“The reality is we cannot afford, either in blood or treasure, an open-ended war. It is wrong,” Rep. Barbara Lee told a crowd of around 100 on a sunny Monday lunch hour in front of the Federal Building in downtown Oakland.
Rep. Lee held the combination press event and rally to address the war in Afghanistan and gather support for H.R. 3699, legislation she introduced on October 1 that would prohibit funding for military escalation in Afghanistan. She called it a “clear and unequivocal message” against on-going U.S. military involvement. H.R. 3699 currently has 23 co-sponsors, including several California representatives.
Sharon Cornu, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, introduced the speakers to a diverse gathering of about 100 people, including Code Pink activists who held signs saying “Barbara Lee still speaks for me” and “Grandmothers Against the War.”
Rep. Lee took the stage to enthusiastic applause. Lee linked H.R. 3699 to her long history of being a vocal opponent of war. She was the sole dissenting member of Congress on the authorization of the use of military force after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She voted no on what she called a “blank check” for open-ended military action.
Lee said that while 8 years ago she was a lone voice prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there are now many members of Congress and advisors who are saying no to escalation. But she added that what is needed is “street heat” all across the nation. “We have to make some noise in this country.”
But as President Obama weighs policy choices on Afghanistan, he is feeling pressure from different sides. Top military commanders and advisors are asking for an increase in troop levels and funding. Some within the President’s own party agree, while others, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, are pressuring Obama to re-think his entire Afghanistan policy.
In addition, the California Democratic Party passed a resolution last week calling for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and an increase in humanitarian aid. The resolution supports “a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel” and calls for “an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Service officer and veteran Matthew Hoh resigned in protest and Obama’s own Ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, is cautioning the President against scaling up U.S. military presence there.
Rep. Lee referred to a letter that she wrote in February with CA Representatives Maxine Waters and Lynne Woolsey—calling them the “sisters in the triad”–that spelled out what the costs were of continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, both financial and in terms of national security. She also referred to a letter from the Congressional Black Caucus to President Obama last month calling for a comprehensive diplomatic plan and an exit strategy.
Lee said that “2009 is the deadliest year” of the war yet, for both U.S. and allied military forces and civilians in Afghanistan adding to the more than 900 U.S. soldiers, 600 Coalition soldiers, and 1000’s of Afghanistan civilians that have been killed.
“We know that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We know that an open-ended presence is not in our national security and only fuels that insurgency. It is simply unacceptable to send more troops in harms way. It has been called the graveyard of empires, and for good reason.”
Lee thanked Obama for taking the time to think deeply about Afghanistan, saying “There is nothing wrong with dithering.” President Obama has recently been criticized for delaying his announcement of a revised Afghanistan strategy, charged with “dithering” by former VP Cheney.
But Lee also said that simply calling for a timetable for ending our military engagement with Afghanistan was not enough. She called for help to do away with the original 2001 resolution authorizing open-ended military action.
“We need to repeal this!
Paul Cox, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a constituent of Lee’s who lives in Berkeley, spoke about the moral crisis of a nation that is cutting education budgets and social services, while “always having money for war.” He made several parallels to the situation in Vietnam 40 years ago, adding that the “war machine always requires ever more soldiers for the grinder.”
Taking his turn at the podium, Tom Hayden said that H.R. 3699, “does have teeth,” contrasting it with Massachusetts Rep. McGovern’s bill, which requires that the Pentagon deliver a plan for an exit strategy by the end of the year. In contrast, Lee’s bill cuts funding for sending more troops.
“The longer Obama ponders, the better chance we have” of ending the war. Hayden specifically called on Obama to reject the multi-trillion dollar Pentagon plan he called the “Doctrine of the Long War” which is a 50-year plan to engage in military action across an “arc of instability” throughout the Middle-East and parts of Africa and South and Central Asia. He said we are several years into that war and questioned the audacity of the authors of that plan that makes such critical decisions through a period that would span across 13 presidential administrations.
“What else costs a trillion dollars?” Hayden asked the crowd, which responded by yelling, “Health Care!” “That’s right,” he said, saying we cannot afford trillion dollar wars on top of health care and a new energy grid.
“Lee’s bill can define the progressive alternative to put pressure on a centrist president.”
Danny Glover emphasized the importance of putting the current war into context. Referring to the two previous speakers, Cox and Hayden, Glover said “they contextualize what the real issues are,” by pointing out the trajectory of the “historical resistance to the war machine.”
Glover pointed out that both he and Rep. Lee are “children of the civil rights movement” and invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. as someone who pointed out the connection between foreign wars and poverty at home.
Lee also invoked King’s reference to war being the enemy of the poor. Calling District #9 the “most progressive, most diverse, most committed district in the nation,” she ended her speech by calling for action from her constituents and from people across the nation.
“We need to raise some noise!”
Obama is expected to announce his Afghanistan strategy in the next couple weeks.
Read H.R. 3699 here.