In 2001, Barbara Lee voted against invading Afghanistan.

August 22, 2021

Barbara Lee in 2001

On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell, as a result of a horrific terrorist attack planned and executed by Saudi Arabians. The mastermind of the attack, Osama Bin Laden, had been given shelter by the Taliban, an extreme fundamentalist Moslem movement that ruled Afghanistan. Three days later, on September 14, the U.S. Congress voted on whether to invade Afghanistan.

Only one person, out of 535 members of Congress, voted against the invasion of Afghanistan: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who represents Berkeley and Oakland.

Now, 20 years later, the U.S. forces are withdrawing in defeat, leaving the country in total chaos as the Taliban resume control. I’m relieved we’re withdrawing and heartbroken at the horrible mess we made. It is important to look back on what Barbara Lee said before she cast her lonely vote against invasion. She was given only a minute and a half. She spoke for two-and-a-half- minutes. She saw the future and she was grief-stricken as you’ll see in this emotional video from September 14th, 2001.

The conventional wisdom was that, by voting no, Lee had destroyed her political career. She’d just gone too far out, even for the Bay Area. Of course, that was not true, not for a moment. So many of us felt like she did. Immediately there were bumper stickers everywhere: “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me.”

Lee wrote an essay a few days after her vote. Please read how she expanded on her decision:

“We must respond, but the character of that response will determine for us and for our children the world that they will inherit. I do not dispute the president’s intent to rid the world of terrorism — but we have many means to reach that goal, and measures that spawn further acts of terror or that do not address the sources of hatred do not increase our security.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell himself eloquently pointed out the many ways to get at the root of this problem — economic, diplomatic, legal and political, as well as military: “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.”

So, Colin Powell — a five-star general before he was Secretary of State — could imagine many other ways of responding to the terrorist attack of 9/11.

Really, when you come right down to it, the invasion of Iraq represented a tremendous failure of imagination:

  • A total inability to imagine what might result from the invasion.
  • A deadening refusal to explore other options.

While a lot of people are attacking Biden for withdrawing, I have read many columns by veterans of Afghanistan who saw, up close, that this war was futile from the beginning, and they all support Biden’s decision.

As much as I support Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, I have to face the fact that, his plans to help those Afghans who worked with us are woefully lacking.

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Terry Baum is an actress, director, teacher, filmmaker, political activist, and award-winning lesbian playwright. Her blog BAUMBLOG is a “Top 100 LGBTQ Blog.”