Lowcountry residents share thoughts on war

As the 2008 presidential primaries get closer, The Post and Courier is taking a look at some of the biggest issues as seen through the eyes of Lowcountry residents. This installment looks at the war in Iraq.

Deloris Nelson can't watch the news any more.

Her doctor said it isn't good for her heart. With her oldest child and only son, Blake, on his second tour in Iraq, Nelson of Cross has a hard time passing the days.

During his first tour, he was stabbed in the hand and shot in the chest. Fortunately, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and fully recovered after 10 days in the hospital. And the stab wound didn't limit the use of his hand.

During that tour, she watched the television constantly, hoping to see her son or to hear some good news.

One day, she felt a pain in her chest that didn't go away after she showered and tried to rest. She went to the hospital and learned she was having a heart attack.

"They just asked me not to focus on the news anymore, with them over there and me over here. There's nothing I can do anyway," she said. "My husband watches the news and whatever I need to know, he'll tell me."

Still, she worries, especially because weeks often pass between Blake's telephone calls or e-mails home. "I asked him what he was doing in Iraq, and Blake told me, 'Door-to-door.' He doesn't tell me too much because he doesn't want me to worry," she says.

Still, she worries.

And she is not alone.

* * *

Alfred Basso of North Charleston can talk about Iraq these days but only because both his sons — who serve in the Army and in the Air Force — are no longer there.

His son Scott did 278 combat missions there, mostly providing security for military convoys.

"That's a lot," Basso said. "You're really taking your chances."

His son survived 20 explosions, including one that totally charred his Humvee. One time, a rocket propelled grenade passed directly under his vehicle. Of the 16 men in his platoon, nine were injured.

Basso, a Vietnam veteran, has a hard time understanding the United States' condition six years after 9/11.

"It's really hard to be against the war. This is a real difficult situation," he said. "When you've got the enemy on the run, you increase the pressure. And now we're talking about coming out."

Basso said American politics are hurting the war effort, which he said should either be ended or cranked up several notches now that the enemy is on the run.

"There are two outcomes that are sustainable, out or in," he said. "The Republicans are sort of for sticking it out in Iraq, and the Democrats aren't. In reality, I don't believe the Democrats are going to get us out, and I don't believe the Republicans are going to get us out."

And while his son Scott now serves at a military training school in Georgia, Basso still worries. In five months, Scott is expected to get new orders.

"He doesn't know what is going to happen," Basso said of his son. "I'm a lot more concerned about it than he is."

* * *

Anyone passing by Walter Carr's house on Ashley River Road can see what servicemen and their family fear.

Carr has a sign in his front yard that reads, "IRAQ KILLED IN ACTION 4,061 FOR WHAT GOOD PURPOSE?"

Every day when he is in town, he updates the number of American and allied soldiers killed. Last Monday, he changed the number from 4,059 to 4,061.

"Most days, unfortunately, there is a need to change it," he said. "There have been days when there have been 20-person jumps."

Carr, a Vietnam veteran, said his sign protests what he sees as a horrible loss. "Those are 4,061 folks who will never live the fullness of their life. There might have been a Jonas Salk or a Bill Gates among them. You never know. Not to mention their loved ones."

Carr said his experience in Vietnam made him more interested in history and politics, and he believes this nation has gotten off track by trying to intervene in other countries like Iraq.

"John Quincy Adams admonished the American government not to go out in search of dragons to slay. That was outstanding advice," he said. "Who are we to be the world's policeman?"

Carr said he feels betrayed by Republicans but can't vote Democratic. "I'm going to vote for somebody who is not going to win. I'm going to vote for Ron Paul."

* * *

Larry McKay, of Mount Pleasant, also served in Vietnam and commanded an attack helicopter unit credited with the first modern tank kill in helicopter history, and he couldn't disagree more with Carr.

McKay said the United States only began the war after a reasonable process, and while it could have done more to line up allies, second-guessing doesn't help at this point.

"I'm not sure there's significant value in going back and questioning all of the pieces," he said. "My concern is we move forward with the best possible plan for Iraq's survival, that we sustain that elected government."

He said the Iraqi women who voted and had their fingers dipped in dye demonstrated courage "every bit as great as demonstrated by the people in the United States during the Revolution."

"We cannot walk away from that hope," he added. "I think to this day we don't give the Iraqi people enough credit."

McKay, who supported U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2000 and is backing him again this year, said he sees parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. He said the U.S. military won the war in Vietnam but that the nation later backed away from its role in preserving the peace.

He doesn't want to see a similar weakening here.

"I do have concerns that when candidates express views that are as strong as 'Pull the troops out immediately,' and if that candidate is part of the ticket, then you have a real difficulty moving away from that position," he said. "If Congress today puts unreasonable restrictions on what we can do, then we run the same chance for failure again."

* * *

Alex Abouhussein was born in Egypt but immigrated to the United States when he was 21.

He spent time in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Alabama and Mississippi before moving to South Carolina two years ago to work as an engineer for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, a government-contracting arm also known as SPAWAR.

"There are very, very few Arabic people who work at the Department of Defense," he joked. "If you look at the last names, you can count them with your hands."

Abouhussein said he couldn't believe that the United States attacked Iraq because of fear that it had weapons of mass destruction. "Iraq doesn't even make bicycles. They import everything."

While he predicted that the early military victory would lead to a protracted, difficult occupation, he takes no satisfaction in being right.

Before taking his current job in Charleston two years ago, he worked briefly in Iraq as a contract employee. He said he learned the conflict is driven less by religious or sectarian differences than by a fear of losing property.

"The scary part in my opinion is the U.S. is talking about 'sectarian, sectarian.' It's not sectarian. It's about the money," he said. "If you want a solution, you have to guarantee people that they will not lose their property."

While he opposed the war, he sees no easy way out and distrusts presidential candidates who imply they have one.

"From a moral standpoint, if you break it, you fix it," he said.



EDITORS NOTE: The presidential candidates' positions vary widely on Iraq, Afghanistan and the overall war on terror and what policies they would pursue, if elected.

Here is a quick look at the candidates' military positions, with links to their campaign Web sites.


Sam Brownback

Brownback's Web site says, "After my recent trip to Iraq, I am even more convinced that the situation there is precarious, but hopeful. I see hope in the Iraqi people. I believe this hope will be the foundation of a new Iraqi society. Much remains to be done, and I think we need a plan to turn this country over to its citizens. I will continue to work with the leaders in our country, as well as leaders in Iraq, to find a solution that protects the future of Iraq, and the pride and dignity of its citizens."


Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani's Web site says, "Like all Americans, Rudy Giuliani prays for the success of our troops in Iraq and their safe return home. But he believes setting an artificial timetable for withdrawal from Iraq now would be a terrible mistake, because it would only embolden our enemies. Iraq is only one front in the larger war on terror, and failure there would lead to a broader and bloodier regional conflict in the near future. Building an accountable Iraq will assist in reducing the threat of terrorism."


Mike Huckabee

Huckabee's Web site says, "I am focused on winning. Withdrawal would have serious strategic consequences for us and horrific humanitarian consequences for the Iraqis. If we leave, Iraq's neighbors on all sides will face a refugee crisis and be drawn into the war: Iran to protect the Shiites; Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to protect the Sunnis; and Turkey to protect its control over its own Kurd population. Iraq is a crossroads where Arab meets Persian and Kurd, Sunni meets Shiite, so if it's not a peaceful buffer, it can easily become a tinder box for the region."


Duncan Hunter

Hunter's Web site says, "The greatest protection of human rights in this decade has been the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Religious freedom is part and parcel of any free society the U.S. stands up."


John McCain

More than any other candidate, McCain has made his stance on Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign. His Web site says, "For many years John McCain urged a larger ground force to implement a new counterinsurgency campaign like the one now underway in Iraq, as Michael Hirsh noted in the July 26 Newsweek: 'As we now know nearly four years later, McCain was dead on in his analysis of what went wrong in Iraq ... McCain was so right that, among military experts today, the emerging conventional wisdom about Bush's current 'surge' is that if it had occurred back then - when McCain wanted it and the political will existed in this country to support it for the necessary number of years - it might well have succeeded. Today, our new counterinsurgency campaign is showing signs of success, and John McCain believes we can still prevail in Iraq if Washington politicians exercise resolve not panic.'"


Ron Paul

Paul's Web site says, "The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it. We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them."


Mitt Romney

Romney's Web site says, "The defeat of this radical and violent faction of Islam must be achieved through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims. An effective strategy will involve both military and diplomatic actions to support modern Muslim nations. America must help lead a broad-based international coalition that promotes secular education, modern financial and economic policies, international trade, and human rights."


Tom Tancredo

Tancredo's Web site says, "America's noble sacrifice has purchased Iraqis a precious opportunity for democratic change; it is now up to them to ensure success. Setting the President's November benchmark for shifting control as an actual timetable for disengagement will let regional powers and Iraqi factions cooperate to forge a new balance of power."


Fred Thompson

Thompson issued a statement on Iraq Friday that said in part:

"I believe that the troop withdrawal plan that General Petraeus has proposed is the right course. This recommendation is a result of the success being seen on the ground in Iraq.

"With the momentum of an effective military strategy now on our side, we must press forward, never wavering, and unite in our determination to defeat al Qaeda and other extremists who remain committed to forcing our surrender. This is central not only to success in Iraq, but also to our long-term plan to bring our troops home.

"A wholesale withdrawal of American troops from Iraq - as many Democrats propose - would embolden al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, betray our allies, and dishonor the memories of the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe."



Joe Biden

Biden's Web site says, "President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. His strategy is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem off to his successor. As a result, more and more Americans understandably want a rapid withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war. Both are bad alternatives.

"There is a third way that can achieve the two objectives most Americans share: to bring our troops home without leaving chaos behind. The idea is to maintain a unified Iraq by federalizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis breathing room in their own regions."


Hillary Clinton

Clinton's Web site says, "America is ready for a leader who will end the war in Iraq and a president who will respect our Armed Forces by properly planning for the missions we ask our troops to undertake. If the Bush administration won't, as president and commander in chief, Hillary will end this war. ...

"She has also proposed a cap on troop levels to January 1, 2007 levels and put forth a comprehensive road map for ending the war. If it is followed, Hillary's bill, the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act of 2007, will end the war before the next president takes the oath of office. But she has also been clear: if George Bush refuses to end the war, when she is president, she will.

"Hillary opposes permanent bases in Iraq. She believes we may need a vastly reduced residual force to train Iraqi troops, provide logistical support, and conduct counterterrorism operations. But that is not a permanent force, and she has been clear that she does not plan a permanent occupation."


Chris Dodd

Dodd's Web site says, "From his time in the Peace Corps as a young man to his 25 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Dodd has worked to strengthen America through bold engagement. Dodd understands America must lead to protect our security not only on Iraq, but also on the rise of stateless terrorist organizations around the world, Iran and North Korea's emerging nuclear capabilities, a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, the HIV/AIDS crisis that is decimating whole continents and creating failed states, and the growing threat of global warming. Chris Dodd is ready to lead to face our challenges abroad with boldness and a proven ability to bring people together."


John Edwards

Edwards' Web site says, "There is no military solution to the chaos in Iraq. Instead, the Iraqi people must solve the problem politically by taking responsibility for their country. By leaving Iraq, America will induce the Iraqi people, regional powers, and the entire international community to find the political solution that will end the sectarian violence and create a stable Iraq. We must show the Iraqis that we are serious about leaving by actually starting to leave, with an immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops."


Mike Gravel

Gravel's Web site says, "Senator Gravel's position on Iraq remains clear and consistent: to commence an immediate and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops that will have them home within 120 days. The sooner U.S. troops are withdrawn, the sooner we can pursue aggressive diplomacy to bring an end to the civil war that currently consumes Iraq."

"The Iraqi civilian death toll nears a million, and still there remains no end in sight to the bloodshed. As President, Senator Gravel will call for a U.S. corporate withdrawal from Iraq and hand over contracts to Iraqi businesses, which will empower Iraqis to reconstruct their own country"


Dennis Kucinich

Kucinich's campaign motto is "Strength Through Peace," and his Web site says, "Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate for President who has voted against authorizing the war in Iraq and against funding its continuation. He has proposed a bold, new policy to re-establish America's place in the world. Diplomacy and a return to statesmanship as the path to strong international leadership. A new policy of investing in our communities and our infrastructure. A new policy of Strength through Peace."


Barack Obama

Obama's Web site says, "Before the war in Iraq ever started, Senator Obama said that it was wrong in its conception. In 2002, then Illinois State Senator Obama said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States and that invasion would lead to an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

"Senator Obama introduced legislation in January 2007 to offer a responsible alternative to President Bush's failed escalation policy. The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 - a date consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's expectations. The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces. If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the 13 benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush Administration, this plan also allows for the temporary suspension of the redeployment, provided Congress agrees that the benchmarks have been met."


Bill Richardson

Richardson's Web site details a seven-point plan for ending the war in Iraq. It begins, "The Iraq War is costing Americans $10 billion each month. By implementing my plan to de-authorize the war and withdraw ALL troops in six months, we can start redirecting these funds toward what matters most for Americans: improving education, expanding access to quality health care, and addressing the REAL security threats like the Taliban, nuclear proliferation, and global warming. My seven-point 'New Realism' plan for Iraq describes in detail what is required."


Editor's note: An early version of this story incorrectly featured Gov Mark Sanford's photo. This photo was shown in error.