Twenty years after the United States launched an ill-advised military offensive in the Middle East, President Joe Biden has announced that American soldiers who number about 2,500 will be pulled out of Afghanistan, a process that started in May and is expected to end in September.
The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest ever and has taken more than 300,000 lives, many of whom have been Afghan civilians. A little over 2,000 American soldiers have also lost their lives. All of these are on top of a collapsed national infrastructure and the cessation of the dreams of hundreds of thousands of young Afghans.
In this year that America begins to walk the talk that has been uttered by all the presidents after George W. Bush., it is important to remember the only congressperson who voted against a joint legislature resolution to give the American president an inexhaustible right to do all that they thought to do militarily in response to the September 11 attacks: Barbara Lee of California’s 13th District.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force was passed on September 18, 2001, exactly a week after the saddest day in modern American history. America was a nation wailing and wondering who its enemies were. The foes had not been absolutely faceless but public opinion succumbed to the impression that the enmity was present and pervasive and its ammunition was imaginably dangerous. What happened was what economist Naomi Klein has called the Shock Doctrine – how governments – or better still, free-market apologists – use natural disasters or attacks as bases to assume far-reaching powers that drastically shifts the tectonics of political culture.
In the case of the United States own shock doctrine after the plane crashes, the industry that made the machines and materials for war was hopeful of a brute American response to September 11. They lobbied power to make war happen. In some including Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney, the military industry could count on men who were the farthest from pacifist.
In all honesty, public sympathies lied with revenge of different sorts and one could make sense of that as a legitimate human response. But what Lee stressed at the time was that American leadership needed to be circumspect lest they cajole the citizenry into irreparable damages. As the sole vote against the bill, Lee said on the floor:
However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today-let us more fully understand their consequences. We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multifaceted.
She would go on to criticize in media interviews, the biggest “blank check” ever handed to an American president. The law effectively gave powers to President Bush that no other president before him had had. This legal reality also translated into public spending. Between 2001 and 2003, the year America invaded Iraq, the defense budget budget grew about 30% from $330 billion to $440 billion.
Seeing how things turned out in Afghanistan, it was hard to forget Lee’s protest vote. Yet when she did it, Lee was the object of scorn and contempt. She recently revealed that she received death threats forcing to toughen her personal security. Her patriotism was questioned and was referred to by several unsavory names. Two decades on, she is not gloating but appreciative of the Biden administration’s efforts to return soldiers home.
“Finally, we are beginning to bring our troops home, which we should have done years ago. Taking them out of harm’s way and using diplomatic [means] and diplomacy tools that we to make sure that we do this right,” she told.