COLUMBIA - Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the more recent troop surge of 2007, the issue has weighed heavily on voters' - and candidates' - minds. Much of the debate has centered around whether and when American troops should be withdrawn, whether a specific timetable for their withdrawal should be established, how much more money the country can afford to pour into the effort and how much good the United States is doing there. Candidates for the 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives have very different takes.
For several Democrats in the race, the war in Iraq is an issue that involves the economy as well as the military and foreign policy.
Former Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Steve Gaw said the United States should work with the international community to stabilize the Middle East.
"The region is important to the world, not just to the U.S., and I believe that we can get that done, but we're going to have to be serious about it, and we're going to have to let the rest of the world know we're serious about that," he said.
State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, said it is time to withdraw troops from Iraq, but it must be done responsibly.
"I don't know that we're going to know what the situation on the ground is going to be next January when I take office," she said. "There's a certain point in time you've got to say, ‘Now is the time for you to stand.' Iraq is sitting on surpluses while we're sitting on deficits. So, you know, it is probably time to make them accountable for their own security."
Marion County Presiding Commissioner Lyndon Bode said that leaving Iraq is an important goal to work toward but that setting a time frame for withdrawal is not a good strategy.
"I think if we did that it would just open the opportunity (for the insurgency) to sit back and then, when we leave, take over the country," he said.
Former state Sen. Ken Jacob said he would vote to fund the withdrawal from Iraq under "the fastest possible plan" and to cut funding for the war because there is "no military objective for us to be there."
All the Republicans said they consider keeping some sort of military presence in Iraq to be an important matter of national security. .
State Rep. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said he opposes a strict timetable for withdrawal.
"Whatever people's thoughts are about whether we should have gone into Iraq in the first place, at present, it would be a mistake to cut and run and leave Iraq in control of the terrorists," he said.
Onder added that he thinks the present policy, specifically the troop surge, is succeeding and that, at present, we should be able to reduce troop levels in Iraq.
Blaine Luetkemeyer, former director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, also said he thinks the policy, specifically the latest troop surge, is working. He also said the new Iraqi government has been extremely successful and that the United States should continue to give them the tools to do so.
"They're fighting with words instead of guns and knives," Luetkemeyer said. "That's what we do here in this country. They're doing it right now."
He said that he thinks "we have won the political war" and that the rest will be won eventually.
On the other hand, St. Peters resident Dan Bishir said he thinks the Army has already won the actual war but that the Iraqi culture was misunderstood.
"We're straightening that out now," he said. "I think that we're doing a pretty good job in a lot of areas in Iraq."
He said it would be a mistake to "give Iran free access to a partially reconstructed Iraq."
State Rep. Danie Moore, R-Fulton, likened pulling troops out to what happened after the United States pulled troops out of Vietnam.
"We've made some mistakes, and we've done some good, but we can't walk away now," she said.
Moore said that ideally the United States would maintain a base of operations but would step back into a more advisory role as soon as possible.
Brock Olivo, a former MU and NFL football player, said the results of an immediate troop pullout could be "catastrophic."
"Regardless of why we're there and how we got there, we have to take responsible steps leading up to the end of this war," he said.
"The bottom line: We have to listen to boots on the ground," he said, referring to the need to listen to soldiers and generals.
He emphasized that his first priority would be to support the troops in any way necessary.
Tamara Millay said ending the war in Iraq is a top priority because it is an economic drain and puts U.S. soldiers in harm's way. She said she was against the war before it began - in fact, she was arrested for obstructing a public thoroughfare in 2002 when she attempted to block the shipment of Boeing cruise missiles to a St. Charles factory. She said it's time to withdraw.
"The situation has deteriorated into a civil war, and there's no way for us to achieve victory in that situation," she said.