The only member of Congress to reject invading Afghanistan in 2001 said she almost wishes she had been wrong about her lone vote

Barbara Lee
Rep. Barbara Lee
  • Rep. Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against invading Afghanistan in 2001.
  • Now, as the country falls to the Taliban following the drawdown of US forces, Lee's vote looks eerily prescient.
  • "I almost wish, in many ways, that I had been wrong," she told The Washington Post.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Rep. Barbara Lee had only been in Congress three years when the September 11, 2001, attacks changed the world forever.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Lee delivered a stirring speech on the House floor, urging her colleagues to think twice before rushing into war.

"Our country is in a state of mourning," she said in 2001. "Some of us must say, 'Let's step back for a moment. Let's just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.'"

But when the vote was taken, just three days after the towers fell, Lee found herself alone. The House voted 420-1 to approve the Authorization for Use of Military Force which gave the president authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" in combating and targeting anyone involved with the terrorist attacks.

The almost unanimous vote paved the way for the 20-year "Forever Wars" - Lee's name for America's involvement in the Middle East for the past two decades.

Now, nearly twenty years later, as the world watches in shock as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan with haste and ease following the drawdown of US forces and the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government, Lee's vote looks eerily prescient.

But that doesn't mean the California lawmaker feels vindicated.

"I almost wish, in many ways, that I had been wrong," she told The Washington Post. "Because what's taking place today is terrifying."

For years, she told the outlet, she faced harassment, hate, and threats for her solitary vote on Afghanistan. But as the years went on, and US soldiers remained in the region fighting a seemingly never-ending war, Lee said people began to approach her and apologize.

One man brought his son to a campaign event in 2019, where with tears in his eyes, he asked her forgiveness for vilifying her vote all those years ago, she told The Post.

"What you did, I hated you," he told her. "But I understand now exactly what that was all about. I came here because I want to personally apologize and I want my son to see me apologize to you for that."

Lee said it was her background in psychology and psychiatric work that guided her decision back in 2001.

"We learn in Psychology 101: You don't make hard decisions when you're emotional, when you're feeling fear, anger, pain, anxiety," she told the outlet.

In the years since the vote, Lee, who represents the Oakland area, has continued to work toward dismantling the Iraq resolution and the 2001 authorization by working with veterans groups and highlighting the necessary check Congress provides for a president moving towards war.

She told The Post that while she supports President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, she was surprised by how quickly the country fell.

As she uses her position as chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations to provide assets in the country to get people out safely, Lee said she hopes the US has learned several lessons from the affair.

"One lesson that I hope people have learned," she said, "is that central to our democracy is the right to dissent and that right has to be protected."

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