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Lee cast vote against a blank check

Michael Katz Berkeley
Tuesday October 02, 2001



Whether Rep. Barbara Lee’s Sept. 14 vote left you proud, puzzled or apoplectic, let’s be clear about what she was voting on.  

It was not whether (in one critic’s words) “to approve giving war powers to the president.” 

As Lee acknowledged both before and after her vote, the Constitution and the War Powers Act give the president ample authority to unleash devastating retaliation against our attackers.  

That retaliation can continue for 90 days before Congressional approval is required. 

What Lee opposed was giving up Congressional oversight in advance – and indefinitely – before the Bush administration had identified the perpetrator, much less a strategy for responding. 

The administration requesting that blank check had just presided over the most deadly failure of intelligence and homeland defense in American history.  

Its diplomacy had been a disaster: for eight months, it had antagonized most of the world, and enraged the Arab world, by regressing into arrogant unilateralism. Yet it had kept the odious Taliban regime on life support – serving as its largest foreign patron, to the tune of at least $43 million. 

Now place yourself in Lee’s shoes: Would you have voted to give this gang a blank check? Some very gray and sober heads joined Lee in worrying that the Congress was rushing into passing a “second Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” (That is, a repeat of the wrong-headed 1964 measure that allowed past presidents to escalate and extend the Vietnam War – wasting thousands of young American lives, and accomplishing nothing.) Her fellow critics included two distinguished Vietnam veterans, Senators John McCain and John Kerry, both of whom helped narrow the Sept. 14 resolution. 

In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed 416-0 in the House and 88-2 in the Senate. Before long, the two Senate dissenters (both West Coast renegades) looked like geniuses. 

Rep. Lee wisely resisted a rushed, emotional statement of outrage that inadvertently gave the Bush administration authorization to blunder into unending war. Let’s be grateful for her foresight. And now let’s hope our non-cowboy allies keep this administration focused on a constructive response. 

Michael Katz