Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only member of Congress to vote against the US war in Afghanistan, responded to the latest American escalation in Syria by warning against mission creep in the fight against Islamic State militants and calling for debate among her colleagues.
“Nearly every day, we see the US mission in Iraq and Syria creep closer and closer toward all-out war, while Congress refuses to muster the courage to even debate it,” Lee said in a statement released following President Barack Obama’s Monday announcement in Germany of the deployment of another 250 Special Forces troops to Syria.
Lee lamented the utter lack of debate about sending yet more American men and women to fight, kill and die in a raging five-year civil war that has claimed some 400,000 lives and precipitated one of the worst refugee crises in decades.
“In January, both [House] Speaker [Paul] Ryan and [Senate] Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell called for a debate; four months later, neither have brought a debate to the floor,” said Lee. “It is past time for Congress to rein in this dangerous mission creep and get serious about our constitutional responsibility to debate this war. The American people deserve to understand the costs and consequences of this rapidly escalating war.”
Earlier this month, Lee slammed Obama’s decision to deploy more than 200 troops to Iraq to fight Islamic State, calling the move “textbook mission creep.” Lee was joined in her criticism by an unlikely voice, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who called the escalation “yet another example of the kind of grudging incrementalism that rarely wins wars, but could certainly lose one.”
While both Lee and McCain criticized the latest deployments, they did so for very different reasons. McCain does not believe the relative handful of troops sent into battle are enough for a decisive victory, while Lee says bombs and bullets cannot defeat Islamic State.
”The national security experts are clear: there is no military solution to ISIL,” Lee said in her latest statement, using one of the acronyms for Islamic State. “While we must dismantle ISIL, we must enact a comprehensive strategy to help stabilize the region. Before another American is sent to the Middle East, I urge Speaker Ryan to hold this debate.”
Lee has been a consistent voice for peace since she was elected to the House in 1998. Three days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, she cast the sole dissenting vote against the punitive war in Afghanistan, warning her colleagues to be “careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target.”
The vote in favor of war was 518-1; nearly 15 years later, the global US-led military campaign against terrorism continues with no end in sight. Nearly 7,000 American troops have died in the war, while estimates of the number of people killed in more than half a dozen countries invaded or bombed by the United States range from hundreds of thousands to more than a million.
Lee, who is the daughter of an army colonel and a self-described “Army brat,” claims she is not a pacifist but rather a peace advocate who favors a more holistic approach to combating terrorism that addresses its root causes.
“When you’re looking at poverty, hunger, the suppression of freedoms in countries, no education and young people with no future, then of course that’s sowing the seeds for terrorism,” she told The Root in 2011. “I think our foreign policy has to recognize smart security… This is a very complex issue, and a military-first, boots-on-the-ground strategy is really not going to work.”