Barbara Lee has always had the clearest vision when it comes to the US role in Afghanistan—and the rest of the world.
The California congresswoman cast the sole vote in the US Congress against the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As a veteran congressional aide and legislator who has a long history of highly engaged and thoughtful involvement with global issues, Lee did not oppose responding in appropriate and necessary ways to genuine threats to the United States. But she feared the open-ended authorization would become a blank check for endless war in the targeted country of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Lee keeps being proven right.
On October 7, 14 years after the launch of the Afghanistan War, she noted that it has become “our nation’s longest war” and warned that “sadly, there seems to be no end in sight. Despite a war-weary public, calls continue to keep more U.S. troops in Afghanistan for many more years.”
A week later, President Obama listened to the calls for more war—as opposed to the wise counsel of the congresswoman who has so consistently been correct in her assessments of the folly of waging endless war in distant lands.
The president, who was elected with the strong support of Congresswoman Lee and other war foes, announced that the planned withdrawal by US forces from Afghanistan would be suspended. Instead, current troop levels of roughly 10,000— along with the full capacity for air strikes, like the October 3 one that devastated the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz—would remain in place through 2016. While Obama suggested that the Afghan military is “fully responsible for securing their country,” his decision to maintain US troops levels effectively guarantees that the United States will remain deeply involved in Afghanistan until after the president leaves office in early 2017.
What that means is that a third presidential administration is likely to continue cashing the “blank check” that Congress issued—despite Lee’s objection—in the eighth month of George W. Bush’s presidency. Though the issue has been little discussed by contenders in the 2016 presidential race, it is now all but certain that the next president, Democrat or Republican, will be the commander-in-chief of a war in Afghanistan that was never properly declared and that has always lacked sufficient congressional oversight.