arguments and the reactions they received. And by "reactions they received," I mean mail: thousands of letters that fill 12 boxes.

Friedersdorf's article largely consists of quotes from those letters, whose sentiments range from "To combat terrorism, let's act in accordance with a high standard that does not disregard the lives of people in other countries" to "You should have been in the Trade Towers you anti-American Bitch. Drop dead!!!" Friedersdorf also points out that Lee's position has often been misunderstood, noting that she "wasn't saying no to any use of force against terrorists—rather, she was averse to giving the president authority so broad that it could be used to launch any number of wars." But the part of the article that I want to highlight comes when he sums up at the end:

Even though a majority now considers the war most understood the AUMF to authorize to be a mistake; even though it has been used to justify military interventions that no one conceived of on September 14, 2001; even though there's no proof that any war-making of the last 13 years has made us safer; even though many more Americans have died in wars of choice than have been killed in terrorist attacks; even though Lee and many of her constituents were amenable to capturing or killing the 9/11 perpetrators, not pacifists intent on ruling out any use of force; despite all of that, Representative Lee is still thought of as a fringe peacenik representing naive East Bay hippies who could never be trusted to guide U.S. foreign policy. And the people who utterly failed to anticipate the trajectory of the War on Terrorism? Even those who later voted for a war in Iraq that turned out to be among the most catastrophic in U.S. history are considered sober, trustworthy experts….

Lee and many letter writers who supported her were far more prescient in their analysis than Hillary Clinton or John McCain. Try telling the average American that many Berkeley liberals were more correct about the War on Terror than those two. They'll laugh in your face, even if they personally supported and now oppose those two wars.

The first sentence in that quote is slightly wrong: I know of no poll that shows a majority of Americans regretting the Afghan war. But we're coming close. As of February, Gallup has 49 percent of the country thinking "the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan" and 48 percent thinking it didn't. In other words, there is basically an even split, with a slight plurality tipping toward Lee's position.

Regular Reason readers know I've been mentioning that poll a lot lately. That is because I remember September 2001 and the public mood at the time, and I find the shift in opinion staggering. When Gallup first asked that question about the Afghan war, about two months after Lee's vote, only 9 percent held the position that 49 percent do today. We are not all Barbara Lee now, but Barbara Lee's perspective has become mainstream—if not in D.C., then in the country at large.

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  1. The first sentence in that quote is slightly wrong: I know of no poll that shows a majority of Americans regretting the Afghan war.

    Thirteen years from now, we will look back at Walker’s claim that everyone loves the war in Afghanistan and gauge whether the negative feedback he got from commenters was justified.

    1. When the Western troops actually leave Americans will regret it. The Taliban will come out of the mountains, half the Afghani National Army will switch sides, and the whole region will devolve into another civil war, with the Taliban very likely to come out on top.

      Billions spent and a decade long occupation for nothing.

      1. The Taliban will come out of the mountains, half the Afghani National Army will switch sides, and the whole region will devolve into another civil war, with the Taliban very likely to come out on top.

        I literally could not care less about any of this.

      2. Okay…. so what’s the solution? We stay there forever in the hope that tribes that have literally hated each other for thousands of years will live harmoniously in a functioning democratic republic?

        1. I’m more pointing out the absolute futility of this entire Afghanistan nation building mission. It’s a waste of money, equipment and manpower. I’m not suggesting continued occupation. Methinks the Reason commentators tend to go on the defensive too quickly.

          1. “Nation building” is insanely wrongheaded. “Government destroying” is relatively fast and effective. Taliban government needed to be destroyed after 9/11, which took weeks and very little (to no) military loss. The idiocy was then trying to rebuild in our image. See: Iraq, ca. 2003.

            Taliban comes back into power? Cool, we now know where to find them, knock off their new government. Repeat as needed.

            If I hear “Pottery Barn” one more time, I’ll cunt kick the person who says it.

      3. You cannot force people to be something they don’t want to be.

        Punish them for their transgressions and move on.

        1. This, 1000x this. Whatever became of punitive expeditions? Or, better yet, filibustering and letters of marque?

          1. What good is this massive military if we’re not going to use it? /JM

            1. Yeah, they used it alright. They used it for shit it wasn’t trained for. For all my military training, none of it was in nation building.

              1. You mean that training soldiers in how to effectively marshal their aggression for the purposes of war doesn’t make them uniquely qualified for occupation and peacekeeping roles? Someone get Sen. McCain on the phone. He needs to hear this.

                I’ve reached the point in libertarian evolution that I can’t tell whether the knee-jerk application of the military to every foreign problem is pathetic or hilarious.

        2. So you’re saying we should remove all Afghans are replace them with Americans? I agree.

          1. Inside every Afghani, is a muriken trying to get out.

      4. “Taliban will come out of the mountains”

        Shows the futility of trying to kill them all. So now, to paraphrase Lindsay Graham, they will be coming here to kill all of us. Just what kind of military effort would the U.S. have to roll out to kill all the ISIS and their supporters around the world?

  2. 1 person out of hundreds didn’t buy the “TERRORISTZ!” argument.

    We are doomed.

    1. And that person was crazier than a crate of cats on crack. We are truly fucked.

      1. This is the thing. She may have been right about the AUMF, but she’s wrong on a whole, whole lot of other things.

  3. Friedersdorf also points out that Lee’s position has often been misunderstood, noting that she “wasn’t saying no to any use of force against terrorists?rather, she was averse to giving the president authority so broad that it could be used to launch any number of wars.”

    I seriously doubt that thought ever crossed her mind, at the time. More likely, an after the fact excuse. I may be wrong.

    1. Her statements a week after explaining her “no” vote said pretty much exactly that.

      http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/…..876893.php

      1. From her column: “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. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk.”

        1. So a week after receiving thousands of angry letters…

          If that was truly her position from the beginning, good on her. Still skeptical.

  4. Barbara Lee gets one right, huh?

    Broken clock, blind squirrel, etc.

    1. Even if she was right, I guarantee you it was for the wrong reasons. Bitch is evil.

      1. I find this to be pretty likely. She probably just hated BOOSH!

        1. Bullseye. She was my representative at time. It’s all she ever talked about.

        2. She probably just hated BOOSH!

          winner winner chicken dinner

      2. Not just evil, downright stupid.

  5. Lee’s office did some informal polling before that vote–I know because I was called and asked whether I’d be more or less likely to support her if she voted against. They were nice enough to drop the poll questions and just speak with me, as I told them as a libertarian I would never vote for her for obvious reasons (they laughed), but that I would certainly respect her if she followed her own conscience and the will of the majority of her constituents by voting against the AUMF.

    1. Hmm. They never called me. Although, I can’t remember if I had a phone at that point in college.

      1. I don’t think they called me, either – but my response to the question “will you take a survey” is generally -click-.

      2. Really seemed like it was her staff calling, not some professional firm, so I can’t imagine it was a huge sample.

        Have to admit it was a bit of a Bart Simpson moment when she voted against. What’s the opposite of shame? Pride? No, not that far from shame. Less shame? Yeah.

  6. “But we’re at war, sir!” “Not with everybody.”

    Oh, yeah?

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