Wal­ter Jones, early critic of Iraq War, dies at 76

The Mercury News - - News - By Feli­cia Son­mez

Wal­ter B. Jones Jr., a North Carolina con­gress­man who so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq that he ar­gued for the french fries and French toast served in House cafe­te­rias to be called “free­dom fries” and “free­dom toast” — a jab at France for its op­po­si­tion to the war — but who later un­der­went a dra­matic change of heart and emerged as a prom­i­nent Repub­li­can critic of the war, died Sun­day, on his 76th birth­day.

His of­fice con­firmed the death in a state­ment. It had an­nounced on Jan. 26 that the 13-term law­maker had en­tered hos­pice care, his health hav­ing de­clined af­ter a fall in which he broke his hip. Jones had been granted a leave of ab­sence in late 2018 for an un­spec­i­fied ill­ness.

Jones first ran for Congress in 1992, cam­paign­ing un­suc­cess­fully as a con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat for the north­east­ern North Carolina dis­trict that his fa­ther had rep­re­sented for 26 years. A South­ern Baptist from child­hood, Jones had con­verted to Catholi­cism in his early 30s and cited his op­po­si­tion to abor­tion among the fac­tors that led to his dis­en­chant­ment with his fam­ily’s long­time po­lit­i­cal party.

Two years later, amid the “Repub­li­can revo­lu­tion” that swept the House, he joined the GOP and won a seat in a neigh­bor­ing dis­trict that presently in­cludes the Ma­rine Corps’ Camp Le­je­une and Cherry Point air sta­tion.

Dur­ing his early ten­ure on Capi­tol Hill, he was a re­li­able Repub­li­can vote and, in 2002, joined most Repub­li­cans and many Democrats in vot­ing in fa­vor of a res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush to use mil­i­tary force in Iraq af­ter Bush ac­cused Iraqi leader Sad­dam Hus­sein of hid­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

Rus­sia and France threat­ened to veto a United Na­tions res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing the war, but the French were the most vo­cal in their op­po­si­tion. In re­sponse, Jones and Rep. Robert Ney, ROhio, led a suc­cess­ful cam­paign to oust the word “French” from House cafe­te­ria items.

They were act­ing in an Amer­i­can tra­di­tion that dated at least to World War I, when sauer­kraut was rechris­tened “lib­erty cab­bage.” Jones called his ef­fort a re­sponse to France’s “self-serv­ing pol­i­tics of pas­sive ag­gres­sion,” while lib­er­als lam­pooned it as knee-jerk jin­go­ism.

The U.S.-led in­va­sion be­gan in March 2003 and has led to more than 4,000 U.S. deaths and more than 100,000 Iraqi ca­su­al­ties. No weapons of mass de­struc­tion were found, and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the in­va­sion was soon re­vealed to have been based on faulty in­for­ma­tion. (“The peo­ple around Bush ma­nip­u­lated the in­tel­li­gence,” Jones later said.)

Jones, who came to deeply re­gret his cham­pi­oning of the war, traced his trans­for­ma­tion to a fu­neral held at Camp Le­je­une for a 31-year-old Ma­rine sergeant and am­phibi­ous as­sault ve­hi­cle driver who was killed in March 2003 while help­ing evac­u­ate wounded com­rades. In the pres­ence of their three young chil­dren, in­clud­ing new­born twins, his wi­dow read from the man’s fi­nal let­ter home.

“I had tears run­ning from my eyes,” the con­gress­man told Mother Jones mag­a­zine.

He be­gan writ­ing to rel­a­tives of ev­ery U.S. ser­vice mem­ber killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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