Rep. Jones, Resolving To Follow His Heart
Friday, June 17, 2005
It started at a military funeral about two years ago, this heartache that Republican Walter B. Jones says has gripped him and won't let go.
It's the kind of pain that gnaws and prods. So much so that it pushed the North Carolina congressman to begin writing to other families of dead servicemen and women. (He's up to at least 1,300.)
And to collect pictures of the fallen. (There are rows of posters bearing them outside his Capitol Hill office.)
And just yesterday, that heartache pushed him to stand in the House press gallery with three colleagues, including two Democrats, and call for President Bush to set up a plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by October 2006.
"What we all agree on is that it is time for a public discussion of our goals and the future of our military involvement in Iraq," Jones, 62, told the reporters packed shoulder to shoulder to witness this bipartisan effort. There he was, a proudly conservative Republican co-sponsoring a resolution with Reps. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). You know Kucinich, that hard-core antiwar Democrat who ran for president.
You know Jones, too. If not his name, then certainly his Freedom Fries. He's the guy largely responsible for the rechristening of the House cafeteria fries, so angry was he a few years back that the French wouldn't get with the war program.
But heartache has a way of changing a man's mind. And Jones, a man of deep Catholic faith, talks openly about listening to his heart.
It's time now, Jones says, "to take a fresh look at where we are and where we are going," not to focus on the past, on those silly fries or even those serious and now unfounded stories about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Too many lives have been lost, too many people have been wounded. He spent much of yesterday quoting the numbers over and over -- 1,700 dead, 12,000 wounded.
"I just believe that we have done as much as we can do in Iraq," he says, an intensity in his voice as he repeatedly outlined his argument about why he's broken ranks with his party. We've toppled Saddam Hussein, he says. We've put Iraq on the road to democracy. And we've trained its military. "What else should our goals be?"
Calls from his constituents have been running about 50-50, says the congressman, who has three military bases in his district, including Camp Lejeune.
Jones's stance, though, is not popular among members of his party. Robin Hayes, a fellow North Carolina Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told him this week he was just flat wrong, Hayes said yesterday.
"It's ill-timed, poorly thought out," says Hayes, who took a trip to Iraq in May.