Nation & World

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones: 'Diversion into Iraq should never have happened'

The TV in his office was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, but the sound was off, and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and his staff didn't hear at first what was being said about the World Trade Center tower that was shown burning.

When they turned it up so they could hear, they couldn't understand.

Later, they understood, but they could not believe.

"For me personally, there's almost still the disbelief that it ever happened," Jones says.

It did, of course, and everywhere Jones turns he is reminded of it. There are guards at the parking lot of his apartment complex in Washington, guards where he parks when he comes to work at the Rayburn House Office Building, guards at the building's entrance.

Sometimes, the guards at the apartment building take bomb-sniffing dogs into the parking lot. On his own car, Jones refrains from using a congressional license plate to avoid making himself a target.

Where Jones used to be able to wave through visitors he was taking to lunch at the Capitol Building, they now have to wait in line for a security check.

He rarely flies anymore when he goes home to Farmville; with all the airport safety precautions, it's easier to make the five-hour drive.

But these are inconveniences. What keeps Sept. 11 foremost in Jones' mind are the unending reports of U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2001, 6,234 service men and women have lost their lives in wars that Jones once supported and now believes must end.

"I always felt that the war in Afghanistan, initially, was the right war," Jones says. Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who launched the terrorist attacks that sent passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, was based in Afghanistan, and his organization had a strong presence there.

'Diversion into Iraq'

Jones supported sending troops to Afghanistan in 2001, and the next year, he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq based on the Bush administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was "a grave threat to the region, the world and the United States."

Initially, Jones was such a strong supporter of the U.S. action in Iraq that he joined fellow Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio to have french fries in the cafeteria renamed "freedom fries" as a snub to the French government, which opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Jones now believes he and other lawmakers were misled.

"The diversion into Iraq should never have happened," he says. "That diverted money, and we lost all those young men and women.

"Saddam was an evil dictator, there's no doubt. But there was a way to deal with him without diverting 100,000 troops into Iraq. And if we hadn't diverted to Iraq, I think they would have found bin Laden and taken him out long before they did."

With bin Laden now dead, Jones see no reason for U.S. troops to continue to fight in Afghanistan, either.

"It's not fair to these young men and women to die and have their limbs blown off for [Afghan President] Hamid Karzai, who's a corrupt leader.

"You're not going to change Afghanistan," Jones says. "History has proven that."

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