barbara lee and the boundless consequences of war

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

SO YOU THINK YOU’RE RIGHT and every­body else is wrong?” I heard those words from my fa­ther many times while growing up. Of course, the ra­tio­nale be­hind those words is sound: most of the times we hold an opinion that dif­fers with that of 99% of every­body else, then 99% of the time we will prob­ably be wrong. And when we act on that opinion it can have bound­less con­se­quences for which we should ac­cept responsibility.

But it’s bucking the odds and being right that stands out and catches our at­ten­tion. It’s that 1% of the time when you are right and every­body else is wrong that you need a pat on the back, a re­ward, or some kind of recognition.

That is, it’s that 1% that most of us re­member (“I was right!”), and it’s the 1% that re­in­forces our will­ing­ness to buck the odds in the future.

And it’s that 1% that makes a reputation—even a career.

So why isn’t Bar­bara Lee a house­hold word?


Photo of a man in despair over the boundless consequences of war, here the bombed remnants of a city.

War—what is it good for?

In the af­ter­math of the at­tacks on the United States on Sep­tember 11, 2001, Pres­i­dent Bush ad­dressed Con­gress and asked for their per­mis­sion to wage war on the per­pe­tra­tors of said act(s).

The of­fi­cial title for the res­o­lu­tion put be­fore the Con­gress and the Senate is long enough to be a short ar­ticle of its own! Such is the way of our au­gust leaders. The short title—the title by which everyone refers to the joint resolution—may be cited as the “Au­tho­riza­tion for Use of Mil­i­tary Force.” It stated:

“That 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, in order to pre­vent any fu­ture acts of in­ter­na­tional ter­rorism against the United States by such na­tions, or­ga­ni­za­tions or persons.”

That’s rather vague and in­cred­ibly broad and ex­actly what Bush and Ch­eney wanted. It would give the Ex­ec­u­tive branch rather broad and in­cred­ibly vague power to with as they pleased.

And our elected of­fi­cials on Capitol Hill gave them what they wanted, with near unan­i­mous agree­ment. The votes in the two Houses were:

Con­gress: 420 – 1
Senate:       98 – 0

That’s 518 for “War!” and 1 for “War! What is it good for? Ab­solutely nothing!

The one dis­senting vote was cast by Bar­bara Lee, a De­mo­crat from Cal­i­fornia. What did she see or think that es­caped all the rest? Surely, there must have been a few among them who looked at Ms. Lee and thought to them­selves, “Oh, so you think you’re right and every­body else is wrong?”


War 911 girders copy

Opposed to authorizing force

Ms. Lee ex­plained her de­ci­sion in an ar­ticle ti­tledWhy I op­posed the res­o­lu­tion to au­tho­rize force,” pub­lished in the San Fran­cisco Chron­icle on Sep­tember 23, 2001. This is an abridged and edited ver­sion of that piece (with em­phasis added):

Last week, filled with grief and sorrow for those killed and in­jured and with anger at those who had done this, I con­fronted the solemn re­spon­si­bility of voting to au­tho­rize the na­tion to go to war. 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 Sep­tember 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. 

I could not sup­port such a grant of war-making au­thority to the pres­i­dent; I be­lieve it would put more in­no­cent lives at risk.

I have heard from thou­sands of my con­stituents in the wake of this vote. Many have coun­seled re­straint and cau­tion, de­manding that we as­cer­tain the facts and en­sure that vi­o­lence does not beget vi­o­lence. They un­der­stand the bound­less con­se­quences of pro­ceeding hastily to war, and I thank them for their support.


In 2003, every one of our 518 Con­gressmen voted for “War!” ex­cept one: in­stead, Bar­bara Lee of Cal­i­fornia es­sen­tially said, “War! What is it good for? Ab­solutely nothing!”


The pres­i­dent has the con­sti­tu­tional au­thority to pro­tect the na­tion from fur­ther at­tack and he has mo­bi­lized the armed forces to do just that. The Con­gress should have waited for the facts to be pre­sented and then acted with fuller knowl­edge of the con­se­quences of our action.

I am not con­vinced that voting for the res­o­lu­tion pre­serves and pro­tects U.S. in­ter­ests. We must de­velop our in­tel­li­gence and bring those who did this to jus­tice. We must mo­bi­lize and main­tain an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion against terrorism.

Fi­nally, we have a chance to demon­strate to the world that great powers can choose to fight on the fronts of their choosing and that we can choose to avoid need­less mil­i­tary ac­tion when other av­enues to re­dress our rightful griev­ances and to pro­tect our na­tion are avail­able to us.

We must re­spond, but the char­acter of that re­sponse will de­ter­mine for us and for our chil­dren the world that they will inherit. 

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.”

Surely, there must have been a few among the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who read Ms. Lee’s state­ment in the Chron­icle and other news­pa­pers around the country who thought to them­selves, “Oh, so you think you’re right and every­body else is wrong?”


LeeBarbara RenegadePoster 300

Boundless consequences of war

Bar­bara Lee must have known that the over­whelming ma­jority of her col­leagues were going to give Bush what he wanted. Why were they going to vote that way? Rea­sons for voting to go to war with an uniden­ti­fied enemy included:

1. Many be­lieved that the Pres­i­dent should have what he asked for.

2. Many be­lieved that their con­stituents be­lieved the Pres­i­dent should have what he asked for.

3. Many be­lieved that the mainstream/corporate media be­lieved the Pres­i­dent should have what he asked for and they def­i­nitely did not want jour­nal­ists and talk-show hosts all over them for not voting to sup­port the President.

But Lee did not ac­cept those rea­sons, and as six­teen years of living with the bound­less con­se­quences of war and tril­lions of tax­payers’ dol­lars spent with no end in sight—and with more en­e­mies today than yesterday—anyone can see that she was right and every­body else was wrong!

So why isn’t Bar­bara Lee a house­hold name? Aren’t Americans—especially so-called “conservatives”—supposed to ad­mire such independence?


War MissionAccomplished

The staggering death toll climbs

As I put the fin­ishing touches on this essay, I re­ceived my daily dose of Mint News. The fea­tured ar­ticle was “15 Years On, the Stag­gering Death Toll in Iraq Keeps Climbing,” by Medea Ben­jamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies (. The opening para­graph gives num­bers about the bound­less con­se­quences of war:

“March 19 [2018] marks 15 years since the US-UK in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003, and the Amer­ican people have no idea of the enor­mity of the calamity the in­va­sion un­leashed. The US mil­i­tary has re­fused to keep a tally of Iraqi deaths. One survey found that most Amer­i­cans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thou­sands. But our cal­cu­la­tions, using the best in­for­ma­tion avail­able, show a cat­a­strophic es­ti­mate of 2,400,000 Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion.”

In other words, most Amer­i­cans have the same un­in­formed be­liefs about the ex­tent of the col­lat­eral damage we have caused in the Iraqi War as they had about the deaths we caused in the Vietnam War.

Our cal­cu­la­tions show a cat­a­strophic 2,400,000 Iraqi deaths since the 2003 in­va­sion. Click To Tweet

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FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is a re­cent one of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Lee. Cer­tainly, others have rec­og­nized Lee’s de­ci­sion: both Glenn Green­wald’s “Bar­bara Lee’s Lone Vote on Sept. 14, 2001, Was as Pre­scient as It Was Brave and Heroic” and Austin Wright’s “How Bar­bara Lee Be­came An Army of One” pay her homage and are rec­om­mended reading.

Fi­nally, has any other Con­gressperson ad­mitted being wrong and apol­o­gized for casting a vote in favor of the bound­less con­se­quences of pro­ceeding hastily to war—aside from former President-elect Hillary Clinton?



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