California Rep. Barbara Lee spoke out Tuesday morning about her lone vote, two decades ago, against sending troops to Afghanistan. At the time, the Bush administration pushed to enter what became America’s most prolonged military effort.
During an appearance on CNN, Lee remembered being criticized for voting against the war knowing that Congress should not have sanctioned then-president George H.W. Bush’s call for military action so quickly.
“I take a lot of criticism for a lot of issues; we all do,” she said.”What’s important is...I knew then we were giving any president the authority to use force forever, which established the framework for forever wars. Congress has the responsibility to debate and authorize the use of force. You don’t give it to presidents just to use in perpetuity, and that’s what happened.
“I knew then that there’s no military solution in Afghanistan,” she continued. “You have to understand the history there, and so we can’t nation-build. Our troops did everything we asked them to do; they accomplished their goals and their mission. Why in the world we would allow any president to keep our brave troops in harm’s way for this long is mind-boggling. But now, having said that, we have to learn the lessons.”
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The congresswoman, who represents the Bay Area, has been a trending topic since Taliban forces rode into Kabul last weekend, essentially taking control of the country despite the attempts of U.S. and allied forces to stop them since 2001. The war has cost $2 trillion (including Iraq) and the lives of 2,400 servicemembers and 3,800 contractors, according to the Associated Press.
Eager to respond to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration sought to weed out terrorist operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan and went to Congress to get approval for military action. The move was based on apparent intelligence that the Taliban was providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda, the Islamist group held responsible for the attacks.
Lee, however, was against abruptly giving the power to wage war to the president in the resolution put before legislators. On Sept. 14, she asked her colleagues to pause and think about what they were doing before they acted.
“Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control,” said Lee on the House floor. “As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, as we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.”
The resolution swept through the Senate, and her House colleagues, Democrat and Republican, went along. She stood steadfast— the only legislator to vote against it.
In April, President Biden announced plans to pull troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of this year, ending the costly war. Still, as U.S. forces withdrew, the Taliban moved across the country until it fell to them, creating a seemingly political black eye for the Biden administration.
Biden defended his choice, however, in remarks delivered Monday (Aug. 16).
”I stand squarely behind my decision,” he said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you.”
Lee has said that despite the debacle left, she supports Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and is now calling for ensuring the security of those who helped America.
"This is a very dire situation; it's an emergency," she said. "And so we have to use all of our tools to ensure that each and every American, each and every Afghan ally can get out or are evacuated, and we must do this quickly. No one expected— and I think the president laid it out —that the Taliban would rush on and take over Kabul in such a short period of time, But having said that, we have to use every tool that we have to ensure their safety."