A politician who in March 2003 demanded that congressional cafeterias rename french fries to “freedom fries” now says the United States went to war in Iraq “with no justification.”
Walter Jones, R-N.C., was one of two Representatives spearheading the move to ban the word “French” from cafeteria menus to protest France’s opposition of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The change also affected the breakfast menu, with French toast renamed “freedom toast.”
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, called it a “small, but symbolic effort” to show displeasure with America’s “so-called ally.”
Jones circulated a letter suggesting the move, saying he was following the example of a local restaurant owner in his North Carolina district.
“I represent a district with multiple military bases that have deployed thousands of troops,” Jones said in a statement. “As I’ve watched these men and women wave good-bye to their loved ones, I am reminded of the deep love they have for the freedom of this nation and their desire to fight for the freedom of those who are oppressed overseas. Watching France’s self-serving politics of passive aggression in this effort has discouraged me more than I can say.”
Today Jones says he wishes the “freedom fry” incident had never happened. In a May 15 interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, he said the U.S. went to war “with no justification.”
Jones now sounds closer to France, which urged the United Nations to give weapons inspectors more time in Iraq and said the U.S. and British-led move to war was premature.
“If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong,” Jones said. “Congress must be told the truth.”
Jones was one of five Republicans to vote May 25 for legislation calling on President Bush to devise a plan for withdrawal from Iraq. The amendment to a $491 billion defense bill failed 300-128.
But its sponsor, Lynn Woolsey, D.-Calif., a strong opponent of the war, called the first-ever discussion and vote on withdrawal “an opportunity for members of Congress who are frustrated that our troops are being killed for a war that wasn’t necessary in the first place and that there is no plan in sight to bring them home.”
Jones spoke for Woolsey’s amendment on the House floor, saying it was the first time in 11 years the two had voted together on anything.
“When I voted two years ago to submit the troops, I was making my decisions on facts,” Jones said. “Since that time, I’ve been very disappointed on what I’ve learned about the justification of going into Iraq. Afghanistan, absolutely, we should be there. We should have more troops, but we can’t have more troops there when they’re in Iraq.”
Jones is one of the most conservative members of Congress and most surprising critics of the war. He essentially inherited the seat from his father, Walter B. Jones Sr., who held it for 26 years and campaigned for his son before he died.
His eastern Carolina district includes the most military bases of any in the state. They include Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and Camp Lejeune.
A member of the House Armed Services subcommittee, Jones also supports legislation restricting roles of women in combat.
He grew up a Southern Baptist but 32 years ago converted to Catholicism. He is popular with the religious right, and has twice sponsored legislation to remove an item in the tax code that prevents non-profit organizations, including churches, from endorsing candidates.
The Christian Coalition lists passage of Jones’ “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act” as one of its top legislative priorities in 2005.
Others supporting the bill include the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and TV preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
The Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission supported earlier versions of the Jones bill, but backed away when new language narrowed parameters of what type of political speech would be allowed and allowed government more latitude in determining whether the law is violated.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State opposes the bill, saying it is unnecessary and would politicize churches.
While several religious bodies opposed the war, an SBC resolution in 2003 affirmed Operation Iraqi Freedom as “a warranted action based upon historic principles of just war.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.