After nine years of war in Iraq and nearly 4,500 lost American lives, the Stars and Stripes was lowered from the flagpole in a solemn ceremony at the Baghdad airport today, essentially ending the U.S. miliary mission in that nation.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era, says the Iraq War was a mistake from the start. “You know, you just wonder what that was all about,” Harkin says. “We know that we went into Iraq under false pretenses. They had nothing to do with Nine Eleven and al Qaeda was not there before we were there and Iraq was ruled by a despot, Saddam Hussein.”

Hussein was captured by U.S. troops and was executed in 2006. Even after nearly a decade of continued military efforts, Harkin says he still fears for the future of Iraq and that region. “Iraq may drift back into forms of government that we don’t like,” Harkin says. “It looks like now though they are going to be a close ally of Iran and a close ally of Syria and you wonder what we’ve accomplished.”

Sixty-five Iowans in uniform are among those killed in Iraq since 2003. Arizona Senator John McCain opposes the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end. McCain, a Republican, said on Wednesday that President Obama deserves “scorn and disdain” for the exit strategy which “was dictated by politics, not our national security interests.”

“I disagree with Mr. McCain on keeping troops there,” says Harkin, a Democrat. “Quite frankly, we have too many troops all over the world. We’ve got troops in hundreds, I don’t know how many countries we have troops in now around the world. Not only is it expensive, it gives a face to America that is not really true. Is that what our face is to the rest of the world, militarism?”

Instead, he says the world should perceive America as being the torch of freedom, a haven for harmony and openness to people of all faiths, not a projection of military might. “I think the best face we’ve ever portrayed to the world has been the Peace Corps, not the military.”