The House of Representatives voted down a measure, by a 128 to 300 vote, that called on President Bush to devise a plan for a withdrawal from Iraq. It came in the form of an amendment to the $491 billion budget for the Pentagon that was passed on Wednesday night.

But the withdrawal amendment marks the first time that Congress has officially voted and debated legislation that deals with a withdrawal.

“No, it won’t pass today, but it will give us a chance to talk about it,” said Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the amendment. “It’s 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.”

Despite the overwhelming defeat, about two-thirds of Democrats voted for it and so did five Republicans – a dramatic shift from just a few months ago, when talk of a potential withdrawal was taboo for even the most progressive lawmakers.

Of the five Republicans to vote for Woolsey’s amendment, only one, Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina, spoke in favor of it on the House floor. Jones, one of the most conservative members in Congress, led the campaign in 2003 to change French fries to freedom fries. ~Mitch Jeserich, Antiwar.com

As simply silly and trivial as the entire “freedom fries” business was, Rep. Jones should be congratulated for having the honesty and decency to admit that invading Iraq was unjustified. That he should have known that all along is true, but secondary at this point. There was no political profit for him in abandoning the party line on this major issue, which is why it is exactly such Republicans who need to be cultivated and drawn away from the leadership. He will probably be targeted in the primaries by his state party, so it might be tactically wise for antiwar advocates to lend support to Republicans who show some glimmer of common sense.

As long as support for withdrawal has an overwhelmingly Democratic face on it, large sections of the country will reflexively oppose it and the military will fight it tooth and nail, even if a majority actually agrees that the war has been a colossal waste and should never have happened. Even if Rep. Jones has only come to this late in the day, his change of heart is encouraging, because he represents the sort of overzealous nationalist who enthusiastically supported the war and will now enthusiastically oppose it because the war has become offensive to the same nationalist conception of American interests.

A real political move for withdrawal, however weak, has begun. If those against the war want to accomplish something meaningful in the second half of this year, we should begin avidly encouraging members of the majority who have begun to waver on Iraq to break ranks for basic reasons of national interest and patriotism. That is the language that the Republicans will understand, and that is the language that will motivate them to vote for a withdrawal. By the same token, stalwart supporters of this morally abhorrent policy should be targeted for defeat at every stage in the 2006 elections. We need to begin sapping confidence in pro-war congressmen now for it to take maximum effect by next November.