A conscience-stricken member of the House Armed Services Committee is writing a book called "My Daddy's Not Dead Yet" in hopes it will atone for what he now considers his sinful vote to empower former President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., whose district includes the sprawling Marine base of Camp Lejeune, told me the title was inspired by a little boy who feared his Marine father would be killed in Iraq.
The setting for Jones' searing moment in 2007 was a classroom in the Johnson Elementary School at Camp Lejeune. He had been invited to read Dr. Seuss to the kids. Jones did that; then asked for questions.
"My daddy's not dead yet," said a little boy. "My daddy's not dead yet," the boy repeated. Jones said he reeled as if punched in the gut, a wave of guilt washing over him. The remark devastated him because he knew deep down that he had played go-along-politics with the life of the little boy's father instead of "listening to God" and voting against the House resolution in 2002 that authorized Bush to go to war in Iraq. "I profess to be a man of faith," Jones said, "but I didn't vote my conscience."
"My Daddy's Not Dead Yet" will set forth Jones' beliefs and concerns about America's out-of-control militarism and current spending spree. Any money his book makes will go to those treating the wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"The American people have no idea of what's coming as it relates to taking care of those veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Jones said.
Some physicians who have studied the extent and cost of treating the mentally wounded have told me it will overwhelm both the government and private medical systems.
The little boy's stinging remark also has compelled Jones to look hard at President Obama's plans for combating the Taliban in Afghanistan and stabilizing that fractured country. There will be no go-along vote for Jones this time.
He has been meeting with retired generals to discuss the pros and cons of escalating the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. He said several of these generals on his impromptu board of education have urged him to vote against any Obama plan that calls for sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
One told him the Army and Marine Corps are worn out. To ask them to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan could break them, one general warned Jones.
Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the field commander in Afghanistan, is said to want as many as 40,000 more American troops in Afghanistan on top of the 68,000 to be on the ground there by year's end.
"We're trying to police the world," Jones lamented. "Every great nation prior to America that tried to police the world has failed economically. That's why I tell people that I'm a Pat Buchanan American. I want to stop trying to take care of the world and fix this country. Our problems are so deep that there is no easy way to fix them."
Jones was a Democrat like his late father, Rep. Walter Jones Sr., D-N.C., who rose in the House to become chairman of the former Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, until 1993 when the younger Jones joined the Republican Party. Since his election to the House in 1994, Jones' tangles with Bush over Iraq have prompted House Democratic leaders to urge him to rejoin their party, something he is not ready to do -- at least not yet.
Jones and others in Congress are gearing up to ask the Obama administration tough questions about its new plans for Afghanistan. Questions that all of us need answered include these:
How many of the additional troops you want for Afghanistan have already served there or in Iraq? How many are being held in the military beyond the time they signed up for under stop-loss authority? How many National Guard personnel would be mobilized? What have military and civilian operations in Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers to date? How much more would be spent there if Congress approved Obama's proposals for Afghanistan? What is your best estimate of how many more Americans would be killed and wounded in Afghanistan if Obama's plan were implemented? How long would U.S. troops have to occupy Afghanistan to stabilize the situation? What demands or benchmarks will you impose on the Afghan government? What is your exit strategy? What is your definition of success for Afghanistan? Why have past pacification efforts by the U.S. military failed, such as the Marines' Ink Blot strategy in South Vietnam? Was New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof right when he wrote on Oct. 22 that "standard counterinsurgency ratios of troops to civilians suggest we would need 650,000 troops (including Afghans) to pacify the country?" Is your proposed escalation really necessary? What is the threat to America to justify it? Are you not setting up the U.S. military for another demoralizing, Vietnam-like failure in Afghanistan? What will you do if the Taliban and al-Qaida simply lie low or move their forces into Pakistan or another nearby country? Go after them there? Is this not a war without end?
This article appears in the Oct. 31, 2009, edition of National Journal Daily.