Barbara Lee was right.

Barbara Lee and Limbaugh eye to eye at last

Rob Morse

Barbara Lee was right, and who confirmed it? Rush Limbaugh, of all people.

Limbaugh, in his role as constitutional scholar, wrote an op-ed piece in
Tuesday's Wall Street Journal titled "Congress already OKd Iraq War."

He was referring to the Sept. 14 joint resolution of Congress, which
authorized the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force
against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned,
authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11,
2001."

Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from Oakland, was the only member of
Congress to vote against that resolution, and for that she was called a
traitor and received death threats from all over the country. The
thoughtful UC Berkeley political scientist Nelson Polsby chided Lee,
telling Newsweek that it was just "a feel-good vote, not an
appropriation."

Now Lee appears to have been a seer, and the vote of Congress was the
worst kind of appropriation -- a blank check.

"It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the
Sept. 11 events -- anywhere, in any country, without regard to our
nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security
interests, and without time limit," wrote Lee in The Chronicle on Sept.
23. "In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress has failed its
responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration."

-- -- -- --

ELEVEN MONTHS LATER, as we listen to the drumbeat for war against Iraq,
many who called Lee a traitor want to put a hold on blank checks.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, three quarters of the
American people think Bush should seek the approval of Congress before
going to war with Iraq.

Where were they when Barbara Lee was voting "no" all alone?

One of Lee's heroes, the late Republican Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon, was
one of two senators to vote against the 1964 resolution that allowed the
United States to go to war in Vietnam. Morse said, "I don't know why we
think, just because we're mighty, we have the right to try to substitute
might for right."

Morse wasn't a relative, but I'm proud to say I met him.

-- -- -- --

BEFORE WE LAUNCH into an orgy of remembrance of Sept. 11, we should
remember how angry we felt in the days thereafter and where that anger has
taken us. A resolute Bush administration assuaged some of that anger by
destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and good riddance.

Now we're on the brink of an invasion of Iraq, a country with fewer known
connections to al Qaeda than Saudi Arabia.

As an angry nonpacifist, I would have been happy to turn the cheek of
Osama bin Laden and put a bullet in his ear. I had my doubts about Lee,
who once proposed a "Department of Peace." But the cries of "traitor" made
me think we were living in dangerous times, even in the Bay Area, the only
place in the country where Lee could be re-elected.

The White House invasion talk continues, despite the fact that the United
States has no international coalition to wage war on Iraq, much less a way
to get tanks there to engage Saddam Hussein's tanks.

Bush couldn't even get Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to come to a meeting
of Iraqi dissidents. The Kurds are doing fine, without being recruited
once again as cannon fodder for American interests. As for the British,
Gerald Kaufman of the Labor Party wrote in the Spectator that there is
broad opposition in Parliament to an American strike in Iraq.

"Bush, himself the most intellectually backward American president of my
political lifetime, is surrounded by advisers whose bellicosity is
exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy,"
wrote Kaufman, with British understatement.

Hussein, on the other hand, has a coalition to forestall a U.S. invasion,
and it even includes Iraq's traditional enemy, Iran. As for weapons of
mass destruction, the Iraqi leader is most likely to use them if he is
about to be overthrown. Let's hope Bush is engaging in a Texas-size bluff.

If anything, it's good old American domestic self-interest that will keep
the Bush war machine from rolling. We don't like the prospect of gas lines
and, even though a majority of Americans support an invasion of Iraq, only a
minority does if invasion means "significant" U.S. casualties.

We're a nation of chicken hawks, and never mind that canary in the mine
shaft named Barbara Lee.

Rob Morse's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. His
e-mail address is rmorse@sfchronicle.com.
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Copyright 2002 SF Chronicle