Barbara Lee: End the War Now

Congress's lone dissenting voter against the war in Afghanistan talks about the killing of bin Laden, and why she's a peace advocate but not a pacifist.


Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) was the sole member of Congress to vote against the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a decision all the more controversial against the backdrop of post-9/11 fear and pain. Nearly 10 years later, and in the wake of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the progressive lawmaker tells The Root that she remains committed to ending the war -- and sees, in this moment, a critical opportunity to accelerate that mission.

Lee's appeal to bring U.S. troops home has been echoed by several other congressional Democrats, as well as much of the public. An April Pew Research Center poll found that only 44 percent of Americans want troops to stay in Afghanistan "until the situation has stabilized," compared with 50 percent who want a pullout as soon as possible. Among African Americans, the war has long been even more unpopular.

Taking a moment away from her renewed anti-war push on Capitol Hill, Lee spoke with The Root about military strategy, how the anti-war movement has developed beyond its hippie roots and why the death of Osama bin Laden has only made her more determined.

The Root: You released a statement on Monday, which said that you're hopeful we can start addressing "the root causes of terrorism around the world." What do you mean?

Barbara Lee: It's not complex. Many of the issues around terrorism have to do with -- and I'm not saying this addresses all of the root causes -- but when you're looking at poverty, hunger, the suppression of freedoms in countries, no education and young people with no future, then of course that's sowing the seeds for terrorism. I think our foreign policy has to recognize smart security. Congresswoman [Lynn] Woolsey has a bill, which I helped put together and of which I'm a co-sponsor, that puts forth a path recognizing that this is a very complex issue, and that military-first, boots-on-the-ground strategy is really not going to work.

TR: President Obama had always said that he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Do you think a few more months is too long?

BL: July was the date, but we don't want to see just the surge numbers -- something like 30,000 troops -- come down. We want to see the beginning of the end. The Democratic National Committee unanimously voted for my resolution at its recent meeting, calling for a significant and sizable reduction this July. We think this moment presents an opening to begin that reduction. We're pushing forward with the White House to make good on that promise. It's very important that it include not only our forces but also our contractors. The longer we stay in Afghanistan, the more hostility and anger we're going to get. There's no military solution, as I think most experts have indicated. We have to have a negotiated peace settlement, not to mention the resources.

TR: So what do you want to see happen specifically?

BL: I understand it has to be practical -- it can't be tomorrow. The bill that I've introduced, and we're picking up a lot of co-sponsors, says, no more funding for combat operations. That's the distinction between an immediate cutoff of funds and doing this in a reasonable way.

TR: In your remarks after the killing of bin Laden, you also commended President Obama and the military for the operation. Do you see any contradiction between that and your stance against the war?