Upper Valley Reacts to Airstrikes in Iraq

West Lebanon — Opinions of Upper Valley residents and visitors varied after President Obama warned Americans over the weekend that the airstrikes he ordered last week in Iraq could go on for months.

Several residents said they weren’t sure what to think about this latest military involvement, nearly three years after the last of U.S. ground troops were pulled out of Iraq, following a decade-long war there.

Some expressed frustration with former President George W. Bush’s decision to enter Iraq in the first place, while others pointed to Obama’s decision to pull out before the Iraqi government had stabilized.

As he exited the West Lebanon Price Chopper on Sunday afternoon, David Como, of Orange, N.H., said the U.S. would not be in this predicament now, “if we’d done the job right in the first place.”

Como placed blame equally on Democrats and Republicans, which he referred to as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum” — characters of Lewis Carroll’s creation, known for acting and looking the same.

“I’m an independent,” he said.

Beyond politics, Como said his “heart goes out to the children” who are affected by the ongoing violence.

Loading his car in the parking lot, Jerry Labie, of Grantham, said the U.S. involvement in Iraq was a “huge mistake in the first place.”

He said that the U.S. presence there has “disturbed the balance of power” in the region, leaving the U.S. with “no choice” but to continue to have a role there.

There’s “no way out,” said Labie, other than the Iraqi government “eventually sorting it out.”

Labie described the governance style of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as “wrong-headed” because it leaves some minority groups without representation.

Al-Maliki, a member of Iraq’s majority Shiite sect, has adopted a sectarian form of governance, leading some Sunnis to support an extremist group known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Associated Press has reported.

A small group of the region’s veterans sat sipping beers at the Mechanic Street American Legion on Sunday afternoon.

Among them was Wendell McMillan, 74, a Navy veteran from White River Junction, who said the recent airstrikes in Iraq were “late in coming.”

“We should have done something way before,” he said.

Obama has said the airstrikes are intended to protect American personnel and facilities in the region and to help Iraqi forces to protect minorities.

Though the U.S. military presence in Iraq may be extended, Obama has said he would not send ground troops back into the war torn country.

“The Iraqi government has to stand up and fight for themselves,” said McMillan. “I don’t want to see troops back there.”

Ike McKim of Lebanon, an Army veteran, said the Obama administration should have kept troops in place until the Iraqi government had stabilized.

“We shouldn’t have pulled out until (we) had it under control,” said McKim.

Now, the U.S. is in a tough spot, said McKim.

“It’s a Catch 22,” he said. “No matter what we do, we’re wrong.”

He said the minorities in Iraq are in need of protection, but “people are really tired of war.”

Margaret Drye, of Plainfield, the mother of two Marine veterans who served in Iraq, said that the names of cities there became familiar to her when her sons, John and Mark, were in harm’s way. Mark, now a nurse in Alabama, was injured twice, earning two Purple Hearts.

Drye said her sons “spilled blood in Iraq” and “made an investment ... in hope this would help Iraq.”

She said it’s the families who “paid the full price” — losing their children to fighting — who “have the most at stake here.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.