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Gary Younge
Congresswoman Barbara Lee: once the lone voice against the Afghanistan war

With her voice cracking and the nation still in mourning Barbara took to the floor of the House of Representatives on 14 September 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, to give the sole speech and deliver the sole vote in Congress against the Afghanistan war.

Immediately afterwards friends in Congress followed her to the cloakroom to tell her: 'I think you made a mistake, you better go and change your vote.' She wouldn't. In the days following, with smoke still rising from lower Manhattan and the nation on a war footing she would field death threats, accusations of treason and, for a time, need 24-hour protection from the Capitol police.

Almost 11 years on, Lee's speech sounds incredibly prescient.

"We are not dealing with a conventional war," she said. "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."

Today 60% of Americans believe the country should not be involved in Afghanistan, 59% believe the war has not been a success, two thirds oppose the war and more than half want US troops out quicker than 2014. Despite near unanimity at the outset, the issue of the war is no longer a campaign issue.

In her speech she warned Congress: "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore." She thinks that was happening under George W Bush, but while she supports Obama's change of course in foreign policy she remains critical over a range of issues in the region.

But Lee isn't gloating. She talks deliberately, in the manner of someone used to being taken out of context, but directly too. Warm, but not chatty; businesslike, but not brusque, her smile comes naturally but chit chat does not. She's busy.

She believes that when it comes to its constitutional duties she describes Congress as "missing in action".

Christopher Gelpi, who specializes in public opinion and foreign policy at Duke University says: "The burden for this war is being carried by such a small slither of society. Unless you know someone in this war, live near an army base or know of someone who has died, then it is possible for the public to ignore it. People are very disconnected from it."

Lee believes that as America prepares to move on it should not neglect is responsibility to right those things it has done wrong. "We bombed the heck out of these countries. We shattered lives. The refugee numbers are horrendous. We've unfortunately killed innocent civilians. We have a moral responsibility to figure out how to help."

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