Magazine article The American Conservative

Walter Jones's War: How the Tarheel Legislator Became His Party's Conscience

Magazine article The American Conservative

Walter Jones's War: How the Tarheel Legislator Became His Party's Conscience

Article excerpt

In a Capitol filled with bloviating self-promoters, Walter Jones is a soft-spoken Southern gentleman. But even though he has all the quiet charm of a sleepy country town, the ten-term North Carolina Republican is quite capable of righteous indignation.

"Congress will not hold anyone to blame," Jones, now 70, said of America's Middle Eastern wars while speaking to Young American for Liberty in Raleigh last February. "Lyndon Johnson's probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War, and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney."

Since he was first elected as part of the "Republican Revolution" in 1994, Jones--whose father Walter Sr. was a congressman before him--has been one of the most conservative members of Congress. He is staunchly pro-life. He worries about the military circumscribing chaplains' right to pray in Jesus' name.

Not mincing any words, Jones calls Obamacare a "disaster," which he has repeatedly voted to defund and repeal. He even opposed big government when it was offered up by Republican presidents, voting against the Medicare prescription-drug benefit and No Child Let Behind. He has scored a perfect 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union four times, missing it twice more by just one vote.

But Jones might be best known for his strong turn against the foreign policy of George W. Bush. Representing a military-heavy district that includes the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, Jones voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When France opposed the Iraq War, he led the crusade to rename french fries "freedom fries" on congressional menus in protest.

It didn't take long for Jones to regret the decision. Privately, he entertained doubts about the Bush administration's claims that Saddam had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq capable of threatening the United States. After he attended the funeral of a Marine killed in action who left behind a two-year-old son and newborn twins, his conscience began to weigh on him.

Jones's daughter gave him a tape of James Bamford's A Pretext for War, which he listened to on his drives between Washington, D.C. and Farmville, North Carolina. He began speaking to other Republican skeptics of the war, including then Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has since become Secretary of Defense under President Obama.

The congressman's first act of penance was to begin a letter-writing campaign to the families of military personnel killed in Iraq, a practice that continues to this day. "My heart aches as I write this letter as I realize you are suffering a great loss," reads one. "I know that these words are inadequate in trying to express my deep sympathy to you and your family at the death of your loved one."

"He had so deep a love for his country that he was willing to give his life," Jones continued. "In John 15:13, Jesus said, 'Greater love have no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'"

Jones's next act of penance was to work on bipartisan legislation aimed at ending the war. He and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is now the Aloha State's governor, introduced the Homeward Bound resolution, imposing a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

Even after the Iraq War finally wound down, Jones remained a voice for peace. He has been a leading Republican advocate for ending the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan. "Kids are still dying," he says. He notes the escalating death toll and price tag, expressing concern that troops will remain stationed in the country after the promised 2014 deadline. In November, he sent a letter to the president opposing a proposed bilateral security agreement with Kabul that would keep the war going.

"This agreement will obligate billions of American tax dollars and expose American troops to further danger overseas--all while meeting [Afghan] President Karzai's ever-growing list of demands," Jones wrote. …

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