ASHLAND — Applegate Valley resident Dan Davis, a captain in the 101st Airborne Division who was wounded in Vietnam, took no prisoners Friday when he spoke his mind during a town hall meeting on the Iraq War.
"Iraq is far worse than Vietnam ever was," Davis told Oregon's Democratic senator, Ron Wyden. "That's not to downplay what Vietnam veterans experienced. But this war has got to stop."
Davis was one of more than 40 people speaking at the session, most of whom were strongly opposed to the war.
However, one Ashland resident adamantly supported the war effort.
A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden said the meeting was intended to gather input from local constituents before Congress comes back from its August recess.
The session in Ashland at Southern Oregon University was one of three town hall meetings Wyden held in Oregon this week regarding the war. The other two were in Portland and Eugene.
Military leaders are expected to give a report on Sept. 15 to the committee and Congress on the success of the recent troop buildup aimed at quelling violence in Iraq.
Before taking questions, Wyden, one of 23 senators who voted against the war, noted Iraq has cost some 3,700 American lives and more than $400 billion in tax dollars.
"My guess is the bill will ultimately approach a trillion dollars when you consider all the grievous injuries suffered by our soldiers," Wyden said. "And I think it has done considerable damage to America's standing in the world.
"We need friends in the world, and there are fewer of them today."
Wyden was largely speaking to the choir, a point made by state Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.
"You can't go too far as far as we're concerned — we've got your back," Buckley told Wyden, referring to his legislative efforts to stop the war.
One speaker complimented Wyden for having the courage to vote his convictions against the war at the outset when it was politically incorrect to take such a stance.
A man who identified himself as a retired foreign service officer agreed with Wyden that the nation's reputation had suffered because of the war and what he said were failures of the Bush administration.
"The consequences of this tragedy will be with us for a long time," the man said.
One woman asked him to fast-forward to January of 2009 and give his thoughts on the first 100 days of the next administration.
"Obviously, we're going to try to end the war now," he said. "We're just seven votes away from doing it. But we know there will be continuing challenges.
"For example, there is an al Qaeda presence in Iraq now. I'm of the view that the Bush administration policy has created more jihadists. So we will continue to have to have a counter-terrorism role in the region. There will be continued challenges as the result of a flawed foreign policy."
Ashland resident Steve Daneman, noting he supported the war, said he was disappointed in the debate.
"We have a very difficult time ahead of us, whether we stay in Iraq or leave tomorrow," Daneman said. "I think it's important for you, with the information you have, to level with this audience that even if we leave tomorrow we are still engaged in a world war against Islamic fundamentalists that predates the Iraq War.
"My question is: How do we get to a point where we deal with evidence and talk about this rationally?" he asked, but was drowned out by the audience when he attempted to make further comments.
Wyden thanked him for his opinion, then reminded him that Congress had that vigorous debate at the start of the war, including the fact no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and that al Qaeda was not a major faction in Iraq until after the invasion.
The senator noted he admired the courage and ability of the American troops serving in Iraq.
"But I think the Iraqis have used our courageous soldiers as a crutch for too long in their civil war," he said.
After thanking Wyden for his stance on Iraq from day one, Ashland resident Carol Voisin, an instructor at SOU and a 2006 candidate for Congress, asked Wyden if he would be a candidate for vice president.
"I find it extremely important that there be one United States senator who says he is not running (for national office)," Wyden quipped, noting he wanted to remain behind as the "designated driver" in Congress to focus on issues such as health care and other issues.
But most speakers focused on the war. One former Navy intelligence officer from the Vietnam War era was concerned about veterans' care. Although he noted it was difficult for him to receive health care, he said he was primarily concerned about the young men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
David Hill, representing the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Ashland, questioned how the nation could spend so much on the war while ignoring domestic problems.
Some urged that the United Nations take a leading role in Iraq. Others called for Congress to impeach Bush.
The final speaker was Medford resident Alberto Enriquez.
"Patriotism is the final refuge of a scoundrel and our president is a scoundrel," he said to resounding applause, paraphrasing a famous 1775 quote from Samuel Johnson.
After the session, Wyden said the town hall sessions have produced a clear message that he believes is part of a national groundswell of opposition that Congress won't be able to ignore.
"There is a clear message coming from our state that it is time to start bringing our folks home in a safe fashion," he said. "We've had one surge after another. Clearly, the surge is not producing the progress in terms of getting a political settlement that is so necessary."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at email@example.com