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Courage Under Madness

This blog starts off with a reflection on Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the only member of Congress to vote against attacking and invading Afghanistan in the scary, thoughtless days after Sept. 11, 2001. The British newspaper The Guardian, which actually tries to do real journalism, tracked her down recently and published its interview of her on Friday.

The video of that interview includes what Lee, facing enormous pressure from her cowardly colleagues, said on the floor of the House just as the calls for war were growing louder, especially by Americans who had never put on the uniform, never served their nation for a day (politics isn’t service), and would never be placed in harm’s way. Neither would their children nor their children’s children. Here’s what she said, with thanks to Gary Younge of The Guardian:

We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. … If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other noncombatants will be caught in the cross-fire. … Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.

My only quibble with Lee’s at-the-moment assessment is that the U.S.A. wasn’t about to “repeat past mistakes.” Our government, inspired by collective vengence, was about to launch a new kind of mistake. Now, as Lee suggested at the time, our government’s stuck, without Paris peace talks, without any kind of Nixonian honorable-withdrawal spin. I visited the Kabul Zoo one day in late 2003, and there was one bear there, and that bear clearly was going to die, through neglect, lack of funding, or pure disinterest. Eventually, that’s how the U.S. will get out of Afghanistan. I just haven’t been able to determine yet who that bear is: Afghanistan, or the U.S.