RALEIGH — In an odd political bedfellows moment, three North Carolina congressmen - two progressive Democrats and one religious-right Republican - joined forces Monday to urge the Obama administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
At an anti-war town hall meeting in the Legislative Building, Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and Democratic U.S. Reps.David Price and Brad Miller sought to keep the pressure on the administration to end the American combat operations by the middle of 2013.
"Our concern is that too many times, administrations will say that the date for coming home is a year from now, 18 months from now, 24 months from now, and we the American people just accept it," Jones told 150 people in the legislative auditorium.
"Bull," Jones said. "You can't trust any of them. I'm talking about both parties."
The event had a clean-your-eyeglasses aspect. Jones usually speaks to Republican and Christian conservative groups. The rally sponsored by the N.C. Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee - Carolinas Office brought out a lot of Triangle liberals. The event was entitled "Bring Our War Dollars Home/Restore Our Communities."
"On 10 issues, you probably wouldn't agree with me on any but one," Jones said. "But that one is why we are here today."
The crowd of about 150 people gave Jones a standing ovation after he gave an emotional speech in which he talked about three Marines he had visited at Walter Reed Army Hospital who had their lower bodies blown away. At one point during his talk, he held up a poster of an enlarged photograph of a Marine veteran in a wheelchair, with his family.
"We don't understand the cost of war," Jones said. "Never again should we send our young men and women to fight unless we declare war."
Jones' activism has grown out of what he has said was his mistake in voting to approve the war in Iraq after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, Jones was among the most gung ho, proposing the french fries served in the Congressional cafeteria be renamed freedom fries, because the French were not supportive of U.S. efforts in Iraq. But Jones said he has since learned that he was lied to about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
He has since signed 10,456 letters to family and extended family members of soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Jones' participation in the rally drew criticism from his GOP primary opponent in the 3rd district, Frank Palombo, who said Jones "continues to conspire with left-wing liberals and others who would destroy our military."
Jones, Price, Miller and Republican Howard Coble of Greensboro were among the 87 members of Congress who last Friday signed a letter to the president to "express our support for the administration's announcement on February 1st that the United States will complete combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of next year."
Price praised Jones and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts for authoring the letter to make the exit strategy "more explicit and more ironclad."
As the country draws down troops, Price said the United States is obligated to make a diplomatic effort to help Afghanistan create parliamentary institutions.
Miller said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not like past wars, in that they are not being fought by the entire society. Instead, the U.S. is relying on an all-volunteer force, with few drawn from the upper middle class.
"The kids we are hiring are not the kids that most members of Congress know," Miller said. "They are not the children of their friends.
"I see the devastation in those kids' lives," he added.
Other speakers included Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy; state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, Democrat from Chapel Hill; and state Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat.