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Back a troop pullout? Not in this town

In Monument, Colo., even war critics say U.S. forces should stay put.

July 12, 2007|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

MONUMENT, COLO. — There's a lot of talk in Congress these days about the American people demanding withdrawal from Iraq.

But no such call echoes from this small town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

Those who support a troop pullout are, for the most part, too uncertain and disheartened to make the case with much enthusiasm. Many others have concluded that the United States must not leave, no matter how many car bombs explode in Baghdad or how many flag-draped coffins come home.

"As Thomas Jefferson said: Sometimes you have to spill the blood of patriots to further the cause of liberty," said Michael Siehien, 50, an Army veteran.

About an hour south of Denver, Monument (population 2,500) has an artsy, almost New Age, ambience; the historic downtown meanders across broad streets lined with galleries, boutiques and storefront spas offering European facials and $30 pedicures.

The town is a magnet for military families; it's near an Army post, an Air Force base and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. But it doesn't go in for the patriotic displays popular in many other small towns. There are no yellow ribbons, no "Support Our Troops" banners. The local paper covers potholes, not war policy.

In 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush won more than 75% of the vote here. But the unease about bringing the troops home extends beyond loyal Republicans.

Conversations with Monument voters this week uncovered widespread wariness -- sometimes anger -- about Democratic calls for a pullout. Opposition to the war is at a record high across the country; a recent Gallup/USA Today poll shows 71% of Americans supporting a withdrawal over the next nine months. An informal survey here, however, found the reverse: 70% of the more than two dozen voters interviewed said they believed U.S. forces should stay.

"Gee, I'd love to have the troops come home. But I don't want to do it at the expense of wisdom," said Betty Osgood, 80, a lifelong Democrat.

"If we leave, think of all those innocent children and women in Iraq who will be harmed," she said.

Osgood seemed on the verge of tears. "I just feel sad, terribly sad about it all."

Down the street at his hair salon, Ron Herrera, 51, launched into a fusillade against President Bush and the war. So he'd support a pullout? Herrera shook his head.

"We have no right to leave and watch innocent people die, people who are nothing but pawns," he said.

Nationally, polls show a surging public anger at the war. At the Coffee Cup cafe, however, the sharpest outrage is directed at congressional Democrats who are trying to bring troops home.

"Something has gone drastically wrong with this country when you have men in leadership positions backstabbing the Marines and soldiers who are out there fighting," said John Reisberg, 62, an engineer.

Reisberg quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who this spring publicly declared the war lost. "If this had been 1944, we'd have hauled him out and shot him for that," Reisberg said.

He called on the president to send more troops to Iraq -- to reinstate the draft, if necessary -- until every last "bad guy" in the country is beheaded.

Dan Rieple, 49, does not go quite as far, but says the public pessimism about Iraq reminds him of the last years of the Vietnam War. In his view, all the talk of failure back then was a selffulfilling prophesy, emboldening the enemy to hang on until America pulled out. He fears a similar scenario will unfold in Iraq, all because Americans are spooked by a bit of chaos.

"Every war is chaotic," said Rieple, who makes custom furniture.

"If we can just hang on there longer...." said his wife, Susie, 48.

And not just a little bit longer: "I can see us being there in five years -- in 10 years," she said.

"Would we like to see that? No," her husband broke in.

"But that's realistic," Susie Rieple said.

To the Rieples, the end goal is clear: Iraq must be transformed into a stable ally, and terrorists using the region as a base must be routed.

Those supporting a pullout once shared those goals but no longer believe they can be achieved. They're subdued when they say they back the Democrats, visibly torn about endorsing a pullout they see as the best of bad options.

"I don't think we can surge any more. There's not enough energy or will left," said Karen Lavee, 51, a software engineer. "I don't know how you put that country back together again."

Those who still think it's worth trying give some weight to Bush's reassurances that he has a plan for victory.

But even more influential are the forwarded e-mails from relatives and friends of friends serving in Iraq. Many share stories of grateful Iraqis, pacified neighborhoods -- progress that troops complain is not reported by the mainstream media.

"I don't think the people being helped over there think this is all for nothing," said Renee Taylor, 39, an Air Force veteran who works in a quilt store. "It's right for Congress to discuss the war

A customer shopping for quilt supplies paused at the counter, listening. "I always feel at a loss about the right thing to do, the right amount of time to give this," said Janet Allen, 62.

She was disillusioned enough with the war that she did not vote for Bush in 2004. But she cannot muster the outrage to demand an immediate pullback. Not when the president says the consequences would be dire.

Allen sighed. She has to trust the president, she said. She will back the war. For now.


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