MHP   |  January 19, 2014

What was accomplished in Iraq?

Recent violence in Iraq has renewed the debate over what was accomplished from the Iraq War. Col. Jack Jacobs joins the MHP table.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> of u.s. combat troops in afghanistan. and if troops are withdrawn this year, it will be the second time president obama makes good on an original campaign promise, to end u.s. troop involvement in a war. the first came a little more than two years ago in september 2011 .

>> one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the american military will come to an end. iraq 's future will be in the hands of its people. america's war in iraq will be over.

>> a few days after the president's speech, the soldiers at ft. bragg in north carolina , the last u.s. troops left iraq , and crossed the border into kuwait. leaving behind a nearly nine-year war. a war that cost the u.s. more than 4,500 american lives and $800 billion. even for those who thought the war was won, debate on that very point continues to this day. according to u.s. intelligence officials, radical sunni forces that are linked with al qaeda raised their flag in the town of fallujah just after the new year. and fallujah is key, because it is the site of two of the bloodiest battles during the iraq war , in an area u.s. forces fought to shore up before leave iraq . reports of fallujah falling into the hands of al qaeda has left american soldiers who fought so hard for its liberation despondent, with one former army captain tweeting, could someone smart convince me mat black flag flying over fallujah isn't analogous with the fall of saigon? because, well, if there is anything that is quintessentially american, it is our military, and their goal can be seen in their very mottos. so when something they have fought for so hard falls and u.s. ambivalence to putting anymore boots on the ground runs high, what is a soldier to do? joining the table now is also medal of honor recipient and msnbc political analyst, colonel jack jacobs . so let me start with you, colonel jacobs. this seems to be a question that is emerging. was this war in vain for the soldiers?

>> well, for soldiers who are focused on achieving the mission and taking care of each other at the point of decision, it's never in vain. because your objective is to achieve the immediate objective, militarily, to hold on to it, and to take care of each other. so it's never in vain for a soldier, sailor, airmen, and marine. at a national strategic level of analysis, however, the analysis is very much different.

>> so, in fact, let's take it to that level of analysis let's listen to former secretary gates speaking on "meet the press" this morning and his conversation about exactly that.

>> whether it was korea or vietnam or iraq or afghanistan, there is not a conclusion to these conflicts that end in a victory parade . and and the other aspect of this that i think is important, as we lack look at the future of war, as i put in the book and said often as the secretary of defense, in the last 40 years, our record in predicting where we would use military force next, even six months out, is perfect. we've never, once, gotten it right.

>> colonel jacobs, do you want to respond?

>> you know, it's kind of interesting. let's assume that we've got three ways we can exert our influence overseas, through diplomatic means, through economic means, and through the use of the military, instrument of power. of those three, we are lousy at the first two. we have no idea how to influence people diplomatically. we're terrible, have always been terrible at it. it's catches catch can on the economic front. the only guys who really know what they're doing is the military. it's not for nothing that the default instrument of power is the use of the military instrument of power. having said that, it's the least efficacious in trying to influence other people. and until we get better at the national level, at analyzing the situation, creating a real national strategy, and integrating all three instrument of policy, we will continue to rely on the military, send kids off, and we're going to have the same lamentations we have today.

>> i want you to respond.

>> it's exactly right. the united states has this narrow idea of what strategy is, and that is through military force . and when we look at the iraq war , we see this, but now we see secretary gates hinted at this, that they were going to a future way of war. well, that's not necessarily the case. again, maybe a return to a where war is a continuation of policy by other means and that we have this very narrow american conception of victory that we are on the battlefield, we are going to destroy people and we are going to win and come back in the victory parade . and that's not the way that war has been fought, up until we see the second world war , where we see the ultimate culmination of that. so what we see is a return back to the way the war was waged. but now, because of the reduced influence of the nation state in these parts of the world, we're seeing individual nonstate actors now come out and get together. and they are waging politics through the use of war.

>> but american identity is deeply tied up in that war hero moment, right? we still are, in many ways, just immediately a post- world war ii nation, in our sort of civilian understanding of what constitutes war, still have a lot of angst about the idea that america could lose a war by some definition. so part of what i'm wondering is, we're seeing the pentagon for the first time suggesting that it may be willing to send soldiers back to iraq for training of iraqi soldiers . i mean, do you see those as reasonable uses of this third instrument that we have?

>> we missed an opportunity when we failed to get a status of forces agreement when we left. and if what we did there was not necessarily the military at the end, we were the buffer between the sunni in the an al barr provinces and the sunni tribal leaders and the shia in the baghdad. and so who were highly influenced by the iranians. and that, we see, then you see al qaeda and the islamic state .

>> you know what the problem is here? over the years, it's -- our capability to use the military instrument has been greatly reduced by our inability to understand ho w to use the military. and to paraphrase seinfeld, we we know how to get the objective, we just don't know how to hold on to the objective. and holding on is what's important. it always takes more resources to hold on than it does to get in the first place. we get coaxed into a feeling of of relaxation. we say, we'll send the marines in, the aerp in, and it will all be okay. no, no, no. once we get the objective, that's when the work really start.

>> you talk about heroes. you carry a purple heart from that conflict. do you think fallujah was a mistake? was ate waste?

>> absolutely not. because i teach valley forge military college security studies program that i teach there, that we wring in, from the middle east , we have a high percentage of middle eastern students and i taught my first iraqi student that actually went to the air force academy and i have a native fallujahian who was 200 feet away from me and who lost his leg. and what i see is those people now, you have to understand the arab culture , that this is another way of negotiating society. where they are now, because they see this, they're moving out and waiting for the battle, the tribal militias to come back in. they're going to fight in the streets with al qaeda . maybe the government forces will move in, and they'll come back into their city. they're seeing this as another 2004 before the americans came in. the problem the that because the americans are not there to perform that buffer between the regular sunnis, who are not al qaeda types, because they are -- the regular sunnis are in conflict with the al qaeda types. because we don't have that negotiating stance there, we have -- now we have three people fighting all each other. and if the tribal militias, if those tribal leaders that align themselves with al qaeda , then we have a situation before 2006 .

>> so hold for me. because part of what i want to ask you, mark, also, as we come back, those sorts of complexities that people understand on the ground, that americans , particularly civilian americans , don't know and don't understand, how difficult it then makes it for us to hold our own government accountable on these questions, because of the disparity of knowledge and information, when we come back. [ male