Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fears Become Reality for Oakland Democrat

Fears Become Reality for Oakland Democrat


By Daniel Weintraub

San Francisco Chronicle

December 20, 2009


In the fear-filled, nationalistic fervor after the

terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in September

2001, Congress rushed to approve President George W.

Bush's decision to attack Afghanistan, the country

where the terrorist leaders had trained for their

suicide voyage.


A resolution giving Mr. Bush the authority to act raced

through Congress just three days after the attack.

Nearly every member of the House of Representatives and

the Senate voted for it. Only one member rose to oppose

the measure: Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of Oakland.


Ms. Lee said she worried that the United States, like

so many other world powers before, would become

hopelessly entangled in a war it could never win. And

she thought the resolution for which she was being

asked to vote would give too much power to the

president to wage a dead-end war without an official

declaration from Congress.


Eight years later, at least in her eyes, many of Ms.

Lee's worst fears have come to pass. The United States

remains mired in a war in which victory seems ill-

defined and ever more difficult to achieve.


But now a president Ms. Lee deeply admires has replaced

one she almost always opposed. And Barack Obama is

doubling down on Mr. Bush's gambit, pushing to escalate

the military presence in Afghanistan.


Ms. Lee said in an interview this month that she was

not surprised by Mr. Obama's decision, but that she was

disappointed. She was an early supporter of his, even

though as a candidate he said he supported the war in Afghanistan.


"He said during the campaign that he was going to get

out of Iraq and go into Afghanistan," said Ms. Lee, who

is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "I

agree with him 90 percent of the time. But you can't

agree all the time."


Ms. Lee has a lot more company on this issue than she

used to. A resolution she introduced in October to

block any financing for an expanded military presence

in Afghanistan has picked up 23 co-sponsors. Among them

are Representatives Pete Stark, Michael M. Honda and

Lynn Woolsey, all Democrats from the Bay Area who voted

for the war resolution in 2001.


Ms. Woolsey, who is from Petaluma and sits on the House

Foreign Affairs Committee, is taking a lead role on the

issue and has said she believes that a majority of

House Democrats will oppose Mr. Obama's plan. Even

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, another early

supporter of the war and a stalwart supporter of Mr.

Obama, is expressing concern about the mounting cost of

the war and has said her Democratic colleagues are

eager to vote on a resolution to limit or end the engagement.


The shift toward Ms. Lee's position among her Bay Area

colleagues mirrors a broader shift in the electorate.

Although no independent local polling was done on the

Afghanistan issue in 2001, a Field Poll in the spring

of 2002, about six months after the invasion, found

that 59 percent of Bay Area voters thought Mr. Bush was

doing a good job in the fight against terrorism. But in

a Field Poll this October, more than half of Bay Area

voters said they thought the troop levels in

Afghanistan should be kept at current levels or cut

back, not expanded.


"I am calling for a timeline and an exit strategy," Ms.

Lee said, "and no additional funding for increased

troop levels. I am going to lead the fight to deny the

funding. Congress holds the purse strings. I think we

can do this differently."


To those who say the United States must stay in

Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, Ms. Lee counters that

the United States presence builds support for Muslim

extremists as Afghanis turn to them to help fight the

occupation. And to those who argue that the United

States must support the country's fledgling democratic

government, Lee says the corruption in that regime only

hurts America's relationship with the people of Afghanistan.


"I respect the commander in chief and his position,"

Ms. Lee said. "I just don't believe there is a military

solution in Afghanistan."



Daniel Weintraub has reported on California politics

and policy for more than 20 years.



No comments: