This weekend as I sorted some things I read the letter I wrote on September 15, 2001 to Congresswoman Lee, and suspect tonight that a majority of my fellow citizens wish these words had been heeded by the White House and all of Congress. I am rather proud of my words after seven years, in light of the woes we now face as the result of very serious and careless actions from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Honorable Barbara Lee
United States House of Representatives
426 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0509
September 15, 2001
Dear Representative Lee,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your courageous vote regarding the course of action that our nation should employ regarding the horrendous events that unfolded on September 11, 2001. Public service is a noble calling and made more so by those who are motivated by conscience, and as such, work against the prevailing winds.
As an American who watched with revulsion as our nation was besieged by terrorism I share the national outrage and anger that we commonly feel. I strongly want the perpetrators found and dealt with forcefully. While I believe that this deed must be met head-on with a strong American response, I am also very concerned about the national lust for blood and the foreign policy repercussions that would result from open-ended reprisals.
National discourse on foreign policy is a rarity. Even during national campaigns the issues that confront the United States on the world stage are relegated to a low status. Our national foreign policy intelligence quotient is quite low. And yet the polls show that overnight we have become a nation of “experts.” National anger, as demonstrated by polls, and a Congress that does not have the will to demonstrate leadership apart from the prevailing mood, will insure long-term effects that we will regret.
The Middle East has always been a highly contentious and volatile area. The history and religions of the area have often blinded both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from finding common bonds. Generations of Palestians have lived with the knowledge that America funds Israel and supplies them with armaments that are often used against Arabs and Muslims. The utter frustrations and anger that have festered in the Middle East have helped to radicalize many against Israel and the United States. Even the moderate elements of the PLO along with nation-states in that region are facing a more difficult time in urging restraint against the radical elements. And if America strikes in a fashion that only makes it more improbable for moderate voices to be heard, the future looks bleak.
I propose that you use your position to urge a double-pronged approach to the new dynamics that we confront. While we must act against those responsible for this heinous crime we also must pursue a high level and visible diplomatic mission to the Middle East. We must insure that even-handedness is the basis by which we act. We must be willing to act as boldly in our diplomatic resolve as we are prepared to do with our military means. Such a dual track will ensure that a just response is leveled against those who did our country harm, but also will show our desire to work for a meaningful and just resolution to the Middle East conflict.
I am reminded of a diplomatic mission that was deemed impossible in the 1970’s. President Jimmy Carter, with unshakable faith and tenaciousness held firm to his goal of a peace accord between Israel and Egypt. When Prime Minster Begin and President Sadat wanted to leave Camp David without an accord our President relentlessly pursued the goal of our better angels. In the end a treaty was agreed to that still provides benefits to both parties.
That scope of vision and determination once again has to be our mission. As the leader of the free world we have the means and power to shape a more hopeful world. History will severely judge us if we do not try.
An often-told story should guide you and other members of Congress in the days ahead. On his march through France, Napoleon ordered trees to be planted along the roads his marching troops were to use. One of his advisors replied that it would take 20 years to achieve that goal. To that Napoleon said, “Well, then we better start planting today.”
Our nation has been deeply wounded. Our fears have been heightened. But our history shows that when difficult times confront Americans we pull together and respond with unity and hope for a better tomorrow.
The vote you took, and the stand you espouse, can be the first visible step towards a better tomorrow. We urge your continued resolve and involvement with this chapter of our nation’s life.