Oakland’s Rep. Lee continues call for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
on November 23, 2009
As the deadliest year of the U.S. war in Afghanistan draws to a close, Oakland’s congressional representative Barbara Lee today stepped up her calls to end U.S. involvement in the conflict.
“I stand here today to put this stage of American history—a stage characterized by open-ended war—to a close,” Lee told a crowd of more than 200 people attending a noon rally at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in downtown Oakland.
So far this year, 297 American service personnel have died in Afghanistan, almost twice as many as in any other year of the war. Taliban forces have re-established strongholds in southern Afghanistan, and deaths among NATO soldiers and Afghan civilians have also increased over figures from recent years.
After scaling down its presence in Iraq, the U.S. military has intensified its efforts against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and, since 2008, in neighboring Pakistan. U.S. ground commander General Stanley McChrystal called in late September for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but President Barack Obama has not committed more troops as he awaits a full review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
“President Obama is right to take his time,” Lee said. “He shouldn’t be rushed into making a decision. He inherited a quagmire from George W. Bush. We know there’s no military solution in Afghanistan, and a long-term presence there is not in our interest.”
Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 authorization of war in Afghanistan, introduced House Resolution 3699 in October, which would prevent funding for any additional troop deployments to Afghanistan. Her bill, one of several recent House initiatives to halt expansion of U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, now has 23 co-sponsors, including former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma). At the rally today, Lee said she’s not alone in opposing the war and that her votes on Capitol Hill reflect her constituents’ political views.
“My district—California’s 9th Congressional district—remains the most progressive, diverse and committed to dissent in the country,” Lee said to a round of applause. “Where we lead, others go.”
A large contingent of the crowd belonged to Code Pink, a primarily women’s antiwar organization whose members held signs and led chants of “Barbara Lee speaks for me.” The congresswoman was joined on the dais by 1960s Students for Democratic Society president Tom Hayden, Veterans Speaker Alliance founder Paul Cox, the Alameda Labor Council executive secretary-treasurer Sharon Cornu, and actor and activist Danny Glover.
“With Barbara Lee’s resolution [HR 3699], there’s more than ideas on the table for leaving Afghanistan, there are bills on the floor of Congress. ” Hayden said. “We hope for the recovery and growing strength of the peace movement with Barbara’s leadership.”
Several speakers drew parallels between the Vietnam War and the current conflict in Afghanistan and argued that military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan has prevented the U.S. government from addressing domestic political needs.
“Our military demands ever more troops,” Cox said. “Meanwhile, our economy is in the toilet, health care costs are out of control, and we can’t afford to educate our children. But somehow, there’s always money for war.”
Lee argued that the United States needs to employ “smart power” to improve the situation in Afghanistan, citing her hopes for increased diplomacy and economic development in the region. She drew on historical parallels in her argument against the U.S. military presence in the country.
“Afghanistan is known historically as the graveyard of empires for a reason. It’s good to ask why we should follow the same course as the British and the Soviets,” she said. “We need an exit strategy to bring troops and contractors home to ensure the economic security of all Americans.”
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