By Norman Solomon
Dear Congresswoman Lee:
More than a decade and a half ago, your eloquent words and courageous vote set a high bar as you stood up against a war frenzy on the House floor. Three days after 9/11, you implemented the kind of brave wisdom that we desperately need in a world beset by the massive violence of warfare and the overarching dangers of nuclear holocaust.
Since then, like many other people opposed to perpetual war, I’ve deeply appreciated your leadership in advocating for diplomacy instead of reckless confrontation in international relations. Year after year, following your lone vote against a blank check for war on Sept. 14, 2001, you’ve been a steadfast voice for the necessity of diplomatic initiatives.
Your longtime wisdom is antithetical to the tweet that you sent out after the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin from your official “Rep. Barbara Lee” Twitter account: “Outraged by President Trump’s 2 hr meeting w/Putin, the man who orchestrated attacks on our democracy. Where do his loyalties lie?”
In mid-September 2001, when you implored the Congress and the country to “think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control,” the words of your speech were beacons of sanity in a propaganda storm for war. But now, as I watch a video of those two transcendent minutes, some of your old words echo in a newly haunting way.
Now it falls to peace advocates who read your new words to urge you to “think through the implications” of the political line you’ve just taken, “so that this does not spiral out of control.”
And now, peace advocates must remind you of other insightful words from your historically prescient speech nearly 16 years ago: “Some of us must urge the use of restraint.”
Your declaration on Friday that you are “outraged” by a meeting between the presidents of the world’s two nuclear-weapons superpowers is the opposite of restraint. Likewise, your baiting of Trump with the question “Where do his loyalties lie?” echoes the accusations of treason hurled at you for years.
Such rhetoric is far beneath you — and beneath any leader with a responsibility to encourage diplomatic discourse, especially between two nations brandishing huge arsenals of nuclear weapons.
Let’s not forget that past top-level diplomacy between Russia and the United States was hardly led by saints. Fifty years ago, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin was the leader of a government far more repressive than the one headed by Vladimir Putin today, while President Lyndon Johnson was in the midst of escalating a mass-murderous war in Vietnam. Yet their Glassboro Summit was notable diplomacy that reduced tensions between the two countries and reduced the dangers of nuclear war.
Now, for whatever reasons, you have opted to participate in a profoundly irresponsible meme that castigates instead of encourages diplomatic discourse between the highest levels of the American and Russian governments.
To use a word from your historic 2001 speech, it’s essential that we think through the “implications” of such a political line of attack. They include increasing the likelihood that escalated tensions between Russia and the United States could “spiral out of control.”
I’ve long thought of you as a heroic champion of pursuing alternatives to war and, quite possibly, helping to prevent a nuclear holocaust that scientists believe would render the Earth “virtually uninhabitable.” But now, you seem to have lost your way.
To counteract what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” we must get off a partisan bandwagon when it is heading toward military catastrophe. That requires — as you so wisely urged in 2001 — supporting diplomacy, urging restraint and thinking through the implications of our actions today.
Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”