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St. Louisans welcome the end of combat in Iraq, worry about continued war in Afghanistan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 31, 2010 - As President Barack Obama prepares to announce the official end of U.S. combat in Iraq, several St. Louis area residents expressed concerns about the cost, in both lives and dollars, of the effort to bring democracy to that Middle East country.

According to Globalsecurity.org, a public policy organization, more than 4,000 American service members have died and more than 30,000 were wounded as a result of the Iraq war. The tally of Iraqi casualties ranges from 95,000 to more than 100,000, according to the U.K.-based Iraq Body Count project.

After Obama declares the end of the U.S. combat mission, about 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq as advisers and to assist the Iraqi authorities with counterterrorism activities. Those Americans are expected to leave the country by the end of 2011.

Here is what several St. Louisans, contacted through the Beacon's Public Insight Network, are saying about the situation.

Peggy Kruse, of Florissant, retired Defense Department contract auditor: "I'm glad it's coming to an end. But then, it's not really over, is it? The whole thing has been frustrating. There's a lot of bad people doing bad things in a lot of places. The United States can't solve all the world's problems.

"I don't see that anything was gained. I know we were keeping Saddam Hussein contained, but for everything that was lost -- the antiquities, the lives -- I just don't know. It sounds like it could be over, but we still find reasons to hang around. We never let go of anything. Hopefully it will be peaceful for everybody. For the people there to have normal lives would be wonderful."

Joe Pritchard, of Fenton, musician and Army Vietnam veteran: "I think it's a good thing," that the U.S. is ending its combat role. "It's all terribly complex. There were no easy answers for President Obama. He's going to catch it from both sides, no matter what he does.

"You hoped that he would get out as soon as possible. There's a mixture of consequences. And now, as soon as we get out, if everything falls apart, we are left with a black eye for all our kids who died over there. But if we stayed any longer, it would just be throwing good money after bad, plus losing more lives.

"I can't figure out what has happened with regard to all the corporate involvement. There were a lot of private companies like Halliburton involved, and the contractors were getting paid so much more than our soldiers. (President George W.) Bush was irresponsible in letting the corporate interests decide what was important."

Sandy MacLean, of Clayton, retired vice chancellor for student affairs, University of Missouri- St. Louis: "We probably should not have gotten in there in the first place. It is naive that we would think we could make the world safe for democracy. I was 100 percent supportive of Bush's initiative, but looking back now, I think it was a mistake.

"Obama is not living up to his campaign promise. He said he would get out, but people thought he would get out sooner and totally and have no more troops there at all. I think the liberals are more disappointed with him than I am. I do hope that (the Iraqi people) get their government together and get it functioning. Democracy is tough. I'm not confident that they can put it together."

Bob Zangas of Manchester, owner, All Metro Home Health, Army veteran: "We should have been out of Iraq long ago. The human cost for the U.S. and the people of Iraq was not worth it. The financial cost was astronomical. In my opinion, very little was accomplished. The war is not over, but the people of Iraq will have to work it out themselves.

"We got rid of Saddam, so that is something that was gained. But our reason for going in was because of the weapons of mass destruction; however, those were never found. If we had not gone into Iraq and had put our resources in to Afghanistan after 9/11, we might have gotten Osama bin Laden, who is a real direct threat to the people of the United States.

"The price paid by Americans and Iraqis was much too high. (Now) the Iraqis are going to have to work out their country's future for themselves. We should provide humanitarian aid. If any peacekeeping is needed, then the United Nations should get involved.

"The United States should face the fact that the volunteer Army program is not working because we don't have enough manpower for the missions we are taking on. When you have people going back again and again and serving multiple deployments to a combat zone, you are definitely understaffed, and we wonder why the suicide rate is up among military people. When you don't have enough manpower to do the mission you take on, you should seriously consider instituting a draft.

"If the whole population of our country was involved in supplying manpower, our leadership might not be so quick to commit troops to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, if a majority of our Congress and Senate had served in the military, they would have a better idea of what kind of a sacrifice they are asking our military to make."

Regarding Afghanistan, "I think we should get out. It is not worth one more American life. We should have committed to Afghanistan right after 9/11. Now it is too late. I would like to know what we hope to accomplish by being there. Whatever we hope to accomplish there is not worth the cost in American lives and finance."

Amanda Boettcher, of Creve Coeur, Webster University graduate student, studying international relations: "I am very happy that our combat mission is ending in the region. While some troops leaving Iraq are now going to the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, it is a step in the right direction at least to be ending one of our wars in the Middle East.

"The end of the combat mission in Iraq does not seem like an end, but a new chapter of U.S. involvement in the region. The U.S. is keeping 50,000 people in the region as 'security forces' and doubling the military contractors in the region. While I am very happy that our combat mission is over, I do not believe that we can truly say it is truly an end to the war.

"Iraq will be able to form a stable coalition government. It took many years for the United States to become the United States. We need to give the Iraq government time to make mistakes. The only way the people of Iraq will begin working with the government is when they believe that it is truly Iraqi, and not U.S.

The war in Afghanistan "is a very different war. It can only be won if the U.S. can change public perception of the U.S. and our intentions in the Middle East. The best thing the U.S. can do is continue building friendships with the citizens of Afghanistan and hope that that will translate into less public favor for Al-Qaeda."

Cynthia J. Bauer, of Florissant, receptionist for the AARP Foundation: "I had mixed feelings when I initially heard the announcement. My heart went out to all of the Iraqis who want a more democratic or self-determined government, and more freedom, effective justice, better education for women, a better economic future, and anyone who worked for the U.S. government or military there at risk to themselves or their families.

"I hope that those who served our country, there, will receive any and all needed services required to help them to regain their places in the U.S.

"President Obama deliberately created a comprehensive position paper regarding the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, as a candidate, prior to taking office. He was somewhat well informed as a candidate, but, I believe his actions also represent a realistic and pragmatic response to what he has learned, since taking office, from his commanders and advisors, about the conditions under which U.S. troops have been serving, and in regard to what the current economic conditions are at home.

"I hope that we will not force those recently serving in Iraq to return to combat in Afghanistan. ... I hope U.S. citizens will recognize that the warlords can buy a lot of food for their people, instead of growing it themselves, with the money they are making by poisoning and destroying U.S. and European and Asian and African and South American citizens with drugs. ... I think that the Russians learned the hard way that the Afghanistan population does not take kindly to being invaded, and the terrain does not lend itself to winning hearts and minds, any more than the jungles of Vietnam did.

"I have met some very well educated Iraqi women and men who came in for employment services. ... I know that my ancestors prior to my parent's generation were not born in the United States. I think we need to do a better job of educating our entire population, myself included, about other cultures and countries."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.