The vindication of Barbara Lee

I remember the nasty, often-racist things people said about Rep. Barbara Lee after this vote. But I applauded her. Leave it to a female Congress member to have the cajones to vote against the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) resolution, the same one Obama now plans to use to attack ISIS without a Congressional votes. That’s exactly what Lee predicted.

Very interesting article about her, and the reactions she got. I strongly urge you to read it, but here’s a small piece:

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Lee’s story is how little credit she or her constituents receive for what they got right. 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 have 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.

People whose plan was to install Western democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq–even today, they’re the ones who aren’t considered naive, and that’s even true in the Democratic Party, where the vice-president, the last two secretaries of state, and the secretary of defense were all supporters of the AUMF and the Iraq War. 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. Many Americans have grappled with their mistaken positions. But how many of those people now take Lee’s foreign policy analysis seriously?

The stand she took on September 14, 2001, is still being vindicated.

Even now, the AUMF gives the White House a free hand to wage war in many countries, just as Lee predicted. And last week, the Obama administration cited the September 14, 2001, AUMF to justify war in Syria without seeking or receiving permission from Congress. The target, ISIS, is a group that did not exist for years after 9/11, one that is explicitly separate from and antagonistic toward al-Qaeda.

In taking this action, Obama is calling for unity.

“I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together… to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger,” he said. But Americans are not united. And pressuring Congress to fabricate consensus does not strengthen America, it weakens us, as any student of the recent past should know–especially one who won the presidency touting his opposition to a “stupid” war. Had there been even more dissenters like Lee 13 years ago, had her tiny minority’s warnings been heeded, we’d be stronger today.

Whether offered in the bromides of Obama’s speeches or the ugly rants of Lee’s critics, calls for unanimity have no place in a pluralistic, representative democracy. For all who believe that a president is in error, dissent is patriotic—and useful.

One thought on “The vindication of Barbara Lee

  1. Nothing ensures one’s disappearance from public dialogue faster than being proven right in a discussion with a talking head or opposed to ‘common wisdom.’

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