Barbara Lee Was Right About the War on Terror, by Luke Savage

Barbara Lee had more guts than all her fellow legislators combined when she voted against the Authorization for Use of Military Force back in 2001. From Luke Savage at jacobinmag.com:

Twenty years ago, Barbara Lee cast the lone vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force — the blank check for endless war Congress gave George W. Bush after 9/11. She’s been vindicated by history. Those who pushed the “War on Terror” have not.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) speaks with reporters in the Capitol in January 2020. (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Three days after the horrific September 11 attacks, America’s national atmosphere was a disorienting haze of fear, trauma, and jingoism. In the wake of what had just transpired, the bipartisan consensus could not have been more ironclad: the country would be entering into a vaguely defined war of unknown length whose parameters were essentially open-ended and could be determined at will by the president. That spirit was aptly captured in the language of a House resolution passed on September 14:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.

Of the 421 lawmakers who voted on the resolution — which would pass in the Senate 98-0 shortly after — the lone voice of dissent was a single Democrat from California. Twenty years later, Barbara Lee’s intervention continues to count as one of the bravest individual votes in the history of the House of Representatives. Lee, moreover, refused to equivocate about the reasons for her opposition, explaining in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle on September 23:

Some believe this resolution was only symbolic, designed to show national resolve. But I could not ignore that it provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution, to go to war. 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. . . . A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed. I could not vote for a resolution that I believe could lead to such an outcome.

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